Fitness Articles

How to Feel Less Intimidated in the Weight Room

6 Ways to Kick Gym-timidation to the Curb

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.'s very own Coach Nicole wrote a Reference Guide to Strength Training, and you can also find a ton of information on my website,
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.
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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.

Member Comments

  • When I first started at our local gym, 10 miles away actually as we live in 'the sticks' in England, I was 62, overweight and extremely nervous of what people might think of me. Fortunately, it's a small town gym and not one of those you see on the TV, inhabited by renegades from Bay Watch - and I'm not talking about David Hasselhoff! No Barbie dolls in spray-on lycra, with Parton-esque busts disproportionatel
    y large compared to their minuscule, circulation-defyi
    ng thongs…. just regular, ordinary people, men and women, of all ages right up to their 70's and more, and of varying shapes and sizes. Learning difficulties people also have group sessions on the machines, overseen by their carers and the gym staff, and nobody is made to feel awkward. How wrong was I to think that anyone would waste their time sniggering at me!

    Fast forward a year, a birthday, a loss of 40lbs and a shape change thanks to a combination of effort, SP support and a personal trainer - the latter being money well spent if you can afford it, AND HOW! I am still too heavy and have more work to do. BUT, I am now totally relaxed in a gym environment, have lots of friends in the gym amongst both the staff and members alike, and can't imagine not going to the gym. I can run for almost a mile, I lift good weights and I constantly challenge myself. Not only that, but the gym (1Life) has posted a picture of me on their Facebook site, working out on the cable cross machine, with a small story about me, in order to show that gyms are for everyone and what can be achieved.

    GYMS ARE FOR EVERYONE! IF I CAN DO IT, ANYONE CAN! My self confidence has rocketed, my esteem likewise, and, whilst I am a constant work-in-progress with my weight, I am healthier than ever, fitter than ever, and I am giving myself the best chance of longevity that I am able. I am working with me, thanks to utilising what is available to me. - 1/19/2015 7:28:30 AM
  • I loved your post, MCASKEY6!

    I go to a University gym, too...and if anybody is giving weird looks or walking around trying to flex, it's the kids. Well, I'm WAYYY over 18, so I'm neither impressed, nor intimidated by kids younger than the one I have at home!

    It really is ALL about you and nobody else. When I go in, I usually have a plan for what I want to do...treadmill, weight machines, track, etc. I do my routine and I go. If I'm walking on the treadmill and a toddler is jogging next to me, I don't feel the least need to up my speed or make any other changes to what I do.

    I'll be getting back into the gym next week...and it will be ALL about me! - 10/31/2014 12:15:41 PM
  • I've been to gyms before, and got put on the standard "cardio + strength machines" program that the "lazy" gym "trainer" put everyone on. However, the women I see who spend some time in the weight room look amazing, and with all the benefits we know about, I decided I wanted to enter that room.

    So, I got a session with a personal trainer. Stating clearly that I wanted to do free weights and stuff. She set up a program for me, and walked me through my first routine. I loved it, but tended to avoid the weight room when it was crowded.

    After about 5-6 weeks, I was ready for a new program. She set me up with some "fancier" moves, weights and machines. So, with this new set of "skills", I dared to step into the weight room, even with the muscle men in there.

    I was very pleasantly surprised! At first I was with my headphones on, going through my thing trying to ignore the guys. The only thing that happened, was that after one of my sessions, as I was leaving, one of them called over to me and said "You're doing great!".
    Since then, more and more, I'm "one of the guys". Often working out without headphones, because I enjoy being part of the conversation, getting a few laughs and being social while I'm there as well!

    The guys are courteous, very friendly, and I do get the feeling that they're aware that it's not an easy place for a woman, especially with no experience, to enter. There's no staring or judging, just support. And the results I'm starting to see are pretty damn awesome as well! I'm never leaving that weight room! :) - 10/31/2014 11:39:13 AM
    Great article. 10 years ago I was in great shape, didn't think twice about pumping iron right alongside with the guys. Fast forward to today...not terrible shape, but not the muscle-bound gal I used to be...I was so scared to get back to the gym, especially to start weight training again...I tortured myself for about 2 weeks thinking all those self-destructive little thoughts "what if I can't lift enough" "what if I can't do enough reps" "what if I can't figure out how to use a machine." Finally one morning, I didn't let myself think. I packed my gym bag. At lunch time, I drove to the gym, again, not thinking. I got changed, plugged in my ear phones. Ok, was starting to I got on a treadmill, had to warm up anyway. Jogging for 10 minutes let me eyeball the weight lifting area. I went armed with a list of exercises I wanted to do, and I followed it. When I started to feel intimidated, I would pause, record how many sets/reps I did, and it was enough to get my bearings and move on the next exercise. You know what? No one cares what you're doing, no one is watching and judging, they're busy working out, just like you. The next time was easier, time after that was even easier. Now I don't think twice about it. If you're doubting yourself, just close your eyes and take that first step. It'll only get better from there. - 10/31/2014 11:23:20 AM
  • Very self conscious the gym is not for me - 10/31/2014 8:05:16 AM
  • Classes offered by the gym work best for me. I graduated from step class to Body Pump to RIPPED to Art of Strength and Intensity and Dynamic ST to Crossfit! I'm hooked! - 10/31/2014 4:04:10 AM
  • NSCARNEY you are so right! I too, was a Navy wife and used the base pool and gym. The guys really don't care and in truth, probably admire you for being there! I go to a tiny town gym now and I'll tell ya, I'd much rather be in a room full of buff guys than with a bunch of thin girls! - 10/2/2014 12:43:03 PM
  • MCASKEY6 is spot-on! I was a Navy wife for years. And for years I worked out at my local Navy base amid some extremely fit people. And ya know what? Past a certain age, you become invisible, which is fine by me. Then I noticed the retirees showing up, some with walkers, to use the treadmills. The occasional Wounded Warrior. The other older spouses. People of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, and ya know what else? Nobody really cares what you look like. - 9/6/2014 5:10:11 PM
  • This is a great article and very reassuring - thank you! - 8/19/2014 11:16:22 AM
  • very assuring. Thanks - 7/31/2014 5:32:10 AM
  • I say the gym is the one place where you can be selfish, within reason of course. :) It's all about you when you go there...your health, your weight, your well-being. So don't worry about anyone else. Of course, don't be disrespectful. Exercise is about the self! - 7/31/2014 4:00:45 AM
  • I work out at a college gym. It would seem intimidating. But in reality, it's a heavy mix of professors and students, young and old, and all body/fitness types.

    It's true, most of the time, people are so focused on what they are doing they don't even notice me.

    When they do notice me, they're usually really nice.

    Very rarely (VERY rarely), I've had some young woman try to give me a stink-eye. I just look her dead in the eye; and every time, she immediately turns away.
    When that happens (again rarely) I just ask, "Am I going to let this bimbo stand in the way of what I want?" - 6/23/2014 6:53:16 PM
    I used to be real intimidated about the gym because I was so overweight. I still am but I have a "I don't care what you think of me" attitude anymore. There are some gyms that are full of people watchers. I found one that doesn't do that. If they find someone who is being rude or obnoxious, they ask them to leave. I can't lift as much as some men, but I can leg press more than others. They start to stare and you leg press more than them, they don't look at you anymore. - 6/23/2014 3:57:36 PM
  • I completely agree with everything in this article! I ALWAYS just did free weights at home even if I belonged to a big gym with tons of weight machines and free weight. My fiance and I got a membership at our local recreation center and it was a requirement to take a guided tour /orientation of the workout room. They went through every machine, explained how to use it, had us try it, and wrote down our seat levels and weight to start with on a card. I still grab the card and carry it with me to make sure I have everything set up correctly.

    And gym buddies are great. The bar that we go to with friends has a cook who's in his mid 50's. His name is Wally. Wally has been a dedicated man in the last year+. He's lost over 100 lbs. Last week I went to the YMCA with him where he is a member. Thanks to almost 2 hours in the gym with him - I learned a lot about different machines and he and I are sparked to work out harder and longer by the other person! We've made an agreement that I'll use one of his buddy passes once a month to keep the other person motivated! - 6/23/2014 9:19:15 AM
  • I used to travel a lot for a living, often spending weeks and months out of town, and when the guys I worked with were out after work going to bars I was finding a gym or martial art school. So I've been in quite a few gyms. I've never felt any kind of fear in one and haven't ever seen a reason for anyone else to either. Anytime anyone ever has a question most regulars are more than happy to help them, and so is the staff. No one cares if it's someone's first time, and no one looks down on those who are weaker than them.

    I don't like the idea of "buddying up" so much though. It seems like those who go to a gym together are the ones who tie up weight machines for a long time. - 4/28/2014 9:37:30 AM

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