Popularization of gym culture introduces new teenage anxieties

Divy Bose | The Chronicle

For gym-goers, dumbbells and barbells are not the only weights they carry.

Gym environments often portray themselves as open and inviting, but the pressure surrounding them can be something that students aspiring toward fitness can struggle with. Working out in the gym has become a part of students’ daily routines to keep in shape or relieve stress, but with that common habit, anxiety stemming from potential judgment from peers has been generated.

Being vulnerable or seen at the gym is a fear of junior Riya Patel, as she chose to start going to the gym this year. Patel chooses to go to Planet Fitness five to six times a week to stay active and uses the gym as her outlet to ease stress through physical activity, but said that she also has to deal with underlying panic due to the gym’s environment.

“I just get so scared sometimes,” Patel said. “I sit in the parking lot until I finally tell myself, ‘I have to get out of my car,’ because I dread seeing people that I know at the gym.”

Being judged for the amount of weight someone lifts or their skill at a certain exercise is not the only potential cause for dread for gym-goers. Feeling secure around the eyes of others while in athletic wear, which is often form-fitting, also presents an issue for many. As part of her normal routine, Patel said that even picking out an outfit to go to the gym, especially as a woman, can be intimidating.

“I can’t bring myself to even take off my sweatshirt at the gym,” Patel said. “When other girls wear a cute sports bra or leggings it makes me want to as well, but if I were to, it would feel like all eyes are on me.”

In order to experience more comfort in a gym environment, students like Patel often take a friend with them to complete their workouts. Patel says that having someone else by her side to help ease into the workout and not worry about having to see familiar faces while alone makes going an easier process.

“I am not just struggling by myself,” Patel said. “It makes me feel so much better that I have someone to talk to and be right there with me sweating.”

Guidance from a peer can also serve as a path for improvement in a higher personal record (PR) in weight, as having another person present for a workout often stimulates adrenaline as well as motivation. Junior Nick Sailors said that having a ‘gym buddy’ is what makes his trip to the gym worthwhile.

“When I don’t have anyone at the gym with me I feel powerless and it completely changes my whole mood,” Sailors said. “I need a friend there with me to celebrate new personal records and keep track of my maxes with me.”

Although motivation drawn from a peer’s presence helps to self-discipline and encourage personal improvement, anxiety surrounding body image and judgment remains. Sailors said that seeing how other men around him can lift more than the expectation he set for himself makes him automatically compare his personal record and what others are capable of doing in the gym.

“I find myself comparing my body and how fit I am to the big bulky guy next to me,” Sailors said. “I start to feel so small and weak, which makes me hesitate to even go on with my workout.”

With social media on the rise and workout routines being plastered everywhere, the pressures of having the ‘perfect’ body often lead to insecurity and comparison within impressionable audiences. As he finds himself scrolling through Instagram, Sailors said that he tends to fall into the trap of comparing himself to men who post the breaking of their records. However, even with this difficulty, Sailor said he still does his best to remind himself of his worth.

“There’s always going to be that one huge, bulky guy that hits a new maximum on my feed to downplay my improvement,” Sailors said. “But I just have to remember why I go to the gym for myself and what I am personally trying to accomplish.”

Illustration by Allison Droege