What Stops Us in the Weight Room
Last time I promised tips and tricks on how to handle your fear of the gym. Some of you who may have been athletes since you could walk are reading this right now and laughing — fear? Of the gym? Who the hell is scared of the gym?
The rest of us, actually. The gym can be really scary, filled with people sporting perfect Lululemon butts and Captain America biceps. The weights are loud, the machines make noise and some days you’d rather leave and sit in your car for an hour than ask to change the channel on the TV, even if you’re the only one in the cardio row. What if you do something wrong? What if someone laughs at you? “Tini,” I can hear you all now, “Last time you asked us to go pump heavy iron. Isn’t that where the boys go?”
Relax. The gym is more scared of you than you are of it. Okay, I think that’s bees, but I really do sympathize. The benefits of the gym go far beyond that one comfortable row of recumbent bikes and ellipticals. Those free weights aren’t there to gather dust, and that rack, over the bench, with the big heavy bar on it isn’t for towels, it’s for lifting.
So how do you make the transition from derpy Diana to weight-bearing Wonder Woman?
Try a trainer
The sheer amount of gym equipment can be boggling. Cardio machines are pretty simple — press a few buttons and you’re good to go, and those weight machines tend to have a friendly silhouette showing you how to operate the thing, but free weights? No instructions, not even a “Do Not Eat” label to steer you in the right direction. Believe it or not, try asking the staff — all of them know the basic usage and safety of the machines, and most of them know enough about fitness that they could show you a thing or two with free weights. Or try a trainer — a session with a personal trainer can be just what you need to show you the ropes and how to get the results you’re looking for. Many gyms offer a free session with a trainer when you join for just this very reason.
Take it slow
There’s an aspect of coordination when it comes to lifting weights, just like dancing, biking or running. The more you do it, the less awkward you’ll feel when you are at the gym. As your fitness level increases, you’ll feel better about your time at the gym. If all you can handle is one day a week at the gym, that’s okay! If you’re really scared, you don’t even have to go over to the weight room while you’re there. Maybe walk in and look at the equipment, but save your lifting for a set of dumbbells at home. I got a set of adjustable heavy metal barbells from a local sporting goods store and relied on them until I was comfortable with my lifting routine.
Focus on you
Repeat after me: No one is there to look at you. It sounds harsh, but you’ll live. Most of us go to the gym primarily to get a workout. There will be people there who talk and stare, but they’re easily avoided by popping in your headphone and checking your form in the mirror. Most people at the gym are feeling just like you do — concerned about their fitness level, uncoordinated or overweight. That’s why we’re here, and instead of fearing each other, we should support each other.
Know the rules
This is the kind of thing everyone’s afraid of, actually. So here’s the truth: there is etiquette at the gym. It’s not as complicated as setting a table for tea or emailing a four-star general, but there are some social rules to keep the weight room from descending into anarchy. Coming into the weight room prepared can go a long way to show courtesy to your fellow lifters and alleviate fears that you’ll upset someone really big and strong. The basics are common sense: wipe down your bench promptly after using, put away your weights on a rack when you’re done and keep your personal belongings in a locker so they don’t end up in anyone’s way.
Be excellent to each other (and yourself)
You’re at the gym, doing something great for your body. You’re one of the elite, those who take that step to stay strong and healthy, and that deserves commendation. You already have something in common with everyone else in the weight room – you know the secret benefits of pumping iron. Hold your head high and treat yourself and your fellow lifters with the respect that true power deserves! You may even find yourself eager to talk to your fellow lifters, ask for their assistance with form or spotting. This is actually, shockingly encouraged.
Health editor, Tini Howard is a writer, aerialist and foodie from the East Coast.