6 Tips for Conquering Your Fear of the Weight Room

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Are you a weight room avoider? Does the area of your gym with the dumbbells, squat rack, and mysterious pieces of equipment scare the hell out of you?

As it turns out, a lot of women (and men) are pretty bored hanging out on the elliptical or the treadmill (the dreadmill, if you ask me).  If going to the gym meant having to do those things, I’d still be sitting on my sofa.  Having options for staying fit is important. More people than ever are getting the message that lifting weights is great for  losing weight, developing stronger bones, gaining more muscle,  and feeling like a badass.

But for people who are new to lifting heavy things, the weight room can be really intimidating. So many people have told me that they want to start lifting weights but that they’re too uncomfortable to venture into new territory.  However, if you go in armed with a little knowledge and reassurance, it’ll be easier to take the plunge. You might even find that it wasn’t so scary after all.  Let’s tackle the biggest obstacles people encounter:

  1. The Equipment.
    Even after I started using the weight room, there were machines that I had no idea how to use. That’s okay! You don’t need to know how to use every single thing in there. When you begin strength training, you really only need to do a few key movements each session. Many gyms offer equipment orientation. If you see staff wandering around, nab them and ask them how to use something if you’d like to know what it does. It’s okay to ask another gym member too. Over time, I got to know the regulars and could feel out who was friendly and open to being a helper.

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2. The Workout.

“I just wander around, having no idea what to do next.” This is the biggest complaint I hear. Having a plan is really helpful, but knowing how to create a strength plan is overwhelming to most beginners. Here are a few good options:

  • Follow a plan from a book or online guide that’s aimed at beginners. The structure of the routine takes one more stressor out of the equation and you’ll be more likely to find some success. Stick with it for at least 6 weeks to give yourself time to see progress. Some of my favorite sources are the plans by Nia Shanks or books like the New Rules of Lifting series, Strong Lifts 5×5, and Strength Training for Fat Loss. You can look them over and decide what plan best fits your goals. Bring your plan or book with you to the gym to record your progress and have a guide to help you remember your exercises.
  • Hire a trainer to show you how to perform basic movements, create a program for you, and follow up. Some people want to work out with a personal trainer for reasons like accountability or motivation. They can also help you create a plan designed for your specific needs and then check back in periodically to fine tune your exercises.
  • Take a small group training class. Many gyms now offer small group strength training. You’ll get some individual attention, learn to safely lift weights, and depending on how the class is structured, learn to use the equipment commonly used in the weight room.

3.  The Bros.
For women especially, a weight room full of jacked dudes can be off putting. Thankfully, I see this shifting. At the YMCA in my town, I noticed a huge shift over time in the demographics of the weight room. At times, the space was filled with more  women than men. Certain times of day are less crowded than others, so starting at a time where there’s little commotion might feel good.

Bros gettin' swole.

Bros gettin’ swole.

Remember that the space belongs to you as much as anyone else. I also found that some of those guys we call “bros” are the most helpful people in the gym. They’re passionate about strength training and happy to answer questions. They love to talk about lifting. The best gyms have a strong sense of community, and you should be made to feel welcome. If you get bad vibes after settling in,  consider finding a more welcoming place to join. Gyms have their own particular cultures, and it’s okay to shop around for one that embraces all kinds of people.

4. The Fear of Doing it Wrong 
Newsflash: at some point, we all do something wrong, even those of us who have been in the weight room awhile.  Even weight training veterans are improving their technique. Everyone started where you’re starting, and unless they’re an asshole, they will offer encouragement and some assistance if you’re really off base and doing something that’s potentially dangerous.

There are really only a few key rules of the weight room. Remember these and you’ll be golden:

  • Be courteous. Put your weights away after you use them.
  • Let people “work in”: i.e. if there are a few of you needing to use a piece of equipment, take turns with your sets if possible.
  • If you sweat all over the equipment, spray it down. Because yuck.
  • If you’re going to do a circuit and it’s busy, keep in mind that the equipment you want to use might be in use by others too, so be patient.

5. Everyone is looking at me! 
No, really, they’re not, unless you do what I did a few years ago and thwack yourself hard in the face with a band. (I’ve got a gift for doing dumb stuff like this!) Even then, a few people came over to make sure I was ok and went back to business as usual. Most people are focused on their own workouts and are tuned out with their headphones.

6. I’m not in good enough shape to be in the weight room.
Many feel that their current body isn’t worthy of being in the gym and that they’ll be judged. It’s possible that a few jerks may judge you, but it’s an exception not the rule. Hold your chin up high and own your space and right to use whatever you need to achieve your goals. The vast majority of gym goers are decent human beings. They’ll be mentally high-fiving everyone else who made it to the gym that day to get some work done.

The weight room is for every kind of body. The last three gyms I visited this year were filled with all the sizes and shapes. If the image you have in your head of a weight room is filled only with jacked and tan gods and goddesses that you find on Instagram, think again. Most weight rooms are filled with the same mix of peeps you see everywhere else.

If you’ve been on the fence about using the weight room, I hope these tips prepared you to dive in. You can do it! Did I miss something that’s still holding you back?  If you got over your own fear of the weight room, what helped you?  Let’s chat about it – leave a comment below.

Plan to Fail

Whenever I hear “plan to fail” the inevitable end of the sentence is “failed to plan”. I get that: hell, I’ve said that. It’s true, too, especially when trying to adopt a new habit. But let’s say that you’ve nailed down starting your new habit. Then what? You give yourself a high five because you’ve totally got this. Forever. Nope nope nope.

If only it were that simple. Life throws us curve balls. It’s how we catch them that impacts our overall success in keeping that healthy behavior going. The biggest difference between someone who is new to establishing a habit and someone who has successfully maintained their habit for a long time is failure. That sounds weird, right?

People who have made a new habit part of their lives plan to fail. They know that there are times when they won’t be able to eat like they normally should, get to the gym on their regular schedule, or get as many steps into their day as they’d prefer. They might find a work around, like getting to a hotel gym on vacation. But most of the time, people who are in “maintenance mode” know that they’ll get back on the wagon again. They can’t even fathom that they wouldn’t keep doing whatever they’re doing.

If you were lost in the woods for a few days and couldn’t brush your teeth, would you go back to brushing your teeth again once you (hopefully) returned to civilization? The thought of not brushing your teeth just because you were momentarily sidetracked is a little ridiculous. And gross. Blech.

To someone who has made a habit change part of their long-term lifestyle, this is the attitude that they take. They know there will be bumps in the road. They don’t berate themselves for a day or a week off course. They plan to fail.

How can you use this and kick ass with a new habit? 
You’ve got something new you’re working on. Imagine a roadblock. You get sick. You have a crappy day. You have to travel for a week.

  • What would it look like to incorporate your new stuff into the new challenge?
  • If you weren’t able to do it the way you’re doing now, how might you still do some work in a modified way?
  • Imagine that you were totally overwhelmed by whatever responsibility you had and you failed. What happens now?

At some point, even the best-laid plans get shot down. If we accept this, we take a lot of the burden off of ourselves. We can throw away a bunch of negative talk (I suck at this, I can’t even stick to this, I might as well quit) because we’ve accepted that failing is part of the process. In the long term, you’ll plan to succeed.