My Fitness Phobia…and How I Overcame It

August 1st, 2012 at 7:07 am
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Fitness phobia? Is there really such a thing?

If you want to get all sciencey about it, probably not. But for me, there definitely is—or was—such a thing as fitness phobia. Let’s hammer out a quick definition:

Fitness phobia: The fear of exercise and what it will do to the body.

Up until about a year ago, I tried to stay fit with things you’re “supposed” to do: walking or jogging, crunches, lunges, push-ups, classes at the gym—you know the usual suspects. I exercised 3-4 times a week, giving my workouts about 60% of my energy. Around the end of last summer, though, I began to take a good look at myself and ask why I wasn’t pushing harder, setting bigger goals, and giving exercise more gusto.

The easy answer would have been something like, I just don’t like exercise that much. It’s not my passion. But I knew that wasn’t true, because deep down, I really did enjoy fitness. But something was holding me back from breaking out of the treadmill-and-crunches routine I’d fallen into. That something was fitness phobia. The fear of what exercise would do to my body.

So what was I so afraid of? A couple things…

  • Losing weight. That was not (and still is not) the goal for me when I exercise. It took me years to regain the weight I’d lost because of my food sensitivities, and I wasn’t about to let it all come falling off again because of an exercise regimen! If I was active 5-6 days each week, how in the world would I keep weight on?
  • Getting injured. I’ve had my share of weird knee and ankle injuries over the years. There’s nothing I hate more than being able to do absolutely nothing (not even walk) for a few weeks because of some silly injury. Better to take it easy and not overdo it than get injured.
  • The gym. Yep, I was afraid of the gym. It’s a big place. How was a little person like me supposed to know what to do in such a huge room filled with a dozen Bicep Bobs and Six-Pack Suzies? No thanks.
  • Changing shape. I didn’t want to end up gaining a lot of muscle and looking like one of those insanely defined body builders on the tubs of whey protein at the grocery store. I know it sounds funny now, but this was a real concern for me! I wanted to look toned and healthy, not skinny and “ripped.”

To avoid my fears, I exercised just a few times per week, didn’t push myself very hard, and avoided the “big gym” whenever I could. Somewhere along the line, I realized that for the modest effort I was putting into fitness, I really wasn’t getting very good results. So I decided to change things up in a major way. And it would start with facing my fitness phobia head on.

It began with exercising more frequently (usually 5-6 days a week) with short and intense workouts. By keeping the workouts short and powerful, I figured that was a pretty good way to prevent injury. I could focus on form, push hard, and be done in less than 30 minutes. Keeping it short would also save me from spending and hour or more in the gym, which would help me keep weight on because I wasn’t over-exercising.

As for my fear of the big gym? Well, that was one I just had to buck up and face. The first few times I went in to use the free-weights and Swiss balls, I stopped outside the entrance, took a deep breath, and told myself I could do it. I entered with confidence and belief in myself. You know what I learned? It really wasn’t so bad. (And there were plenty of Flabby Phils and Weak Wendys in there along with the Bicep Bobs, so it wasn’t so intimidating after all.)

Within just a few months of working out with renewed vigor and self-confidence, I started seeing more results and feeling better about myself. More importantly, I really started to enjoy exercise! Fitness became fun, not frightening. I found myself staying up late at night browsing workouts on the web, waking up before my alarm went off to get my workout started, and—believe it or not—I actually gained some weight!

I don’t weigh myself religiously, but in the past 6-9 months, I’ve gained about 5 pounds, most of which is lean muscle I think. For a person like me, who gains weight super slowly and not without some effort, putting on 5 pounds without even thinking about it is a big deal.

These days, I’m loving fitness more than ever. To think that I used to be afraid of the big gym is almost comical. I go in there now at least twice a week and I even know some of the regulars by name. I’ve remained injury free for almost a year, too.

As for the “changing shape” part? I don’t know what I was thinking. For a woman to look like a crazy-ripped body builder, she’s gotta be doing a whole lot more than what I am! If there’s anything I’ve learned from overcoming my fitness phobia, it is that a woman will not get bulky and super muscular from 30-60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity 5-6 times per week. She’ll get toned, strong, and confident!

I’m so glad that my fear of fitness is a thing of the past. Even though I changed up my exercise routine in a pretty big way, the biggest change came from within. In order to overcome my fears, I had to believe that I was strong and capable. Most of all, I had to believe that I was worth it.

So tell me: what are some of your fitness fears? I hope I’m not the only one with them! How do you overcome obstacles on your way to wellness?



  1. Amanda B. said on August 1, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    I’ve always enjoyed exercise, mostly running but some other types of cardio like bikes and swimming, and occasionally light weights- but for years I avoided any kind of heavy resistance, especially heavy weights, because I was afraid I’d bulk up and turn into a man.

    Until I started getting more involved in women’s fitness and learned more about hormones and why women couldn’t “bulk up” unless they were really purposefully trying to. As someone who doesn’t naturally carry a lot of muscle and has a tendency to look soft and flabby (despite being at a low weight) because of it, I got interested in strength training and putting on muscle. I read up on it at and using the book New Rules of Lifting for Women, but I was still too afraid to go to the gym and pick up heavy weights myself.

    I finally got up the nerve and gave it a shot. The first few times in the weight section were scary, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and everyone would notice. Eventually I got into the swing of things. And once I was consistent with it, I really saw results. Improved muscle tone, feeling strong and energetic like I hadn’t felt before, and looking leaner though my weight stayed the same. And I definitely didn’t look like a man.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Amanda! Sounds like you are totally on the right track. Looking back, I still think it’s funny that I ever thought I’d bulk up by doing more strength training. Live and learn, right? :) -Hallie

  3. Since I played a lot of soccer growing up, I developed very muscular (big) legs, which I always thought looked funny on a little person like me. I was afraid of bulking up more. I’m not sure if it is my natural body type of because of the conditioning when I was young, but I do build muscle more easily and quickly than most women. However, I’ve learned this is a good thing – being strong and feeling more capable when your little helps a ton! Now I’m more balanced though. I work out my upper body evenly with my lower. Injuries, too many to count over the years, but keeping strong will at least help!

  4. One of the simple things that keeps me going to the gym is packing my gym bag the night before. Sounds silly but it really helps motivate me to get up and go.

  5. Paulina J! said on August 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    I too was afraid of the gym. Then once I started I was afraid to take the classes. I finally got the courage and now I’m addicited! I specially love Zumba and similar classes and now go to the gym at least 4 days a week. I’ve never felt better :)

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this! As a fitness instructor, I find that many women are afraid to pick up heavy weights. They’re afraid of bulking up, so they go through the motions with little 5 pound weights. Women are stronger than that! And in order to get definition, they need to lift heavy and eat well. Lifting heavy will not bulk them up. Eating heavy will. :)

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