the author


Ashley Solomon, Psy.D is a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, body image, trauma, and serious mental illness.

post categories

nourishing body image awards

Nourishing Body Image Awards Badge

How to tell if your gym is toxic: Five signs

June 12, 2012 13 Comments by Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul

{via pinterest}

Years ago, if you would have told me that I would prefer running outside to on a treadmill, I would have looked at your incredulously. “How in the heck can I watch Bravo when I’m running in the park? And what if I need a sudden bathroom? A close water fountain? And what about all the hills outside??”

Granted, at the time the gym was my only source of cable television (which thus required that my trips to the gym be perfectly timed to my favorite shows), and I lived in the Midwest, so the gym provided a temperature controlled entertainment center with the added benefit of heart health and stress relief.

These days, however, I crave the outdoors. Ever since I started focusing on mindful exercise, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible connection I can feel with the earth when I’m moving my body in the fresh air. And to be honest, most gyms give me the heebie-jeebies. Besides being hotbeds for MRSA, they’re often full of people who I can reliably say should spend a little less time there. Sure, there are others like me who go for a quick heart rate elevation and go, but there are always those gym rats who are there for two to three hours at a time and strut around with their bulky arms running swinging into things.

On the other hand, I’m quite sure that not all gyms are as skeezy as some of the ones in my memory. However, many are, and this can be a totally toxic environment, particularly for people who have struggled with a not-so-copasetic relationship with exercise or their bodies. Here are some signs that your gym may be one of those places:

You find yourself comparing yourself to everyone else there. This might mean that gym per se isn’t toxic, but it is a negative environment for you. If you have a history of compulsive exercise or an eating disorder, it may be wise to stay away from a place where you’re checking out your neighbors in booty shorts and tank tops. Comparisons aren’t always physical either. If you’re sneaking glances at the next guy’s treadmill to see his incline (and subsequently feeling bad about yourself or compelled to amp it up), it might be time to step off and out into the wide world of nature.

The clientele is lacking diversity. A good way to see what your gym is all about is to check out who goes there. Are they the gym rates I mentioned above whose sole purpose in life seems to be lifting a car above their heads? Are they working people? Stay-at-home parents? Older folks who are trying to keep kicking it? Is there diversity in race, body size, ability level, or even personality? If your gym is only attracting a certain type of person, it might not be focused on celebrating different fitness goals and body types.

The classes offered focus on weight loss. Check out a list of the classes that are offered and notice the titles. If all the yoga is “power” or every kick-boxing class “cardio,” a clear message is being sent. Another clear message is sent with classes like “6-Pack in 6 Weeks” or “Lucious Legs” (seriously, I’ve seen these!). Read the descriptions too — if the focus seems to be totally on burning calories or developing a certain aesthetic, that might not be a great sign. Having strong abdominal muscles has great benefits outside of portraying a certain look (e.g. breathing better, improved posture, increased stability), but if your instructor doesn’t seem to realize that, you might be setting yourself up for frustration.

The staff pressure you into things you don’t want. If Darnell called me one more flipping time asking me to come in for my complementary personal training session, well, I’m not sure what I would have done. But I would have been a very irate lady. If your gym staff is pushing weight loss products, personal fitness assessments, or additional classes (see above) and you feel uncomfortable, speak up or get out. Do it for your body image.

The signage makes you want to scream. Take a peek around the gym and see what’s adorning the walls. I’m sure you’ve seen the totally un-clever “No pain, no gain,” mantra, or the screaming “No excuses!” Or better yet, the before and after photos of the previously so unhappy housewife suddenly turned muscle model (apparently losing weight comes with a complementary spray tan). If the signage makes you want to scream, it might be time to find a new place to move your body.

The wonderful thing is that you don’t have to subject yourself to toxic gyms in order to reap the many benefits of exercise. There are tons of things you can try where you won’t even know you’re working out! Exercise should make you feel healthy and happy, not wreck havoc on your self-esteem. If it is, it might be time to call it quits.

Have you ever belonged to a toxic gym? What told you it was time to quit?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Eating as a Path to Yoga
    3 years ago

    I have to admit… I LOVE MY GYM. It isn’t perfect. There are comments about calorie burning and atoning for food eaten over the wkend, but I love, love, love group exercise.

    I do have the above issues with yoga studios, however.
    Eating as a Path to Yoga recently posted..Fair Trade: The Social Eater


  2. Alissa
    3 years ago

    Thank you for writing this; it was very validating. I recently cancelled a gym membership (they sure do hate that!) after realizing I enjoy being active outdoors so much more. I dreaded going to the gym and being reminded of my ‘flaws’ and all the ways I wasn’t as fit as the person on the treadmill next to me. Exercise is crucial to my recovery, but only when I do it mindfully and am able to focus on how it improves my health, rather than my weight. I feel much more centered coming back from a walk or jog around my local park than when I left the gym.


  3. Laura Connell
    3 years ago

    I’m a fitness-oriented person who does not belong to the gym for the reasons mentioned in the post. I prefer to get my fitness more organically and have also sensed irony in the idea of driving to a place and then running or biking on the spot. The gym I went to briefly a few years ago was rife with anorexia and steroids abusers and I actually felt a bit sorry looking around at some people who seemed imprisoned by their need to look perfect. There was an overly sexualized way of dressing and everybody seemed to be on the make. What a poor way to begin a relationship – based so much on outer appearances.
    Laura Connell recently posted..Girls Circle Summer Workshop


  4. PTC
    3 years ago

    Well, let me first say that I just got back from St. Maarten, where I saw men running and walking the beach naked, so sometimes the gym is a better place. haha.

    I am definitely one of those people who compare myself to the other females at the gym. I tend to focus on the anorexic ones and think that I should workout longer because they’re looking at me and thinking that I’m fat, or I think about how I don’t want to look as sick and unhappy as they do.

    I also teach aerobics. Strong abs also help your lower back. :)


    • Heather
      3 years ago

      I can assure you that those “anorexics” are not looking at you, but are existing in their own hell, a limited and compromised existence. I can really relate to wanting to be able to show my pain on the outside because of how I feel on the inside.
      Please remember that their pain and self injury is not something to strive for, we must use our voices to receive support and not our bodies.


  5. Julia H. @ Going Gulia
    3 years ago

    Great post. The only gyms I’ve ever been part of are the one on my university campus and a “gym” at a local community center, so neither of those are really the kinds of places that would be particularly toxic. I think it’s great that you mentioned the focus on weight loss. So many people think that’s all the gym is for, which is not the case–it’s about feeling great and healthy!
    Julia H. @ Going Gulia recently posted..Timing Doesn’t Always Work


  6. Heather
    3 years ago

    My complicated relationship and the links it had to my eating disorder have always been problematic. I have harrowing memories of the time spent in gyms and how deep my isolation and depression and hopelessness was. That happened so much that has become an association for me.
    I stopped joining gyms because I would be struck with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach everytime I walked in the doors, I would feel like I was being sucked into a cult of body obsession. Surely, this is not the case with all gyms, but I would go so far as to say that many find their motivations out of comparing. I used to take out my contacts and go almost blind to the gym because I didn’t want to be aware of others looking at me. Sometimes they really were staring, but other times I was just paranoid.

    For me, I try to take walks outside because it makes me feel less confined. I recently was injured and had to undergo physical therapy that included riding a stationary bike. I had forgotten the feeling of being tethered to a machine and the compulsory exercise I had previous engaged in. I can reframe those instances today, but I try my best to do things with my body that cultivate a connection rather than a distraction, because I can easily get distracted. Great post!!
    Heather recently posted..Celebrity Culture, the Glamorization of Weight Loss and Unattainable Ideals


  7. PTC
    3 years ago

    Heather, you’re right, because I know that I’m mostly focused on my own body and stuff when I’m working out or teaching class. The only time I’m comparing is when I see the sick girls.
    PTC recently posted..No more WIF


  8. RedPanda
    3 years ago

    Then again, you could just do your research, figure out what *you* want to get out of a gym, and then go along and do what you want.

    Life is too short to worry about what muscle-bound guys and cardio bunnies think of you!


  9. Erica Smash
    3 years ago

    Thanks for this impressive information. If someone having impression on some of the signs above, the gym is absolutely toxic. For me, I really don’t want to do exercise at gym. I just do workouts at home and it is perfect since I could be able to get peace and tranquility.
    Erica Smash recently posted..Lose Excess Weight Successfully


  10. Mia Glover
    3 years ago

    I really hate going to gym. Perhaps, I have toxic in gym. What I really don’t want in the gym is that there is a lot of people and I often compare myself to them and it is very stressing so I decided to quit going to gym. I just make small gym in my house for my private use.
    Mia Glover recently posted..Secrets to Dealing with Hair Loss


  11. Katleen Quinlan
    3 years ago

    I think I am toxic to gym because I am experience the same as what you said here. Since, if this true I think I must need to give up going to gym. I will consider this year creating a small gym inside my home so that I can take workout alone.
    Katleen Quinlan recently posted..Teeth Whitening Made Easy at Home


One Trackback

  1. […] Next week marks the beginning of summer, time to get outdoors and enjoy!  Nourishing the Soul tells us, “Ever since I started focusing on mindful exercise, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible connection I can feel with the earth when I’m moving my body in the fresh air.”  She also tells us how to tell if your gym is toxic. […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

  1. CommentLuv badge