Avoiding Gymtimidation (aka Go Lift Heavy Things)

Gymtimidation is both very relevant and very real when it comes to getting (usually) women into the gyms and onto the weight floor (while gently nudging them away from the cardio floor — not all the time, just sometimes!).

Gymtimidation, v.:  experiencing feelings of intimidation in the gym, either due to your perceived newness, you inexperience with the equipment, or your fear of the grunting, sweating bros

These feelings are actually super normal. I always feel a little bit uncertain and nervous when I’m going to check out a new gym. It’s not a place I’ve ever been before. I know I’m going to have to figure out where everything is. I’m going to have to (potentially) ward off someone if I want to use a squat rack or a bench press. The stretching area may be weird and tiny. They may not have foam rollers available. THE HORROR!!

It’s easy for me to overcome these feelings now because I’ve visited so many gyms. And I’ve done my squats and bench presses with huge, angry men glaring at me even though I asked them if they wanted to work in. And I do some pretty weird exercises — arm bar, hip thrusts, anyone? All of that has added up to me not giving a shit when I’m at the gym (aside from following common courtesies), but it took me a long time to get there.

Amazing shirt courtesy of Buy Me Brunch

Amazing shirt courtesy of Buy Me Brunch

So, how do you approach a gym with confidence and avoid gymtimidation?


Most gyms offer you a free orientation. Sometimes that means they want to rope you into a personal training consultation, but usually it’s an offer to show you around. Take it.

The orientation will not only show you where everything is, but it will show you how everything works. This means that when it comes time for you to use the leg press machine, you’ll know how. Make sure they don’t just show you the machines, though.

  • Ask (if you intend to lift free weights) how to adjust the squat rack height, how to use the clips that keep the weight plates on the bars, how to adjust those stupid adjustable benches. (SIDE NOTE: The employees at my gym have shown me that little trick no fewer than 6 times and I still can’t figure it out.)
  • Ask what other equipment they have. Kettlebells? Resistance bands? PVC pipes? BOSU balls? Chains? Whips? (JK, probably not whips.)
  • Ask what other services they offer. Classes? Personal Training? Muscle Milk on site? Childcare? And make sure to clarify any additional fees.
  • Ask about the space. That really means to ask where gym members typically stretch, if you can use the classroom area for warm-up or cooldown when it’s empty, etc.


Being awkward is always so much more fun together! Bringing a support system with you is a great way to learn everything together and make your workout more fun. (Research actually suggests that working out in groups increases results!!)

Be aware of how much space you take up as two people, though. You may not realize that you are blocking a piece of equipment that you aren’t using or that you are causing congestion in common walkways.


Nothing, literally nothing, grinds my gears more than not being able to find a goddamn weight plate or barbell clip when I need it. I err on the side of over politeness when it comes to all things gym because I’ll be damned if I’m the reason someone else is intimidated during their workout.

Pretty much everything else that you need to know about feeling confident and comfortable in a gym falls under the “be polite” category.

    • Wear sandals when you shower. This is usually a given and it’s more about protection for you, but public bathing facilities where people have recently gotten sweaty as goats is not really the place to take chances with your bare tootsies.
    • Limit nudity. Go on with your bad self and be proud of your body. But remember that nudity in locker rooms is not very socially acceptable in America — where I’m writing this — and consider covering up. You probably don’t want to be the reason someone else is uncomfortable either. And, the germs thing.
    • Avoid high occupancy sitting. Only use the room you need to on a bench, counter, or other public area. If you need space and there isn’t any, you can also politely ask for some room.
    • Limit perfumes and sprays. This is becoming more and more common; establishments are asking people to cut back on the use of fragrant items. Some people have allergies and some people (like me) are just highly sensitive and may have other adverse reactions.
    • Clean up after yourself. Maybe wipe off the countertop if you splashed a bunch of water everywhere. Put your towel in the “dirty towels” bin. Etc. Don’t make the staff be your mom.
    • Dress appropriately. Some gyms have dress codes and some don’t. If this doesn’t get covered in your orientation, make sure to ask. If there’s not a dress code, it’s a good idea to see what other people in the gym are wearing and mimic that. Be part of the gym culture. You know you want to…
    • Keep to your area. Most gyms have specific areas for stretching, lifting, cardio, etc. Stay in the designated area for your activity. (Ask during the orientation!) If you’re using free weights, dumbbells, etc. take 5 big steps back from the dumbbell rack before you start lifting to keep from clogging up the area. Use the squat rack for squats, the bench press for pressing, and deadlift platform — if they have one — for deadlifting. And don’t let your jacket, water bottle, or strength log claim a piece of equipment.
    • Put things back the way they were. It’s a little like the hiking tenet of “Leave No Trace”. When you leave an area, it should be like you were never there. Unrack your barbells and put the weight plates back. Put barbell clips near the area where they will be used. Return dumbbells to the appropriate spot on the rack. Put cable attachments away. If you want to use a piece of equipment and the person just left it fully loaded, it’s okay to politely ask them to unrack everything themselves.
    • Clean up after yourself. Aside from putting things back where you got them, if your gym has disinfecting wipes or spray handy — use it. Wipe down benches, handles, exercise mats, etc. after you use them. (And maybe before.)

BE SOCIAL (or don’t)

Are you a put your headphones in and keep your head down type? Great. Want to smile and nod and chat? Fine. Just pick up the vibes others are putting down. Not everyone wants to be social (or anti-social).

If you’re the head down, grind it out gym-goer make sure that you take stock of your surroundings occasionally. Someone may be trying to get your attention to work-in or ask if they can use a piece of equipment that you might be using.

If you’re a social butterfly, respect that headphones in usually means social mode off. However, there are some people at the gym that don’t mind chatting and if they seem up for it, you’re in!

  • Use a spotter. Sometimes you’ll have to be social to ask for a spot. I recommend asking gym staff that look like they can handle the weight you’re lifting. I learned the hard way that other gym-goers, even when they look like they know what they’re doing, might allow you to get your sternum crushed during a bench press. If you don’t have a spotter and aren’t confident with the weight you’re lifting, take it a little easy that day.
  • Take that selfie. Be proud that you killed it at the gym! But stay out of the way when snapping your pic and try to keep strangers out of the background (or emoji their face).


Just like at practice, most people at the gym are there worrying about themselves and dealing with their own gymtimidation. The best way to become un-intimidated is build up experiences within the space. Get in there and give it your best shot. And laugh it off when you try to deadlift a weight and it doesn’t budge!

** More than many thanks to Girls Gone Strong for the inspiration.

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About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.

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