Fitness Articles

How to Feel Less Intimidated in the Weight Room

6 Ways to Kick Gym-timidation to the Curb

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Strength training is no longer just for bodybuilders or athletes. Over the last few years, strength training has gained a lot of popularity in the fitness world among both men and women and across all age groups. This is awesome because strength training has immense benefits for anyone who wants to feel better and look better.
What's not awesome, however, is the number of people (especially women) who want to start strength training, but feel intimidated in the weight room.

I get it. Trying something new can be a scary thing, especially in the fitness realm, where many people already feel unsure of themselves. Add to that the strange-looking equipment and grunting and groaning that you typically find in a weight room, and it doesn't exactly equal an appealing environment for a newbie.
But never fear. You, too, can start your journey into the world of strength training with just a few helpful hints. If you've ever felt scared or intimidated to walk into a gym, and more specifically, the weight room of a gym, this advice can help you find your way--and your confidence.

1. Educate yourself and have a plan.
First and foremost, educating yourself about what you should be doing in the gym, and how certain exercises are performed, will go a long way toward helping you feel more comfortable and confident. Luckily for you, there is a ton of good (and free!) information available for people who are interested in learning more about strength training. SparkPeople.com's very own Coach Nicole wrote a Reference Guide to Strength Training, and you can also find a ton of information on my website, GirlsGoneStrong.com.
 
Remember, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are plenty of great training programs out there that have produced fantastic results. SparkPeople's Workout Generator has detailed exercises (with animated photos and instructions) whether you want to use free weights, weight machines, your own body or some other type of equipment. Simply choose a workout, learn the exercises, follow it for 6-12 weeks and then assess your progress. Keep in mind that if you're new to strength training, bodyweight exercises might be all you need at first to get results. That can be especially comforting if the machines in the gym seem complicated or confusing to you.
 
It may also be a good idea to hire a qualified trainer for three to five sessions to learn basic movement patterns and get coaching on more complicated exercises you want to learn.
 
2. Take a tour of your gym.
There's nothing worse than wandering around a gym looking for an obscure piece of equipment or moving aimlessly through a sea of exercise machines with no idea how to use them--especially if the weight room already makes you uncomfortable. Whether you belong to your local Y, a commercial gym or a private training studio, there should be someone on staff who is more than willing to take you on a tour of their facility and show you where everything is located. Many of these staff people are also equipped to answer questions about how to use, set up and adjust the equipment--and even the purpose of each piece.

In the process, don't be afraid to ask questions. No one is born knowing how to use a cable cross machine. Everyone started right in your shoes, so believe me when I say that there are no stupid questions about equipment in the gym. Just ask for the information you need.
 
Once you get your bearings and have an idea of where certain machines and pieces of equipment are located, you'll feel much more comfortable during your workout.

3. Wear your headphones.
Headphones and good workouts go together like Brussels sprouts and bacon (hint: really well).
 
Wearing headphones allows you to control what you're listening to, escape into your own little world without being distracted and get in a solid workout. You never know what crummy music your gym might be playing. I mean, come on! I've heard, "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion on multiple occasions during a set of heavy squats. It's not exactly exercise motivation.
 
Wearing headphones (especially if you listen to your favorite get-up-and-go songs) can also motivate you to work harder--and even zone out. So instead of feeling paranoid that you're being judged by the people around you, you'll be jamming out to your favorite tunes and totally focused on your workout. Here are some awesome workout playlists to get you started.
  
4. Calm down.
Have you ever spent a lot of time and energy creating a worst-case scenario in your mind and replaying it over and over and over again until you're eaten up with worry and anxiety about that hypothetical thing happening? This is kind of like that.
 
When people are at the gym, I can promise you that they are infinitely more concerned about what they are doing than what you are doing. And if they are thinking about you, they are more worried about what you think of them, than what they think of you.
 
Phew! Did you catch all of that? Next time you feel upset or paranoid that someone else is judging you, critiquing you or talking about you at the gym, repeat this mantra to yourself: "If someone has a problem with me, it's their problem, not mine." You're doing something awesome for yourself, and that's all you need to think about!
 
Plus, everyone has to start somewhere. Yep, even those people you might feel intimidated by were in your shoes once. There was a time when they were new to the weight room and doing the same exercises and using the same weights as you, so it's likely that they remember those same feelings that you're having and can empathize with you.
 
So, just relax and do your thing. (A few deep breaths can also do wonders to calm you down.)
 
5. Just do it.
I love this quote from Dale Carnegie:
 
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
 
This is so true. In keeping with the tip above, sitting around worrying about being uncomfortable at the gym is 10 times worse than actually going to the gym, where there is a 99.9-percent chance that no one will laugh at you.
 
If you let fear control your life, you will continue to live in a teeny, tiny, familiar little box known as your ''comfort zone.'' And in case you're wondering, that is NOT where the magic happens.

Not. At. All.

In fact, very few exciting and noteworthy things ever happen within that box. It's only when we take a deep breath, close our eyes and jump that we see what we're really made of.
 
And you know what's amazing? Once you've made that jump one time, even if it's a small jump, it makes your next jump easier. And your jumps continue to get easier and easier until you don't think twice about doing something that you haven't done before.
 
6. Buddy up.
Okay, so maybe wearing headphones and faking confidence aren't your things. Maybe you prefer to be a bit more social while you're at the gym or feel less self-conscious if you're in the company of others. That's great! Bring a friend with you.
 
Having another person with you in the weight room will give you a sense of familiarity and comfort. There's safety in numbers, remember? Your weight-lifting buddy doesn't have to be an expert in order to help you, either (although asking to tag along with an experienced exerciser sure won't hurt).
 
With a friend by your side, you can keep each other motivated with friendly competition and words of encouragement. You can spot each other when you want to use heavier weights and give one another feedback on form. You can figure out the machines by putting your minds together. Oh, and you can keep one another accountable for getting to the gym on a regular basis, too. It's a win-win for both of you.
 
Strength training has incredible benefits for men and women who want to look better, feel better and live a longer and healthier life. Don't let intimidation or fear of embarrassment keep you from reaching your health and fitness goals. Follow the steps above, and you'll be ready to tackle the weight room in no time!
 
Were (or are) you intimated to lift weights at the gym? What have you done to overcome your fear? What advice do you have to help others get over gym-timidation?


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Member Comments

  • I hated going to the gym. It's overpriced, felt like I was surrounded by people who were more interested in showing off their bodies to the male exercisers, than actually working out. Nixed the gym. Now I stay at home and use workout videos. I've been doing this for many years
  • I recently joined Planet Fitness Gym. It is nice and clean, has many machines and plenty of free weights.The only thing that intimidated me was the whole wall of mirrors. I was not used to seeing myself so much. The staff and other members are respectful and helpful if asked. It is open 24hours and that works well for me since I work nightshift. I would recommend trying the gym at different times or days to find what works best for you. I like 2 am during the week best. There are usually one 1 or 2 other members there at that time.
  • MS_GODDESS
    I currently use the fitness center at my office building, but in the past I have belonged to two different fitness chains. I rarely ever encountered any sort of negativity. ONE TIME there was a guy who got all "mine mine mine" with me because he was circuit training during a busy time and I had the audacity to use one of the machines he was using (although he was across the floor on another machine at the time). Several people jumped in at that point to defend me. Great feeling to know most folks just wanted to be helpful and friendly. In fact, a couple of other minor experiences led me to deduce that, if anyone was considered "unwelcome," it was those who didn't show common courtesy (not re-racking their weights, not letting others work in between sets, snotty attitude, posing in front of the mirror (YES, I actually saw that once!), etc.).
  • FITTERMEE
    I've been going to the gym for a few years now...I'm amazed at how much of a social thing its become. "She's standing in your spot".."she took your bike".."I''ve never seen her here at this time"..yeah I know She's on my treadmill. Obviously if in in it or on and not on top of you you were no there.(smile) Crowding me doesn't intimidate me anymore, nor does slamming weights and dropping them as near to me without hitting me. After reading the posts I understand now it's a deliberate act to make you feel unwelcomed....) stopped scheduling work outs because I was more stressed trying stay on schedule. I work full time and I have a family. I like my gym because if's open when I'm awake and ready to work out, or work off stress. I miss the group classes but not the constant chatter about nothing that drowns out the instructor.
  • To Nguyen: It's an inconsiderate amateur jerk like you that gave serious lifter a bad name. I have seen it all in my 50 years. You didn't have to drop your dead lift weights on the floor to show you that you could lift heavy, or doing drop sets, dropped plates would shake the floor and affected other's concentration. I didn't want to be affected by the rumbling when I tried to push mine up. Do not lay your plates on the floor, especially when it's crowded and people had to walk without tripping. You're only entitled to the bench or machine you're using, not the entire floor. Are you also the jerk that hogged up the machine for 2 hours so no one could use it? The newbies and mostly women were guilty of that, hogging the Smith Machine for one hour or more using only the bar. I personally thought it was ridiculous that some women wore only yoga pants or shorts with nothing underneath to arouse the younger guys. I also wouldn't judge those who read while they were walking on treadmills or riding a bike. I saw a woman reading a book and wearing flip flops while walking on a treadmill the other day. You are not walking fast enough if you could read. It helped if you concentrate on the muscle working so the blood would flow there.
  • AZURE-SKY
    The majority of people at the gym are there for themselves, not to criticize others. They're probably thinking about what to make for dinner, how the kids did in school, whether or not they can postpone doing the laundry or grocery shopping until the next day, etc.

    It's really doubtful that they are thinking about anyone else working out at the same time.If you do run into someone who is critical, remember that they are probably making comments to make themselves feel better, not because you look bad.

    I've been going to the same gym in my community for over 10 years. There is a huge range of ages and fitness levels. There are people working out who are in their 80s. I've seen men and women who need a cane or walker to get around, go the gym and lift weights - they might be only 1 or 2 pounds, but they are still there working out.

    They use the recumbent bikes, treadmills, even the ellipticals, they swim, walk in the pool. They don't care what anyone else thinks about them - they are there for their health. They do whatever they are able to do.

    Yes, they're gray-haired, maybe bald, with wrinkles, pot bellies and saggy skin, but I figure if they don't care what anyone thinks about them, then neither should I.

    I rarely speak to anyone when I'm at the gym - I put my headphones on, listen to my music and work out. I'm not a serious weight lifter, I use the cardio machines and some of the weight machines. There is very little conversation in my gym, everyone is there for their workout - it's not a place to socialize. When a person is done, they leave, and the next person in line uses the machines.

    The only one who has the right to judge you is yourself. So stop worrying about what YOU imagine other people are thinking and do what you need to do for yourself.
  • RETURNER2000
    Nguyennguyen's post would be why newbies get intimidated. This is not how most "serious" lifters behave.
  • Many people are intimidated for different reasons fortunately that isnít my personality so I donít worry about that when I go to the gym. I treat people with respect and I hope I get the same in return if not thatís on them not me and I donít let it bother me. I stay focused because I am there for my own reasons not someone elseís. I donít care what people think because being in a gym where I pay my way just like everyone else makes me no better and no less than anyone else at the gym which means I have just as much right there as anyone else does. We are all members expected to follow the same rules of the gym not the rules of a group or a click of people who tell you what you should or should not do. Letís face it who wants to work out in a negative environment? Not me and there is no room for bullying, arrogance, or evil stares from other members who think people should be there doing things their way. I would rather help someone who is new and be a role model who helps others than someone who gives them a mean look and is intimidating to them. A positive atmosphere is important to make a gym comfortable to go to if it has a negative atmosphere then thatís when I would find a new gym.
    I prefer to keep to myself and I don't care what anyone thinks I'm there for me and my health we don't have little clicks in our gym people are nice and willing to help if anyone needs it. Besides a smile can go a long way. No one has to follow the rules of another member in a gym letís face it who are they? They are no better than me or you. Learn to hold your head high, be proud of yourself you are not there to be part of a social group or to be approved by other members you are there for your own personal fitness goals everyone makes mistakes especially if you are just starting and itís important for us as members to be patient and understanding weíve all been there like the article said. Going to the gym is a positive step towards a healthy lifestyle because you are doing something for you and thatís all that really matters.
  • Weightlifter and certified "gym rat." I have given people the evil eye before in the gym and I'm sure they think it was due to their size - WRONG! Couldn't care less what size you are but here are some things WEIGHT ROOM regulars will not tell you about getting along in the weight room... and these are based on PERSONAL experience. Am I proud to have done this necessarily to people - definitely not because it is NEVER my intention to intimidate anyone ... but you SHOULD know this when entering a weight room with SERIOUS lifters such as myself. (Tough Love ... )

    (1) Do NOT complain that the 200 lb + weights we are dropping hurt your ears. I'll land the weights louder until you will want to leave. Yes, I did that recently and she left in 2 minutes after complaining.

    (2) Do NOT walk through the middle of where my weight plates are laid out ... go around me not through the middle of me. You'll get the stink eye to the point you will figure out to walk around me. Yes, that did happen recently as well. She learned.

    (3) Don't complain about the sweat / smell .... etc. I'ts a gym.

    (4) Don't complaint about the women dressed in skimpy clothes / shorts / bootie shorts. You're there to workout not check what I'm wearing. If my bootie shorts offend you go to a different gym or workout where you can't see me. better yet, just focus on YOU.

    (5) Do not linger at a machine waiting for someone - find something else to do.

    (6) Understand that to earn respect or feel part of the weight room crowd .. kind of like a "cheers" bar... you gotta be there REGULARLY ... CONSISTENTLY....W
    ITH ENTHUSIASM otherwise ... you're nameless / faceless to us... but show up all the time... REGARDLESS of your size / gains ... you are judged in the weight room more on consistency in showing up NOT on how much you actually lift or the size you are. To feel a part of the lifting environment you must BECOME part of the environment REGULARLY.

    (7) Weight room regulars do NOT like beginning of the year "newbies" - more stink eye is given this time of y...
  • When going to a gym ask for a consultation with a trainer. Do not feel pressured to buy any personal training packages, simply tell them you want to use the strength building equipment properly. They would rather show you how to use the equipment properly than have you injured.

    In the words of Dr. Phil "You wouldn't worry about what people think of you if you knew how little they did".
  • MADEIT54
    I have used several gyms over the years. I found a local community center that is WONDEFUL. Full pool with classes, nice small gym, personal trainers and workout classes. Great people. Good location and hours and price includes all but personal trainers/ Price is great for seniors.
  • CLUMBER
    Good advice overall but I was taught to only wear headphones during cardio, never during weight lifting, whether free weights or machine. You need to be aware of your surroundings (for instance it is not uncommon for someone in the gym to use a weight amount farrrr above their skill and then stumbling or dropping that weight - you want to be able to hear and respond quickly to "HEADS UP!" warnings. Additionally, listening to music can alter how well you maintain a regular cadence with your own lifting and you need to be 100% alert to doing your reps the safe way. Perhaps most important, since this is invariably the first thing I forget when doing weights, you have to be cognizant of your breathing with each rep. Music through headphones takes your attention away from that. I was also taught that music in the gym environment from speakers is okay because you can easily, and sometimes even automatically, push that into the background when you are concentrating and you will still hear warnings.

    Just what I have been taught by various trainers over the years, and I have witnessed on 2 different occasions someone overloading their ability significantly and then losing their balance, stumbling, and dropping or even tossing the weight into someone else's area. One case at a Bally's the one attempting too much weight seriously injured their shoulder AND managed to drop the weight right on the shin of the person he was trying to show off for.

    YMMV
  • I'm 55 and just started working out at age 45! I was fat, and had NO idea what I was doing! I started at Curves for Women, then moved on to obtaining my Personal Training Certification! I've trained at Gold's Gym, and currently training at Snap Fitness. MOST DEFINITELY, people are NOT looking at you....unless you dead lift, Squat or Bench Press an impressive weight! Everyone is into themselves...espe
    cially when they have their headphones on!
    Everything that Lance500 said, is TRUE! Please read and heed what he said!!

    Always ask someone..,.gym staff, or a Personal Trainer, if you don't know how to use a piece of equipment! That's what we're there for...UNLESS we're in the middle of a training session...then don't interrupt...these people are PAYING for our time!

    Most of all-Have FUN! Become addicted to working out! I promise, it will pay off, and you'll LOVE the new you!
  • I am in my mid-60s and have been going to the gym for nearly 50 years, I am still motivated to go there almost everyday. I do wear ear plugs and use 2 layers of masking tape over my ears to blocked off the loud garbage music in the gym nowadays. I do not mind the women working out in the free weight section. However, I like to offer the advice so the newbie (men or women) could be more considerate of others. 1. The weight benches are for working with weights, not used to set your water bottle or towels while you're doing other exercise. 2. For some reason, most gym have less than 3 free flat benches than expensive machines. Try not to hog the bench for an hour. 3. It's not safe for you to do cardio or stretching between benches or machines, your shadow also distracted others who tried to lift heavy weights next to you. 4. Do not stand in between benches or machines while you are watching your workout buddy. I once hit a lady with a 50 lbs dumbbell doing my bench fly, she was not there when I Iaid down. 5. Do not lift dumbbell in front of the racks, you would block the isle and prevent others to retrieve or return the weights. Always lookout for the guy next to you. I kicked a guy with my feet and dropped the dumbbells when I rose up from the bench finishing a set of dumbbell press with a pair of 80 lbs dumbbells because he was standing at the end of my bench in front of the mirror doing shoulder shrugs. 6. Do not let your dumbbells at the end of the bench blocking the isle. I have seen 4 sets of dumbbells at end of the bench. 7. Do not drop your dumbbell or plates on the floor. There are probably more but use common sense. Be considerate and be safe.
  • JESSICA1961208
    If someone at the gym does make a comment about what I am doing, I would not be easily offended. This maybe an opportunity to watch my form to make sure I am not injuring myself. This is also a time to ask for assistance. No one likes to be criticize, however, this is how we improve. I often think how athletes become champions by accepting wisdom and instruction.

About The Author

Molly Galbraith Molly Galbraith
Molly Galbraith is a rapidly rising young trainer who is making a name for herself in the fitness industry. She is a strength coach and co-owner of J&M Strength and Conditioning in Lexington, KY. She is also the co-founder of the wildly popular Girls Gone Strong group, a movement dedicated to changing the way women train. You can learn more about Molly by visiting her website, and you can keep up with her latest adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

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