There are countless benefits to training with weights from stronger muscles and bones, to better posture, to improved self-esteem. Unfortunately, for most people, resistance training is not a part of their workout routine. How many people do you know who pay for memberships to fully equipped gyms only to use a single treadmill and maybe some space on the floor to stretch. What a waste!
When I ask people, especially women, what prevents them from starting a strength training program, the answer almost always has to do with feeling uncomfortable in the weight room or lacking the confidence to give weight lifting a try. They feel like they don’t belong in that space, or are afraid that they are too weak and uncoordinated to lift weights and they will make a fool of themselves.
I understand where they are coming from – I felt the same way the first time I tried lifting weights! It can be really scary to try something new, especially when the activity can be potentially dangerous, or when we feel like we may be judged or made fun of.*
The good news is, there are many things you can do to help you feel more confident in starting your first strength training program, and the changes you will see in your health, energy, and confidence are well worth it. The following tips will help you come prepared, stay safe, and avoid the awkward situations that are keeping you out of the weight room.
*Note: Other people’s opinions of you lifting weights in the gym are IRRELEVANT and to be honest, it is likely that no one is paying very close attention to you. Take up space, use the equipment, and focus on getting a kick-ass workout. That is literally what you are paying for!
Anyway, here are my tips for starting your first strength training program with confidence:
Hire a Trainer (optional)
Hiring a trainer, even for just a few sessions is often the safest and most effective way to learn how to lift weights and start a strength training program. Personal trainers are required to complete certification programs that teach them how to program workouts and coach clients on proper form. However, hiring a trainer can definitely be expensive and is not a luxury that everyone can afford. If you have the money to spend on training sessions, great! They are definitely worth it and can really set you off on the right path. But, if you do not want to spend your money on a trainer, that is okay too. Working is a trainer may be helpful, but it is not a necessity to get into strength training.
Make a Plan
If you decide not to hire a fitness professional who will make a plan for you, it is very important that you find or make a plan for yourself. There are plenty of workout programs online for you to choose from, as well as great resources for free workouts. Going into the gym with a specific plan in place for your workout will help you feel more confident and give you a better workout than you would get trying to make it up as you go.
If you have specific goals or limitations or injuries, you may consider hiring someone to write a program for you. This will be less expensive than one-on-one training, but will give you the benefits of the program being individualized for your body and goals. As a coach myself, I actually provide a service for writing Custom Workout Plans! Plans like these are designed to be safe and effective and take the guesswork out of trying to make one for yourself.
Practice the Movements
Before you go to the gym, I highly recommend practicing the movements called for in your workout. Look up some instructional videos on youtube, and follow along while looking in the mirror. The movements your body makes should approximately match the movements in the video. While doing this, be sure to pay attention to your posture and where you feel the work in your body to make sure you are doing it correctly. For example, if you are practicing squats (a leg exercise), but you are feeling lots of sensation in your lower back and knees, you need to fix your form! A good guideline to follow is: if you feel the exercise in your muscle, that’s good! But if you feel in your joints, that’s bad and something should be tweaked before adding weight.
Try holding a water bottle as a weight to make exercises feel more realistic, without making them too hard. While practicing form you want to keep weights light to avoid injury. Once your form is good, you can make the weights heavier so that they challenge you!
Become Familiar with Basic Weight Room Etiquette
There are some important etiquette rules in the weight room that you want to make sure you understand. Getting familiar with the rules will help you communicate with your fellow gym-goers and avoid awkward misunderstandings.
- A towel on a piece of equipment indicates that the equipment is being used. If you see a towel on a bench or weight machine, the user may be getting additional equipment or weights, or may simply be in the bathroom. You can do this too! If you need to leave your bench temporarily and don’t want someone else to use it while you are gone, place a towel on it. Just make sure you don’t leave for more than a minute or so! Avoid leaving behind personal items like keys or your phone as these items may get stolen.
- “Can I work in?” is a question that someone may ask you when you are using a weight machine, squat rack, or other piece of equipment. It is generally only asked when the gym is crowded and the equipment you are using is in high demand and not duplicated elsewhere. “working in” means that the asker would like to use the piece of equipment to do a set while you rest in between sets. If you have just started using the equipment and will be using it for a while, it is polite to say yes and let them share. If you only have 1-2 sets left and would prefer they wait, you are allowed to tell them that. Saying “I have two sets left, I’ll only be a couple more minutes” is a perfectly appropriate response.
- Wipe down equipment when you are done using it. Gyms usually have wet wipes or spray bottles and towels available to wipe down benches and handles. This helps keep the gym sanitary! No one wants to set up at a bench only to see the last users sweat marks. Gross.
- PUT AWAY YOUR WEIGHTS! This is a big one, and unfortunately, one that seems to usually go unfollowed by the people lifting the 100 lb dumbbells or squatting with mulitple 45lb plates. Putting away your weights when you are done with them keeps the gym clean and safe and ensures that equipment is available to the people trying to use it. This rule will likely be plastered all over the walls of the gym.
These rules are not hard to remember, but knowing them before you enter the gym puts you a step ahead and makes it seem like you know what you are doing, even if it is your first time in there.
Breathing is extremely important in resistance training, it helps you stay present, lift heavier weights, and most importantly, stay safe (we don’t need anybody passing out with dumbbells over their heads!). There’s a reason all of the big muscly men are hissing and grunting in the weight room! They aren’t trying to intimidate you, they are just using proper technique. When you perform your workout, make sure that you are breathing as well. On each rep, you want to release a controlled, audible exhale, like you are blowing out a birthday candle. Make sure that you are exhaling on the part of the exercise that you are doing the “work.” For example, when you “push up” in a pushup or return to a standing position in a squat.
A part of proper breathing includes doing exercises with good form and posture. It is hard to breath well when our airways constricted and abdomen compressed. Make sure to stand with your shoulders back and down, and your face forward, and back straight.
Relax and Have Fun!
Starting a new type of training or stepping into the weight room for the first time can feel intimidating, but remember, everybody is there for the same reason: To lift some weights, improve their health, relieve some stress, and enjoy themselves! New lifters like you are just as entitled to using the weight room as everyone else. So, take a deep breath, throw your towel on a bench, grab some weights and have fun starting your new program! I know you’re gonna rock it 😉
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