Building Confidence—Not Just Muscles—in the Gym

GirlLiftingI don’t mean to brag, but I’ve popped a few weightlifting cherries in my day. I love introducing women to weights – you might even call me a weightlifting advocate.

But over the years, I’ve noticed that a lot of women are intimidated by the weight room at the gym and don’t usually explore much beyond the cardio area. Cardio is their safety net. (Hey, at least they’re getting their sweat on, right?)

Of course, this doesn’t apply to all women, but a good portion.

I started lifting at 15 and, luckily for me, my community gym in Cordova, Alaska at the time was not a crazy busy place (have you been to Cordova??). This allowed me the freedom to experiment with different machines, try new things, and make mistakes without a lot of people around to see me. It was a tremendous help in terms of getting comfortable in the gym. That, and doing a ton of reading and research on the subject.

A few years later, after moving back to my hometown in Washington, I got a job as a Fitness Aide at the local gym. A friend of mine wanted to “get in shape,” so I brought her in to workout with me. She was fine while we warmed up on the treadmill, but when it came time to hit the iron, she froze.

She was anxious, nervous, and self-conscious, which led to a lot of joking and silliness on her part—something I see frequently when women (especially young women) are uncomfortable around weights. I think it’s a diversion; a way for women to shift attention away from their lack of knowledge and toward their apparently carefree, spunky personalities.

But it doesn’t work that way. Actually, it does just the opposite. Now you have the spotlight and everyone knows you don’t know what you’re doing. And I hate to break it to you, but they’re embarrassed for you (and probably a bit annoyed).

BarbellsGuess what? If you’re trying—I mean genuinely trying—to learn the tools and techniques in the weight room, people don’t care if you’re inexperienced. Really! They would much rather see you walk around a machine 3 times, study all the how-to labels (they have those!), and fiddle with every mechanism for five minutes than hop on, flail around while giggling and chatting, and hog equipment that someone else could be using to, oh I don’t know, actually build muscle!

None of this is said to shame or belittle anyone. And to be clear, you CAN have fun while working hard. But for safety’s sake, for the sake of those trying to get a decent workout, and for your own dignity, please, PLEASE learn to properly use the weight room. Most importantly, though, by not taking advantage of lifting correctly, you are missing out on some serious health benefits, release from daily stress, and a stellar body.

Here are some ways you can start building up your confidence so you can move on to building muscle:

1. In the beginning, consider joining a small gym or a one with a less hey bruh, how much can you bench? atmosphere.

2. Hire a personal trainer – they will set you up on a program, take you through the exercises, show you how to use the equipment, teach you proper form, etc. etc.

3. Go with a friend who has experience lifting and is happy to help take you under their (well developed) wing.

4. Educate yourself. Pick up a fitness magazine or two, check out some bodybuilding books, find guidance online, watch lifting videos…the list goes on. is a fantastic place to start.

5. Plan your workout before you get to the gym, that way, you won’t spend half your time wandering around trying to figure out what to do. Bring a notebook or download an app on your phone/smart device.

6. Start working out at home using only bodyweight or purchase a few weights just to get comfortable with them – work on form, building some initial strength, and learning movements.

7. Attend a fitness boot camp or similar class that uses weights; a lot of people here will probably be new to it as well and you’ll have an instructor to help you.

8. Wear clothing that you feel truly comfortable in—both in terms of movement and appearance. If you’re self-conscious about your outfit, it’s only going to make your experience worse.

9. Don’t hesitate to ask someone around you for help adjusting a machine if you don’t know how. BUT, don’t expect others to assist you through your entire workout and don’t interrupt anyone in the middle of a set.

10. And finally, don’t give a f*@! what others might think of you. Put your headphones in, stay in your zone, and do what you do. Seriously, even if you’re timid and terrified, fake it ‘til you make it (safely, of course). 🙂

Ironically, in the long run, lifting will give you a huge confidence boost. It will make you a stronger person in more ways than one.

Are you intimidated by the lifting area? Is it stopping you from trying something different and reaching a new fitness milestone? Or perhaps you’ve overcome that fear and now feel at home amongst the iron. If that’s the case, share your secrets in the comments so others can give them a try.

Ladies, let’s take over the weight room!

The first image (woman lifting) is licensed under Creative Commons; the image belongs to midwestnerd.

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