How to Feel Less Intimidated in the Weight Room

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.
2. Take a tour of your gym.
There's nothing worse than wandering around a gym looking for an obscure piece of equipment or moving aimlessly through a sea of exercise machines with no idea how to use them--especially if the weight room already makes you uncomfortable. Whether you belong to your local Y, a commercial gym or a private training studio, there should be someone on staff who is more than willing to take you on a tour of their facility and show you where everything is located. Many of these staff people are also equipped to answer questions about how to use, set up and adjust the equipment--and even the purpose of each piece.

In the process, don't be afraid to ask questions. No one is born knowing how to use a cable cross machine. Everyone started right in your shoes, so believe me when I say that there are no stupid questions about equipment in the gym. Just ask for the information you need.
Once you get your bearings and have an idea of where certain machines and pieces of equipment are located, you'll feel much more comfortable during your workout.

3. Wear your headphones.
Headphones and good workouts go together like Brussels sprouts and bacon (hint: really well).
Wearing headphones allows you to control what you're listening to, escape into your own little world without being distracted and get in a solid workout. You never know what crummy music your gym might be playing. I mean, come on! I've heard, "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion on multiple occasions during a set of heavy squats. It's not exactly exercise motivation.
Wearing headphones (especially if you listen to your favorite get-up-and-go songs) can also motivate you to work harder--and even zone out. So instead of feeling paranoid that you're being judged by the people around you, you'll be jamming out to your favorite tunes and totally focused on your workout. Here are some awesome workout playlists to get you started.
4. Calm down.
Have you ever spent a lot of time and energy creating a worst-case scenario in your mind and replaying it over and over and over again until you're eaten up with worry and anxiety about that hypothetical thing happening? This is kind of like that.
When people are at the gym, I can promise you that they are infinitely more concerned about what they are doing than what you are doing. And if they are thinking about you, they are more worried about what you think of them, than what they think of you.
Phew! Did you catch all of that? Next time you feel upset or paranoid that someone else is judging you, critiquing you or talking about you at the gym, repeat this mantra to yourself: "If someone has a problem with me, it's their problem, not mine." You're doing something awesome for yourself, and that's all you need to think about!
Plus, everyone has to start somewhere. Yep, even those people you might feel intimidated by were in your shoes once. There was a time when they were new to the weight room and doing the same exercises and using the same weights as you, so it's likely that they remember those same feelings that you're having and can empathize with you.
So, just relax and do your thing. (A few deep breaths can also do wonders to calm you down.)
5. Just do it.
I love this quote from Dale Carnegie:
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
This is so true. In keeping with the tip above, sitting around worrying about being uncomfortable at the gym is 10 times worse than actually going to the gym, where there is a 99.9-percent chance that no one will laugh at you.
If you let fear control your life, you will continue to live in a teeny, tiny, familiar little box known as your ''comfort zone.'' And in case you're wondering, that is NOT where the magic happens.

Not. At. All.

In fact, very few exciting and noteworthy things ever happen within that box. It's only when we take a deep breath, close our eyes and jump that we see what we're really made of.
And you know what's amazing? Once you've made that jump one time, even if it's a small jump, it makes your next jump easier. And your jumps continue to get easier and easier until you don't think twice about doing something that you haven't done before.
6. Buddy up.
Okay, so maybe wearing headphones and faking confidence aren't your things. Maybe you prefer to be a bit more social while you're at the gym or feel less self-conscious if you're in the company of others. That's great! Bring a friend with you.
Having another person with you in the weight room will give you a sense of familiarity and comfort. There's safety in numbers, remember? Your weight-lifting buddy doesn't have to be an expert in order to help you, either (although asking to tag along with an experienced exerciser sure won't hurt).
With a friend by your side, you can keep each other motivated with friendly competition and words of encouragement. You can spot each other when you want to use heavier weights and give one another feedback on form. You can figure out the machines by putting your minds together. Oh, and you can keep one another accountable for getting to the gym on a regular basis, too. It's a win-win for both of you.
Strength training has incredible benefits for men and women who want to look better, feel better and live a longer and healthier life. Don't let intimidation or fear of embarrassment keep you from reaching your health and fitness goals. Follow the steps above, and you'll be ready to tackle the weight room in no time!
Were (or are) you intimated to lift weights at the gym? What have you done to overcome your fear? What advice do you have to help others get over gym-timidation?

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Member Comments

Great article! Report
Great article! Report
Thanks for the info Report
The best thing I ever did was following the advice of orthopedics and physical therapy to find a trainer to address my muscle imbalances. I have worked consistently with 2 different trainers since December 2016 and have experienced wonderful improvements in my body and have recovered from my injury. I am also partner training with my DH. I've gone from being extremely intimidated to feeling like I am headed to the play ground. Report
I too have my own issue with gymtimidation (and I work at one). I can utilize the cardio machines and the pool just fine, but when it comes to Weight-Land and Machine-Land, I'm just a bundle of nervous energy. I do my strength training at home with a set of hand weights... at least until I feel more comfortable. Report
If you wait for opportunities to occur, you will be one of the crowd to share your wait. - Edward de Bono Report
I don't use the gym. Have been a member is yrs. past and never used it to the fullest. Too costly now to. Report
I quit going to the gym many years ago. I just see them as overpriced and filthy... Report
I've learned to love weight training. It does more for your physical appearance than almost anything I've tried. And it feels great too. My two tips or the things I did, that mattered the most was 1. Hiring a trainer - Yes, it can be expensive but once you've worked out with a trainer, you'll never approach working out the same again. For me, it was a one time expense and became a game changer. 2. Find an affordable gym. Working out at home doesn't work for me and paying $30-$50 per month doesn't either. Finding that gym that meets your needs and doesn't impose a financial burden is important. I opted for a no showers/no pool gym. I'd love to have a pool but working out regularly is most important so the $10 per month fee trumped the pool. Try weight training. It is so worth it and so fun. Report
gotta learn to conquer! good advice. Report
I always fear being dressed right. Report
Remember why you are there. No one else matters. Report
If you can afford it over time, buy some weights, exercise bike, treadmill or exercise bike, punching bag, for home use, works well, and no worries about the clods at any gym! Report
The last gym I belonged to had classes about the machines, because the owner felt even the men were doing things wrong. Since I had a different work schedule, I could go when there weren't many other people there. That made it easier to actually get on the machines. Report
Every1 helps with my focus as well Report


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.
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