If the racks of dumbbells, freeweights, squat racks, and other machines aren’t intimidating enough, there’s also a large proportion of ripped humans in their natural habitat!
This article is dedicated to all the people who’ve had to walk past the weight room equipment in order to get to their cardio machine, for all of the athletes who’ve never received formal training and want to improve their game, and for the regular person who worries about the intimidation of the weight room. Read on!
As a child, I remember having to walk past the weight room in order to get to the pool. I remember the weight room being scary, but somehow I still realized that it was a powerful place.
During the beginning of my fitness journey, I became an avid runner. In the summer before college, I moved to Florida briefly to help open an environmentally sustainable charter school. Since Florida summers are an afternoon runner’s nightmare, I got a membership at a gym so that I could use the treadmill.
I was the best treadmill runner.
Okay, so I was obviously out of place as most of the people in the cardio section were older and out of shape. My cardio game was solid, I would just stay on the treadmill and run six or seven miles at a time before going home. This is back in the day when I thought that running gave you great abs (I blame the running magazine cover models!)
Pushed out of my comfort zone, one day!!!
This muscular guy who worked at the front desk came over to my treadmill one day and LITERALLY unplugged my treadmill. He said that I had enough cardio and that I needed to go to the weight room. That was a somewhat jarring experience!
He didn’t even offer me any assistance, so I decided to ask another gym patron. I walked into the weight room and I’ll never forget this ripped, bald, tatted man with veins popping out everywhere as he performed dumbbell concentration curls. I wanted to find somebody else more approachable, somebody perhaps who’s pre-workout routine didn’t include injecting his arse with a steroid needle.
The guy who helped me was nice enough, but after he showed me how to bench press, he was off and away and didn’t want to assist anymore. I did just a bunch of bench presses and shoulders/arms as I was copying some of the moves I was seeing other people do. When I finished and got to the steering wheel of my car, I could barely even drive! My chest, shoulders, and arms were completely toast!
Didn’t stay with it.
Even though I did a few more lifting sessions and I felt like I gained a little bit of muscle, when I moved back to Seattle it was all about running for me as I was training for my first and only Full Marathon (26.2 miles).
But I have to say, after my freshman year girlfriend and I broke up, I had a lot more time and a lot more motivation. I began equipping myself with knowledge so that I could be confident and effective in the weight room.
1. Equip yourself with knowledge.
It helps to know not only what you are doing but also WHY you are doing it. Learn about technique and effective exercise programming. Here are a couple excellent book recommendations. This blog is a certified Amazon affiliate.
Strong Curves: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Better Butt and Body by Bret Contreras is a fantastic reference for everybody even though it is geared to women. If you’ve never heard of the author, Bret Contreras, then you should know about him. He is known as the “Glute Guy” and has a PhD. A LOT of respectable personal trainers, including myself, look to Bret for high quality training information.
Strength Training Anatomy by Frédéric Delavier is something that EVERY lifter should have. I found this to be an amazing tool for myself, easy to understand, excellent illustrations. There’s good reason why over 1,000 customers have rated it as 5 stars and I would also rate it 5/5.
Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition by Mark Rippetoe. People say this book is one of the most valuable books on barbell lifting ever written. Understanding the reasons why you want certain joint angles or line of the bar are crucial to being an effective lifter. Mark Rippetoe breaks it down with simple illustrations, easy to understand, and easy to read. No wonder he has such a following. Even though he is sometimes a controversial and sometimes dogmatic figure in the lifting industry, this book about barbell training is a must read for anybody who wants to step into the squat rack. Starting Strength helped me start my strength journey and I’d give it a 5/5 because it was there when I needed it the most.
Now onto the next recommendation…
2. Go with a friend, experienced partner, or hire a trainer.
You probably didn’t need me to tell you these things. Everybody knows that going with a friend is less intimidating, but everybody also knows that if you really want to get results, you have to be self motivated.
Hiring a trainer can definitely help you get results. Pros: They are experts and should make you feel comfortable in the environment. Cons: Expensive, not all trainers are worth it (many are not unfortunately).
Key point: Cost/benefit. Will your friend always be available for you? Is your trainer worth the $600 per month?
3. Read fitness related forums and maybe even participate.
I don’t participate in online forums in the way that I used to, but they are very helpful in me feeling more confident in the gym because I felt that I had a community with me even when I was by myself. Plus, I could identify like minded people by the exercises that they were doing in the gym.
You will also notice that most regular people have some self-doubt at the gym and that most people are less concerned about you and more concerned about themselves. People can be quite candid on fitness forums.
There must be many forums out there. First that comes to mind is the MyFitnessPal community. I would recommend Fitness forums that have a weight lifting section or discussions on weight lifting. Be careful about forums related to bodybuilding — some are good, but some are toxic.
4. Videotape yourself doing weight lifting exercises to perfect your form.
I can easily spot people who are new to the weight room just based on their form alone. Don’t worry, you can learn good form so it’s not a big deal.
Even though I felt a little strange setting up my camera and videotaping my exercises, it paid off big time. I learned what it means to have proper form for MYSELF simply by recording my lifts and watching. With technology these days, you can record yourself, watch it, and then make immediate improvements on your next set.
You will learn a lot about your body by recording yourself and you will improve your form so that you don’t hurt yourself and so that you feel more comfortable in the weight room. When you KNOW you have good form, it is a confidence boost. I know that there will always be somebody bigger or stronger than me at the gym, but most people can’t move like me.
Take pride in your form. At the gym, I always respect people who have appropriate weights and excellent form compared to people with heavy weights and sloppy form (injury waiting to happen).
5. Don’t go to the gym during peak hours.
Go to the gym during non-peak hours so that you have plenty of room, you can experiment with new exercises, and there are less leering eyeballs. There might even be a personal trainer who has floor hours and could help you. Even though they ultimately want you to hire them, many personal trainers offer free assistance for a few minutes at a time.
Going to the gym during peak hours is a last resort honestly. I refuse to go during peak hours anymore because its harder to concentrate and there is less space and less equipment available.
Here is a bonus tip: Learn good gym etiquette!
If you want to learn more about more gym etiquette, I’ll have a post coming up for you in the near future! Sharing is caring and being respectful to others will improve your experience.
It takes time, but it is worth the challenge.
The stronger you get, the more you love the weight room and feel at home there. Nothing will strengthen and tone the body in the ways that resistance training will. Resistance training has changed my life and I’ve made a career out of it because I love it so much. Literally every single person can benefit from resistance training.
It’s not about looking prettier, more toned or built. Weight training will transform your mind as well as strengthen everything from head to toe as you rise from the challenges.