How to Overcome Your Fear of the Weights Section at the Gym

Everyone feels intimidated at first, but these tips can help you overcome your fear and become a weight-lifting pro

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Nearly everyone we asked agreed: to a beginner, the weights section at the gym can seem like a pretty intimidating place. In fact, we’ve even experienced the feeling ourselves. After all, everyone is a newbie at some point or another, right?

"Before I became a fitness professional, my biggest fear about the weights section of the gym was that it was a private club for the super-fit and super-knowledgeable and I didn't belong,” says Londin Angel Winters, co-Founder and CEO of Metaphysical Fitness.

She eventually learned, though, that it’s not a private club reserved only for people with perfectly sculpted muscles and tight spandex pants. Anyone can work out with weights, and truthfully, everyone should.

Of course, there’s definitely an intimidation factor involved for many, but when it comes to overcoming a fear of approaching the weights section at the gym, Chris Cooper, a Precision Nutrition coach and NSCA certified fitness professional, said that dread typically comes from two factors, both of which are pretty easy to overcome.

Related: Why All Women Need Strength Training

“Fear of the weight section stems from two things,” Cooper said. “Not knowing what to do and being afraid of doing things incorrectly. You can easily overcome this by having a plan of action so that when you get there, you don't look lost.”

How exactly might one go about coming up with a plan?

Colin Darretta, CEO and founder of WellPath, an innovative technology business in the wellness space — who admitted he was once a newcomer to the gym scene, too — helped us outline what to do in four simple steps.

Your Action Plan

1. Ask for help. “This will get more mileage for less work than anything else on this list,” Darretta said. “People love to offer help, especially in the gym. Every individual in the weight room started where you are standing now and as such knows how important help was for them in learning what exercises to do and how to do them. It may take a bit of courage to ask someone for a pointer but you’ll quickly be amazed at how eager people are to provide it.”

2. Educate yourself through online videos. “There are thousands of online videos that will show you workouts for different sets of muscle groups and goals alongside how to perform specific exercises,” he added.

3. Invest in a personal trainer as a teacher. “Many people shy away from a personal trainer as they don’t feel it’s an expense they need on an ongoing basis,” Darretta explained. “That being said, when you’re first learning your way around the weight room having a personal trainer to show you proper techniques, to help design some basic workout routines and generally help you develop a sense of comfort around the weight room can be invaluable.” (And remember, it’s not an expense you have to carry forever. Think of it more like a “star-up" cost.)

4. Remind yourself everyone started where you are. “At some point every single person in the weight room was a neophyte,” Darretta said. “Walking into a room filled with people who seem to be walking around with purpose and knowing what they are doing can be intimidating regardless of whether it is a weight room or a new job but the knowledge that you’re starting in the same position as everyone else should serve as comfort.”

In addition to prepping yourself with as much knowledge as possible — which by the way, above protecting your ego, should be a priority for the sake of of exercising safely — it also helps to readjust your mindset.

“The way I think of weights, particularly free weights as I'm not a fan of machines, is that they're virtually no different than objects we already lift during daily living,” said Tim Haft, an ACE certified personal trainer, USA Track & Field coach and founder of Punk Rope. “For example most people have lifted a suitcase to put it in the overhead bin of an airplane or a case of beer to place in the trunk of a car. Most of those items are way heavier than what we are scared to lift in the gym.”

In other words, if your fear stems less from the intimidation of others and more from the actual act of lifting, as long as you start out at a reasonable, safe benchmark and slowly progress your way to more challenging weights, you’ll have absolutely nothing to worry about.

“Perhaps people are afraid of dumbbells and barbells because they aren't cuddly,” Haft said. “But if they start slow and light, and progress gradually with the guidance of a few experienced lifters, I guarantee that the fear will evaporate quickly.”

Finally, while most already working out in the weights section will likely be more than happy to lend out a few pointers, they will not be happy if you break some of the standard rules of etiquette that have long been associated with weight lifting.  

“Knowing the etiquette of the weights area is helpful,” Winters said. Below she outlines a few of the basic courtesies that should be followed.

1. Only occupy a bench if you plan to use it. People will resent you if you use a bench simply as a resting spot for your gym bag, then stand there and do biceps curls. If you don't need the bench, just find a spot to stand where you can still see the mirror.

2. Re-rack your weights. In addition to keeping the area nice, it also makes you look like a pro.

3. Be Mindful. While it's tempting to put on your blinders and get in the zone, true pros are always looking out for each other around the weights area. If someone is subtly waiting for your bench, be on point with your workout. Don't dilly-dally with endless texting and scrolling through songs. It's a sure way to get some bad vibes coming your way from the regulars.

For a more in-depth overview of “gym etiquette” see:The A to Z of Gym Etiquette

More Reading:
Strength Training 101
Strength Training 101: Dynamic vs. Isometric Exercises
Strength Training 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Sets, Reps and Rest Periods

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