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Fitness Articles  ›  Exercise Basics

How to Feel Less Intimidated in the Weight Room

6 Ways to Kick Gym-timidation to the Curb

-- By Molly Galbraith, Certified Personal Trainer
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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.
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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

  • 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
  • EWILHITE74
    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
  • love the article. the weight room is a place to get healthy. I love lifting weights. I would love to learn the weight machines. I take weight lifting class. Love seeing my muscles growing. - 1/26/2014 9:36:05 PM
  • CHUCKSTER1702
    Kudos to all of you ladies!!! I to understand the self conscious factor when using free weights, etc. Albeit a guy, I was not blessed with large arms or leg muscles. I'm a 5'10" average guy but not muscular at all. At age 32, I started back at a gym. I can say that knowing the exercises, their forms, the equipment, really helps a lot. You feel a bit more confident. As I became stronger over 6 months, my muscles became defined and strong but not larger. After a year I was well defined but my arms and legs really were not much larger. At 47 today, I still don't feel apart of the free weight "body guys" at the gym. I'm still self conscious but I keep my head phone on and push through like it's a mission. So ladies even we "tough guys" experience the same feelings as you; so, next time your at the gym and feel awkward, the guy next to you is probably me worrying that my muscles are too small and I look silly!! - 1/21/2014 5:33:47 PM
  • DIANNEMT, check out SP's workout generator, which is easy to find in the search bar. Select your fitness level and the desired type and length of exercise, and select "gym equipment." The result is little images of recommended machines with rep and set numbers. And if you click on the individual exercise names, they'll give you instructions and larger images of the exercise on the machine. The listing of all exercises should be printable for reference at the gym. - 1/12/2014 1:22:02 PM
  • still pretty intimidated if others are around... so avoid the weight room - but need to get over it!
    - 1/12/2014 3:00:46 AM
  • Find out the demographics of the facility you are using. I used to workout at a facility that was on a college campus, working out along side students that are mostly half my age. It was tough not to compare. The students would see me and make fun not realizing I can hear them. - 1/7/2014 9:38:05 PM
  • Here's a request from someone who goes to the gym to get the job done and not mess about: please, for the love of all that is Holy, stop telling gym-phobes to get workout buddies. Never, in all the time I have been a regular gym member, have a seen workout buddies doing much of anything that looks like working out. Mostly they sit on the machines and chat and show each other things on their stupid phones. Did I mention that they hog up the machines???
    If you want to yack with your pals like a pack of old hens, go to Panera and do it over a bagel or something; please don't do it at the gym.
    - 1/7/2014 3:29:05 PM
  • I planned workouts at home and watched videos how to used the machines in the workout properly. - 1/3/2014 12:30:18 PM
  • I love bodybuilding.com for videos on proper form and ideas for lifting by body part.
    - 1/2/2014 10:00:00 PM
  • GRANJEREVA
    I asked for an orientation, which I received. Following that, anytime I'm confused about a piece of equipment or technique, I walk up to the on-duty trainer and ask for assistance (while trying to act confident). No one has ever belittled me, and everyone has been helpful and even cheerful about explaining. - 12/31/2013 8:15:25 PM
  • I really wish there was a video (or even better--a written plan) using common pieces of equipment. I'd love to print out something and take that to the gym to use--otherwise, I do wander around and do not know what I should do. And I've been going for a long time--but do classes, not machines. - 12/31/2013 5:00:50 PM
  • LOLA_LALA
    I'm 62, at goal weight, and I exercise regularly.

    I detest exercise.

    I also recognize that I need to do it :) - 12/31/2013 2:01:23 PM
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