BACKGROUND: Gym intimidation is a major barrier to women’s participation in exercise. The purpose of this study was to measure gym intimidation and determine indicators of gym intimidation levels in female college students. METHODS: A survey was emailed to female college students at a large, public university in the southeastern US. Age, class standing, academic college, major, frequency of gym visits, gym equipment used, and past/current participation in organized sports was assessed. Gym intimidation was measured using the Social Exercise and Anxiety Measure subscales: social exercise self-efficacy (SES: 5-items, 0-100 scale, assesses confidence in the ability to exercise in various environments), gym avoidance (GA: 4 items, 0-7 scale, assesses gym avoidant behavior), and exercise importance (EI: 3 items, 0-7 scale, assesses priority of exercise). Pearson’s correlations were used to identify significant relationships. RESULTS: Of 388 respondents, 81% reported utilizing cardio equipment and 64% using strength machines and free weights. On the SES, the average for “I could work out/exercise in a crowded gym”, was 48.71. Respondents were about 50% confident in that ability compared to 95% confidence “that I could work out/exercise at a private gym where only me and my close friends work out” (x=94.72). The GA item with the highest score was “when I go to the gym I think people are judging me” (x=3.93). On the EI, respondents placed a high level of importance on exercise “to maintain a healthy lifestyle” (x=6.17). Pearson’s correlations revealed a significant relationship between frequency of gym attendance and SES (Q1 r=0.54, Q2 r=0.26, Q3 r=0.42, Q4 r=0.42, Q5 r=0.56, all p<0.01,) GA (Q1 r=-0.56, Q2 r=-0.50, Q3 r=-0.38, all p < 0.01), and EI (Q1 r=0.19, Q2 r=0.51, Q3 r=0.55, all p < 0.01). Age was correlated with “I could work out/exercise with a group of people that I do not know” (r=0.14, p < 0.01). A relationship was found between SES Q1 and Q5 (r=0.72, p < 0.01) and EI Q2 (r=0.42) and Q3 (r=0.41), showing that self-predicted success at the gym is correlated with exercise importance and ability to use a public gym. CONCLUSIONS: Gym intimidation is prevalent in the female college students. Most concerns focused on perceived judgment as opposed to exercise itself. Those with higher levels of gym intimidation attend the gym less frequently. Combating intimidation from perceived judgment is critical.

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