Back in 2001 I walked into a gym intimidated as anyone could be for essentially my first “real” training session and started working with a trainer named Jack.
He was the epitome of a bodybuilder from the loose fitting Golds Gym tank to the beach blonde hair to the tan. I told him I needed to work on power cleans and sprints for volleyball season and he took me through a body part split routine. Regardless I learned a lot.
Looking back, I remember struggling with the 10 pound dumbbells for a shoulder press. Fifteen years later I am rocking the 20’s for shoulder presses and have built some serious gym confidence though it didn’t always feel that way EVEN the first few years as a personal trainer myself.
Without saying a word about confidence Jack taught me a lot about weight training and walking through a gym like you owned it.
I know in the beginning without Jack, I felt a little intimated, overwhelmed, unsure about what to do, or ridiculous if I couldn’t figure out a machine.
I kept my distance from areas that were populated more by males or bodybuilders. I would walk straight to machines or areas I felt comfortable even if it wasn’t challenging me as much.
Today I want to share with you 10 quick tips to help navigate the weights sections at any gym, including etiquette, what to do’s and the how-to’s of building a better workout so you exude confidence and get in better shape even when you might feel a little out of place. I know I sure did for awhile.
Ask if you are unsure. Personal trainers and gym staff are there for a reason. If you are unsure if a space is available for general use, are wondering where you can stretch, are not sure how to sure how to use a cardio equipment or machine, just ask. Knowledge builds confidence even in little bits. And sometimes just knowing how to use a machine or where to rack the weights makes all the difference. I still go into unfamiliar gyms and certain pieces of equipment perplex me. There is always something else you can do.
Clean up after yourself. Just as you would at home clean up after yourself, same goes in the gym. It is courteous and respectful to other gym goers, though you will notice many do not follow this advice. Put mat or exercise balls away. Put the free weights back on their rack and if a machine requires you to add plates of weight, be sure to return them to their proper storage spaces.
Be aware of your space. Even if you are not using a piece of equipment but perhaps doing an exercise by it, be sure to give that machine, bench or free weights section enough space so other gym goers can access the equipment. If you are unsure just imagine how close you would want someone working out to you and then decide from there. Also, if someone is invading your personal space it is ok to politely ask them to move a couple feet.
Don’t be afraid of the free weights section. Sometimes machines feel safe and comfortable because there are minimal adjustments and it may feel intimidating to jump into the free weight section maybe because you are not quite sure what to do or because you are only grabbing the 10 pound weights. Who cares? It doesn’t matter how much weight you are lifting to start, it matters that you are there breaking out of your comfort zone. You belong in that space as much as anyone else and there are plenty of great exercises to choose from. Feel free to take those weights to other parts of the gym to use, just be sure to return them.
What to do with those benches? Often the benches by the free weight section are designed to be flat or at an incline depending on the exercise. They may adjust differently at different gyms and for certain exercises. Try not to use the benches as a place to set your water bottle or towel if you are not using it but doing an exercise next to it. For example if you are doing bicep curls give an appropriate amount of space so others can use it.
Exercises you can perform on benches include dumbbell bench press, incline press, shoulder press, dumbbell row, just to name a few.
Sharing equipment. It is perfectly fine to ask someone to share equipment, mostly for easy to adjust machines, especially if you notice someone on it for an extended period of time. Simply ask if you can jump in between sets and most people have no problem with it. Be sure to adjust to your correct weight and wipe it down quickly if you notice that person is extra sweaty or if you are extra sweaty. Typically if you see someone with really heavy weight on a bar it is probably best not to ask as it will take too much time to adjust and switch the weight.
As for saving equipment be aware of saving two pieces of equipment while working back and forth in between sets if you notice someone hovering like they might want to use it. Make a offer to share.
Squat racks. Squat racks are areas that are designed for people to do pull-ups and heavy lifts, like squats, where they actually need the rack to load and unload the weight. If you are starting with very light weight you may want to use another straight bar that many gyms have available. Once your weight increase above 40 head on over to the rack where the bar is 45 pounds. It doesn’t matter if you are not lifting heavy weight but don’t do exercises in there like bicep curls, stretches or exercises that you can do in other places. Many gyms only have a couple racks and are precious to those who want to use them.
How to select exercises. If you are looking to get the most out of your workout choose exercises that are multi-joint exercises, meaning they are working multiple muscle groups across more than one joint. For example, a shoulder press is working from your elbow and shoulder joint. A squat is working from you hip and knee joint.
These exercises target multiple muscles groups and you will get more out of these movements, then say bicep curls and tricep presses. These are fine to do but my advice would be to save them until the end as a bonus circuit after you have finished the bulk of the workout.
Also to keep balance in the body and not overdo one particular group, use the following guidelines. Pick one exercise from each category.
Upper body push – Chest Presses, Incline Presses, Shoulder Presses
Lower body bilateral – Squats, deadlifts
Upper body pull – Rows, Pulldowns, Pull-ups
Lower single leg stance – Step-ups, Lunges
A workout could look like this:
Dumbbell Bench Press, Squat
Lat Pulldown, Reverse Lunge
When you should go up in weight. Sometimes it is confusing to know when you should go up in weight though a general easy to use guideline is this for a set of 10-12 reps. If you get to 12 and you feel like you can do 5 more it is too light. If you only get to 6 or 8 it is too heavy for this particular workout. If you go up in weight and can only make 9 reps, keep shooting for 9 reps until you can do 10-12.
You belong there as much as anyone else. Remember there is no rule for how fit you have to be to use the weight room. Walk into any weight room and own it like you belong there, because you do. Sure you may have questions but if confidence is keeping you back, all you have to do is believe in yourself and others will follow suit.