Before starting this blog post, I did a quick Google search to see what is already out there in terms of advice for women who are new to lifting weights or venturing into the free weights section of their gym. While tips like “go with a plan” or “wear a cute outfit that boosts your confidence” can be helpful, they miss in addressing the fears and mental blocks that many women face. My goal with this blog post is to talk through some of these blocks and address some of the FAQs I often hear from new clients and give you ten main points that I would tell a girl who is new to the gm.
1: It’s normal to be a little intimidated.
When we were children, we were used to being hit by new challenges and new things to learn every single day. Then we become adults and fall into set patterns and routines and there isn’t as much learning in our day-to-day lives. I challenge you to look at learning how to lift as learning a new skill. It might feel challenging and intimidating as you learn, but that doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong! It’s uncomfortable because it’s new. Continue stepping out of your comfort zone and into the free weights section and in time, it will become easier, you won’t feel as self-conscious, and you will walk with much more confidence.
2: It’s cliche, but I highly recommend going to the gym at a dead time to acquaint yourself with the equipment and layout of the space.
“Dead times” are the best time to slowly walk through the gym and look at all of the equipment because there’s significantly less people there. This is usually mid-day (especially early afternoon) and weekend days in the afternoon. I often hear clients express concern that everyone is going to be looking at them wondering what they are doing, and guess what? Everyone in that gym has also had to learn the layout of the space and equipment. So take your time without rushing, look at all the machines and equipment, and you will feel more prepared next time you go to the gym if it’s busier.
3: Everybody in there is trying to figure it out just like you are.
As a strength and conditioning professional who primarily works out in regular gyms just like you, I can tell you that most people in the gym don’t have their form right 100% of the time either. I see people doing things incorrectly every single day — everyone in there is learning and trying to better themselves just like you. Also, most people working out are nicer than they appear, especially the powerlifters and weightlifters who generally look the most intimidating but are usually the nicest. So I encourage you to drop the self-imposed pressure and have more grace for yourself as you are figuring it out!
4: Clean up after yourself.
Yes, even if nobody else is because we don’t lower the standard of excellence based on other’s actions. Make a habit of putting your equipment back where you got it, unloading your barbell, and wiping down your equipment after your use.
5: You aren’t going to get bulky.
I promise that you aren’t accidentally going to get bulky. It doesn’t just happen, it’s intentional, similar to being scared of meal prepping because you don’t want to be a chef. The girls who are bulky do it purposefully — it’s a lot of deliberate heavy lifting and eating in a caloric surplus.
6: Learn the gym etiquette.
Don’t just stare at people if they are on the machine that you want. Wait nearby and use peripheral vision to see when they are done or nicely walk up and ask how many sets they have left. Don’t walk directly in front of somebody who is lifting weights for safety reasons and also to be considerate. Don’t use up multiple sets of dumbbells at once especially if the gym is busy. It’s totally acceptable to claim your space (leaving a towel or water bottle on a machine if you need to walk away for a quick second) but also be considerate of other people’s space. And so on.
7: Everybody sweats.
I hear women often express concern with how much they sweat. Just know that no one else is thinking about it as much as you are because they are all sweating too! Whether it’s face sweat when your make-up gets smeary or even butt sweat, know it’s all normal and to be expected.
8: Pay attention to how your body feels.
Keeping this simple: if something causes pain (and not the “that was a good workout” kind), stop!
9: Always lifting the same weights won’t give you different results.
Right now everything will feel new, but at some point the weights you are choosing now will feel easy! Try heavier weights periodically – if you can’t do all of your reps with those weights, it’s okay because at least you tried and went for it. And if you come to find out that you CAN do all of your reps with this new heavier weight, that feeling is the best.
10: Going into the weights section of the gym might feel very foreign, but you do have a place there and it’s yours if you want it.
I want you to know that you belong in the weights section just as much as anybody. It’s not gender specific, there’s not a strength requirement, and you don’t have to hide away in the corner until you “earn” the “right” to be there.
I encourage you this week to go into the weight section a few times this week and work on your comfort zone. If you are already familiar with the weight section but there’s equipment there you haven’t used before, then give it a try! At the end of the day it is you versus you and the only way through the anxiety is THROUGH and to keep at going to the gym until it doesn’t feel as unnerving.
I’m rooting you on from afar! -Rachel