The Gym: Understanding the Ecosystem

The Gym: Understanding the Ecosystem

Written by: Travis Panzini

Let’s be honest, the gym is intimidating. Weights being thrown around, the occasional grunt, and tops that barely count as tops. To anyone (including seasoned gym vets), this can make working out seem pretty daunting.

What if we could better understand this ecosystem to help build your comfort and confidence?

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

Alright, so you just bought a beautiful new gym outfit because you have made the mental commitment to start hitting the gym. You’ve weighed all the plans at your local gyms to find the best fit, and now all you have to do is actually go and work out. But it just seems to be so daunting.

Are people going to know I’m new?
Am I going to stick out like a sore thumb?
What if I embarrass myself by doing workouts incorrectly?
Do I even belong here?

I’m sure these are the first rapid fire questions that run through your mind, and you are absolutely not alone with this.

I remember the first few times I actually started going to the gym with a few friends. I seriously thought that just about everyone in there was looking at me. That they could look at me and just feel this sense of fear and confusion. I immediately thought that the best way to fit in was to do the worst thing possible: use weights that I had no business using. Because if I was putting up some serious weight then I must belong here, right?… Yeah, that didn’t work. Not only was this the fastest way to show incompetence, it was also just a dickhead move.

Now, I am not saying it took one or two visits to the gym to figure this out. I am saying that it took months of intermittent gym visits to finally figure out what the hell was going on. See, we all naturally want to feel like we belong in one way or another, I’m sure that’s nothing new to hear. But why are we so inclined to constantly try and sprint before we learn to walk? Well, ultimately we just want to feel comfortable, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Alright, boohoo, you had a few crap experiences at the gym and you’re having a tough time dragging yourself there, what do you do now?

You get your ass back there.

Why? Because if you have even the slightest inclination that you want a healthier life for yourself then YOU BELONG THERE. It’s not about being a “gym rat” or a marathon runner. It’s not about proving your ex wrong about you. It’s about YOU and YOUR LIFE.

Welcome to the Gym

Hell yeah. So, you got your ass back in there and you’re working through your initial discomfort. Like anything else, it’s probably not going to happen overnight, and that’s okay, it’s just part of the journey. (And makes things just much sweeter when you get that sudden realization that you’re making progress) In my experience as a college aged newbie gym goer (with a shitload of anxiety and panic disorder), I felt that learning about the ecosystem was a great help to understanding how this place operated, and in turn helped me to become a more confident member.

As you look around the gym, you’re probably going to see a wide variety of people. Different ages, sizes, genders, and styles all mixed into this little mixing pot. There are plenty of people doing proper workouts, plenty running until their legs fall off, and plenty are doing shit so wacky I’m surprised its legal. Although they all may look different, I believe there is a way to section them all into a select few different gym personas. Like each one of us, they all have their own strengths, weaknesses, reasons, and insecurities.

Now, let me warn you, this is based off 0 scientific data. This is merely a collection of the observations I have made throughout the years and I can’t help but to try and figure out people’s “whys” with every little action they do. I hope that at the very least you will be able to draw some parallels between yourself and these other personas to help build your comfort in the gym!

The Gym Personas

The Newbie

So, let’s start out at square one, The Newbie.

Now I kind of like to think of the newbie in two different ways: the modest newbie and the “annoying” newbie. The modest newbie is someone who accepts that this is a new experience for them, but they are willing to start at square one and learn along the way! Like most of us, they still don’t know what might be considered a good workout versus a better workout, but they’re willing to ask questions and start small. They try their best to not step on anyone’s toes, and can be a little timid, but above all they are respectful.

Now the “annoying” newbie is the exact opposite. Like my dumbass, they are initially very insecure in the gym and try to counteract that by grabbing weights that are way too heavy for them. They struggle to put the weights up and make everyone nervous that they are going to hurt themselves. Although they are insecure, they can be blissfully ignorant to everyone else around them. They are simply trying to do the least amount of work, in the least amount of time, with the most amount of weight. These are the ones that normally don’t last too long in their fitness journeys!

The Bro (or Brah)

I’m sure everyone these days knows a “bro.” You know, the ones ranting in line at Dunkin Donuts about how many shots they had last night as they order a bacon egg and cheese claiming its “gains bro?” Unfortunately, these experiences tend to be more frequent then we’d all like, but hey they are just another part of the ecosystem.

At the gym, you’ll find them gathering in loud packs, usually centered around at least one alpha male. They’ll boast loudly about their diets, how much weight they’ve lifted, and funny enough seem to have at least 1 injury from a high school sporting event that keeps flaring up. If you’re new to the gym, I would not worry too much about these folks. Judging by their over display of masculinity, I think it’s safe to say they’re more worried about what others are thinking of them and not the other way around.

The Olympian

Probably the most intimidating person you will find in the gym. These guys and gals are no joke. They lift big and almost seem like they belong at a more elite gym. Usually far and few between at more recreational gyms, you may initially be perplexed by their workout routines. Throwing around heavy weight like ping pong balls, they can really be a marvel.

Although their muscular stature and reserved nature can be intimidating, have no fear. They tend to keep to themselves, but when approached, they can be some of the most helpful and kind individuals.

Just don’t hog their squat rack for too long.

The Energizer Bunny

Do they ever leave the treadmill? Seriously, it seems like they’re on there from the moment you get in, until the moment you leave. And not only that, THEY’RE ALWAYS THERE. Picking out their treadmill like it’s a new car. They have their special spot and they will stick to it as much as possible. They’re like an army of energizer bunnies, who the hell has the energy to do this shit?!

In the sense of gym-timidation, you have nothing to fear. With the high demand they ask of their bodies, they are too into their runner high’s to really care or pay attention to anyone else. Besides, they have a marathon coming up, they don’t have time to judge others!

The Fitness Guru

I seriously think these people’s home address is the gym. They eat, breathe, and sleep health and fitness. And they can be some of the most impressive people to see at the gym.

Nutrition? Down pat. Workout routine? Brutal. Some of the crap these guys/gals are doing in the gym just makes me sweat looking at them.

When it comes to their behavior in the gym, they are far too focused on their routine to give two craps about anyone else there. With laser focus, they can sometimes be spotted jumping around the gym in an endless cycle of madness. My one piece of advice for maneuvering around these folks is pretty simple: be considerate and watch your step. If you’re looking to prevent making waves as you settle into the gym, be aware of where these individuals are moving around to prevent that awkward mistake of starting to use a piece of equipment that they are cycling in between.

The Normie

Ahhh, the Normie, just here for a workout and nothing else. Pretty simple, and no surprises here. Usually sticking to machine-oriented workouts, they can sometimes be slow to move between pieces of equipment. They’re not looking to impress anyone, they’re not here to make a name for themselves, they’re simply looking to get in a little exercise.

Sure, they can tie up the dumbbells and machines from time to time, but they’re not trying to cause a problem! They go at their own pace and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes they can be quite keen on in-depth conversations with other fellow gym-goers, and their sense of time can tend to slip. I know if you’re up against the clock on some days this can be quite a pain, but these people mean no harm! Try having some patience and look to mix things up if you can. In most cases, a simple word with them to let them know you would like to use what they are on can put just enough pep in their step to get them moving.


If they’re scrolling Instagram for 10 minutes in between sets, for God’s sake just say something.

Finding Where You Fit

So, with all this being said, and trying to figure out where you fit in this ecosystem, the truth of the matter is: it doesn’t matter. As I mentioned earlier, you’re there for you, not to make an impression. At the end of the day, everyone there has just as many insecurities, worries, and thoughts as you do. BUT, being able to push those aside to focus on your health is a different story.

Finding your zen in a new environment is never an easy situation. Whether it’s a new job, school, or town, you’re going to have that “imposter syndrome” feeling. The sooner you are able to push past this, the sooner you’re on your way to hitting your health and fitness goals! And the funny part is, it’s all a mental obstacle. This feeling was imagined by you, it is a thought, a feeling, and that is all! Like any other roadblock in life, it can be conquered. For the sake of this example, I like to think of “evening the playing field.” By this I mean that no one is better than anyone else in that gym. Everyone brings their own strengths and weaknesses with them every day, including you. There may be areas where you lack and others thrive, but on the other hand you might kick ass at another part of life where they struggle.

So let your mind be at ease. You belong there, you are allowed there, and like everyone says during these crazy times:

We Are In This Together.

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1 comment

  1. Great observations of the typical actors one might see at the gym Travis! If folks were able to get a copy of this with their new Gym memberships it would make that first time at the gym more like a scavenger hunt of who’s who and allow everyone not to take the experience so seriously! Jump in both feet! I think the hardest part of being new is finding your way around the floor, and learning where all the equipment is you want to use which then causes you to have to “parade” yourself around until you get a good lay of the land. Nothing screams *new* quite like that…you feel so out of place and foolish until you get it down! Ahh, I think I’m the Normie…c

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