The introvert’s perfect gym, by accident.



Physical exercise is the best therapy for stress that I know, but lot of introverted folks like me are really intimidated by the thought of going to a gym or exercise class. All those toned youngsters to compare yourself to, all the cliques to feel excluded from, the boisterous locker room behaviour etc….

I know from forums for introverted and socially anxious people that a lot of us would prefer to buy our own weights or just go running instead, perhaps somewhere deserted like my favourite beach above?

You might just be missing out on something special.

I spent a lot of time yesterday looking forward to going to the gym. How did that ever happen? My dear friend and long-time colleague Helen finds this hilarious as she remembers a time when I lived on stress and whisky (single malt of course, Islay ones for preference).

Gym going started for health reasons. I’d done some yoga but had never considered going to a gym. In 2009/2010 I spent much of the winter hunched over a keyboard in a cold lab and managed to compress the ulnar nerves in my neck, leading to great pain in my arms and numbness in my fingers. A physio took one look at my posture and told me what the problem was. At the same time I was having circulation problems. I figured a gym would sort me out. As I walked past one when switching buses in the city centre, as part of my daily commute,  it seemed logical to join that one as I could go on my way home from work – I just knew that if I went home first I’d never drag myself out again.

All went well. There were a few of us who did classes with a trainer and got to know each other but also there were lots of gorillas who spent their time hogging the weights kit and posing, and also lots of students who would just turn up, never speak to anyone except each other, plug their headphones in and run on a treadmill for half an hour. This is probably the usual demographic mix for any gym.

So it went for three years. Then I had another health issue: whilst doing some field sketching for the SBA course I managed to get a collection of harvest mite bites. Several of these got infected and it took 6 months of different antibiotics to cure me. This left me wiped out and unable to do much at the gym. Depression and anxiety sapped me of any wish to go in any case. I was very unfit and flabby by the time I graduated from the SBA course in early 2016 and I want nobody to see the photos!

So what happened? Soon after I started dragging myself back to the gym (and paid a year’s membership up front) the place caught fire and had to close due to an insurance issue.


Yes and no.

Two of the trainers, Reece and Callum, salvaged some of the free weights from the wreckage and set up by themselves in a temporary venue. Lack of machines meant that the gorillas and the treadmill zombies went elsewhere. There was just a core of us loyal members left. A wide range of ages but we all get on well and are on first-name terms. Over the last year newbies have started and have been welcomed to the fold. There are social events which even introverted and socially anxious old me looks forward to.

Training is now more like having some fun with a bunch of like-minded friends. I look forward to going. The members are there to work for their health and have fun, not pose or compete or try to hook-up. We have everyone from lively pensioners to a hard-working young mum who lights up the room by always smiling.

Phoenix Fitness in Lancaster (UK) is what a gym should be like. The trainers push us to our limits but always with good humour. Walking in the door you are greeted with smiles and everyone says hello and knows your name.


This gym might be short on equipment and facilities but it gets results and it has heart.


  1. Great post 🙂 That’s great that you found a gym that you love!
    I go to a dance and fitness studio right now. As an introvert, I also prefer small classes where I know the other students and the instructor well.
    I like your drawings by the way 🙂 As a kid, I had an old dictionary that had illustrations. I used to bookmark all the pages with plant pictures. Your drawings remind me of those!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sophie :). The early 19th century botanical artist Franz Bauer is my inspiration and I was lucky enough to see his originals by making an appointment at the Natural History Museum in London two years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Injuries are really frustrating when you get the exercise bug 😦
      I damaged a knee ligament 4 years ago and it put me out of action for weeks. I still have to be careful with some movements as that knee is now a little unstable and is prone to briefly popping out of joint – which hurts lots!
      I hope you recover and are back in action soon! Nice to hear from you 🙂


      1. Thanks…

        Oh….I have that knee issue and there is a perfect solution (I think you’re in the UK, so not sure if NHS will pay for it.) The Ossur Uploader brace; check out their website. It is a total godsend: it’s carbon fiber (so very light, very comfortable). It has two parts — one that straps around your calf muscle and one around your thigh (a specialist needs to measure you for it). It completely stabilizes you; I had the same knee/collapse issue and it hurts like hell. I have also done a LOT of PT and the collapsing stopped once I had sufficiently strengthened all surrounding muscles.

        It’s so well-designed (lightly padded) you can wear it (as I have, in summer and at the gym) on bare skin. Truly a miracle. See if you can get one…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ooh – thank you – I will look into that! What is annoying is that it rarely pops out at the gym but often when I’m doing something easy like kneeling to put a DVD in the player but not paying attention to what my knees are up to 🙂


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