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

    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 - 8/30/2015 4:48:14 PM
  • 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! - 7/14/2015 8:22:31 AM
  • 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. - 7/14/2015 4:53:26 AM
  • 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. - 7/14/2015 4:40:03 AM
  • 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

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