When I first started lifting, I had no idea wtf I was doing. So much so, it made me nervous to even start going to a gym. Especially a college gym that was filled with the beefcakes I aspired to become. Call it gymtimidation.
Of course, I thought I would be judged. Me being slightly overweight not knowing much about weight lifting, it was almost as if I had no right to be in there. And that I would only get in the way.
Have you ever felt this gymtimidation?
I have learned many lessons in the past 6 years spent in a gym but one of the most important as it relates to gymtimidation is that most people could give two shits less about you and would rather stay focused on themselves.
In fact, it is admirable what you are doing. When you consistently show up and put in the hard work, people recognize it. People want to help. And the same people you think are laughing at you become your biggest fans.
And if they aren’t, its time to find another gym. Or ditch it all together and start your own gym.
It’s not you that people are frustrated with. It’s their own vices. Or maybe it’s your lack of gym etiquette. This article is a call out to both novice lifters and advanced alike. Gyms are built together.
Can’t we all just get along?
What the Regs’ can do better
In my opinion, there are three main types of people in the gym:
- The regulars who don’t give a f*ck about you and want you to stay the hell away from them at all cost.
- Those people who do like the comradery of the gym and are focused on working out together.
- People who spend more time in the gym unfocused, chatty, and with no sense of purpose.
There is a place for all three.
“”I need to work my way up to the gym.” I hear this phrase more often than you might imagine, and it sickens me. Have we really created a fitness environment where people feel like they’re not ready to get into shape?” – Jon goodman
Of course, not all regulars are jerks and I am in no way bashing those who want their space. I am the same way.
However, because you are a regular does not mean you get to treat the non-regulars like pieces of shit. It doesn’t mean you deserve that equipment (and get to slam it on the ground emphatically after a “tough” set) over the other person. And it doesn’t mean you throw out everything that it means to respect someone as a person.
You earned your spot. And you know it. You do have seniority and somewhat of a “right” to think this way. With time, a newbie will learn and respect that.
You can’t expect someone to come in and lift at the advanced level that took all of us years to understand. It does not mean you get the right to treat people like they are lesser as you roll your eyes and chuckle in your head.
However, there comes a point when you have little to prove others. Tone back the antics. Not the intensity.
Change your perspective
We are all newbies in some way whether we choose to self-identify or not because we alone are our biggest critics. Weightlifting is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.”
Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong.
To the novice lifters, I would also like to remind you that there are multiple levels of envy. There is a good chance that the same gymtimidation you face is the same gymtimidation the advanced level lifters face in their pursuit to become elite. Which can be also based on the same broken logic.
They too likely feel like they are out of place or intimidated. But they won’t admit that.
To all dedicated weightlifters, I ask you to remember why it was that you first starting lifting. There may have been many reasons but one of which is the culture or community. A place where you could go to escape from the craziness of life and find sanctuary in.
Let’s be civil shall we?
Becoming selfless is not easy but being selfish is a choice. We have no idea what people may be going through as they begin their journeys. A friendly hello and non-judgmental eyes might be all they need to stick with their program and become healthier.
What the Regs don’t like
Think about something you love and dedicate all of your time to. Now think about someone coming in and not taking it seriously and goofing off. The wrong etiquette, talking to you when you want to be left along, or breaking the “unwritten rules.”
It might frustrate you a little bit.
As a newbie, I believe part of your job is to understand what makes people tick in the gym and not obsess over avoiding it. Understand and pick up on patterns and learn more about human nature as you continue to show up in the gym.
If you want to be a regular, you have to learn the characteristics of what makes you one.
Understand why this happens
One of the reasons for the hostility in the gym is the lack of experience. If you are new and show up 2 days a week and cause any type of disturbance in the flow of a regular, you will likely lose respect from that individual.
Thus getting judged.
These hostile reactions are the unintentional consequences of you “breaking the unwritten rules.” Of course, people are going to get upset if you take their equipment when they aren’t done with it.
For example, a regular might grab a drink of water in between sets which make them slip away from their piece of equipment for a moment. A regular knows and respects the other regular’s routine. They know that he/she will be back.
You may have messed up their routine or their flow state.
However, a non-regular doesn’t. They might be more likely to swoop in and take their spot because they see an opening and attack! In this case, the dirty look is not because you are overweight and inexperienced, it’s because you broke a lifting code. And you may not have even realized it.
You earn your right to be in the gym by showing up and putting in the work. And in the end, some people are nicer and more accepting than others.
In fact, most dudes in the gym are more than willing to help out if you respect their space and the gym space.
But the same is true for newbies. If you are only focused on not breaking the rules or making a fool of yourself, you miss out on your own concentration of a workout.
So where is the happy medium? Knowing the right gym etiquette.
Everyone, Practice Better Gym Etiquette
Poor gym etiquette is one of the most frustrating problems with the gym. Gym etiquette is one of the best ways to overcome gymtimidation if you’re a newbie.
When you know what it is that make people tick, you can focus more on yourself instead of fearing that you are getting laughed at or judged.
And if you are not a newbie, it certainly won’t hurt for you to ensure you are following the code you have forgotten in massive ego space that now fills your head.
There are tons of articles that talk about the proper gym etiquette. I wanted to bring up a few of my biggest pet peeves that are lesser known.
Don’t EVER interrupt someone with headphones in
There is a reason they have headphones in. It’s to get in the zone. Don’t mess with their workout intensity and avoid them at all costs.
If you absolutely need to get their attention, there are common gestures typically used in the gym. Simple points, thumbs up thumbs down as you lurk over equipment, head nods, hand shaking in the no form.
If people are chatty, then maybe if you ever had a question about form and the time was right, you could find a way to humbly approach them and ask for a tip on form/a spot on something. Look for breaks but do not be the break.
Lurk but don’t be pushy
Just because people step away for a moment, doesn’t mean their finished. Especially if there is weight on it (except for the pricks that leave it on). The dude(ette) is probably grabbing a drink of water, which is a super common thing to do between sets (also kind of dope thing to do if its busy).
Don’t start un-racking the weight just yet. Hawk it for a minute or so and give them a chance to reclaim their spot while you temporarily claim it yourself. If you see them go to another weight bench or get caught up in a conversation, you can assume that it is fair game.
But, don’t be pushy or overcrowd that space. They know you’ll be next.
And for you advanced entitled lifters, come on, what did you expect? This place is crawling with people. Don’t get mad because of your bush league mistake.
Understand the space you need
If you don’t want to be intimidated by someone or feel judged, get the hell out of a squat rack if you aren’t doing deadlifts, squats, bench press or anything that actually requires a rack.
And quit deadlifting in the middle of the room as you rack up the weight around you.
When a gym is busy no one wants to see you taking up space that would be better served for someone doing that specific exercise. Don’t fear the rack but know which exercises are best for it.
Be willing to help keep your gym clean
This was one of my biggest pet peeves. Weights left on the bar and weights lying all over the gym. I don’t know whether the people have no respect, are too lazy and just don’t know any better but it is a dick move.
What it does is subconsciously affect the next person’s actions. If they see a dirty gym, they will be more likely to contribute to the problem and not be a part of the solution.
Should you be responsible for someone else’s mess? Hell no. However, you can make a difference in a gym by showing a little sympathy here and there.
I know you may not want to pick up someone else’s weights (especially those 45s lying flat on the ground that your tiny little fingers struggle with) but it’s a community meant to be kept clean by all who occupy it.
Think of it differently. Individual action is contagious and can inspire others to help out. We see it everywhere in our daily lives so why should the gym be any different? If any of us see someone putting in that extra effort, we are more likely to help them out. Which in turn inspires another person to help out.
It all starts with one person. Be that person who cares for your gym and as a newbie, it is one way to prove you belong. But remember, it’s not your only duty.
Pay closer attention to the mirrors
I consider this one a little bit more overlooked. Both advanced and novice lifters fall victim to this. One party because they don’t know any better and the other because they are self-righteous and have little respect for others.
Don’t walk in front of people while they are lifting.
The mirrors are our friends. Do not come between friends. Do not pick up some weights and move in front of my line of site in the mirror. Especially in a working set.
There is a reason people are standing in front of a mirror. Mirror time is to perfect that form. And probably to stroke the ego a bit, ay? Don’t walk in front of it.
Action steps to rid gymtimidation
There are of course emotional aspects to this puzzle. Like clothing you wear, overcoming anxiety, and anything else that may affect your emotional state. However, I would argue that instead of focusing on what you may feel weak at, you can focus on building confidence by learning the basic principles of working out.
Armed with the right gym etiquette knowledge, try a few of these tips to become less intimidated by the gym.
What level you’re at doesn’t matter. Your form does
Everyone was a newbie at some point. And everyone who has worked wishes they hadn’t made years of mistakes. No one cares how little weight you are putting up. No one will ever laugh at how weak you might be.
Why? Because the advanced guys know it’s not a fair comparison.
I will have so much respect for those constantly nailing proper form. The people who put their ego’s aside and focus on using the muscles they are supposed to be. That is a sign of experience and gets you more respect in the gym as you grow with the weight you lift.
Don’t worry about looking bad or awkward in the beginning. But look for ways to nail the proper form and become less awkward this way.
Get lost in your own mind
After a set, stay loose. Shake your shoulders. Pace and move your body around. Put your headphones in and focus on the present moment. Not anything else.
Think about what muscles you will be moving instead of what’s moving around you. Move into a deep squat for a moment. Concentrate on the words (or entrancing sounds) of the music. Keep your mind occupied on the present moment and what you are about to do next.
Avoid the locker room
Having to change in front of other people could be uncomfortable for those who aren’t yet comfortable with their own body. I know you are thinking that you don’t have options since you just came from work, but there are ways around it.
Especially with some of the dudes letting it all hang out. I’ve seen some pretty vile stuff in the men’s locker room.
Use the bathroom at the gym instead. Use the bathroom at work. Hell, stop at a gas station beforehand, get a water, and change in their bathroom quickly.
Get a workout buddy
This one might be tough for some but I would venture a guess that a good majority of people built their workout habit with someone. It’s tough going in alone and the gym becomes a lonely place in the beginning without a “crutch.”
But fear not. It’s not permanent. Most of what people need is an initial push. Maybe a month start to keep them on the right track and hold them accountable as the confidence builds and the routine becomes a habit.
To get rid of gymtimidation once and for all, we must remember what it was like when we all first started. Lower the expectations of newbies and understanding that any new person is likely feeling overwhelmed.
We all could use a little bit more gym etiquette. That is something that will never change. But moving beyond the basics of the gym, the simple ways to overcome gymtimidation include.
- Master your form
- Avoid the locker room
- Get a workout buddy
- Get lost in your own mind
The weight room is a community where you earn the right to be there. You respect it and the people in it. However, you earn respect by showing up and putting in the work. No matter what level you lift at.
Know a friend who could benefit from this article? Be sure to share!