How To Find Your Confidence In The Gym
Stepping into a gym for the first time can be intimidating. Between the jacked men in muscle tees hogging the free weights at one end, and some machines that rival props from Star Trek at the other, it’s no surprise it can take some people a little getting used to.
But give it a chance — it’s really not as scary as it seems. The sooner you understand how the gym works, how to tackle your own training and realise everyone else is doing the exact same thing you are, the more fun you will have.
Let’s talk about confidence
In my FIERCE program, I explain a lot of different moves, lifts and exercises, so that is a great place to start to get a well-rounded understanding of the types of things you can do in the gym.
But for now, let’s talk about gaining your confidence in the gym — because the minute you step inside those doors, you should feel powerful, strong and ready to take on the world.
Never feel intimidated in the gym
First things first: leave any feelings of awkwardness or intimidation at the door. The only form of uncomfortable you should be feeling is pushing your body to move in ways you didn’t know it could, not by the presence of others.
Contrary to popular belief, no one is watching you or judging you as you train. They’re all there working hard, just like you, to be the best versions of themselves. That’s enough about that, let’s move on.
Learn the lay of the land in the gym
Your gym manager, or one of the trainers, should give you a proper induction and show you how everything works. If they haven’t, ask. Every gym is different, so even if you’re a veteran gym-goer who has just joined a new club, it’s still worth having a proper tour.
What you’ll find inside, will depend on the type of gym you attend. But typically, there will be a free weights section, stationary machines area, stretch station and a room for classes. Let’s break it down a bit more and I’ll share a few tips to getting started in these areas for any gym newbies.
Navigating the free weights section
It’s generally not hard to spot this section, as there are likely to be a few muscle-laden ladies and gents throwing around some iron. Do not let that stop you from joining the pump party.
Rule number one of the free weights section: don’t let anyone intimidate you — this is a space for everyone to use. Rule number two: always put your equipment away and share plates with others if need be. Rule number three: make this section your friend!
If you’re looking at the equipment in this section and have no idea where to start, here’s a few tips:
Bring on the barbells
Barbells are an important part of weight training and incredibly versatile. Some of the basic barbell lifts are the deadlift, back squat, bent-over row, push press and bench press.
When you first start using barbells, don’t be a hero and stack on the weight plates because you feel like you should be lifting heavy. Learn to walk before you run, which in this case, means nail technique before you up the weights.
When you’re first learning lifting techniques, start with an empty barbell, or better yet, wooden dowel, until you feel comfortable with the movement and have got the technique down pat.
Do not feel pressured to go heavier than you want to. People will respect you for wanting to learn how to do the lift properly. Even the biggest, strongest people in the gym have light-load weight sessions in their schedules, so no one is judging you for going a little light as you master the movement. Light load and moderate reps is a great place to start.
Pretty straightforward, but again incredibly versatile. Dumbbells can be used in so many different ways from strict strength workouts, to high-intensity resistance training.
Try the simple stuff first: bicep curls, overhead press, bent-over row, lateral raises and incline chest press. All of these movements should be done strict — that is, no kipping or swinging. Focus on technique.
Once you’re confident throwing a dumbbell around (not literally, or your gym manager may have some stern words!), you can start incorporating them into other aspects of your workouts like Tabata or HIIT.
Working out the weight plates
Knowing your way around a set of weight plates is important. You don’t want to wind up accidentally putting on a 25kg plate instead of a 2.5kg one!
The weight will usually be written on the sides of the plates, so make sure you check before you start sliding them onto your bar. If you’re trying a new lift and have no idea what weight you should be using, start low, and if you find that too easy, increase weight over the following sets. Not only should you be doing this anyway to warm up, but you’ll also start to feel where it gets hard — which is where you’ll find your sweet spot.
Weight plates are also great to use on their own for things like overhead plate presses (using a 10kg plate instead of a dumbbell, for example), or core exercises like weighted Russian twists or sit-ups. Even a farmer’s carry using plates can be a great addition to your next session.
Some weight-plate etiquette: don’t leave plates strewn across the floor, as others will need to use them, too. Put them away when you’re done and keep your area tidy.
Sussing the stationary machines
A machine for every muscle, pretty much! Another section of most gyms is the stationary machine area. Best thing about these machines is, there is often a picture of how to use it somewhere on the machine itself. Start there. If no luck, ask a fellow gym member or trainer how to use it.
That’s my number one tip for gaining confidence with stationary machines — ask for help. The last thing you want to do is end up like one of those viral social media videos where someone has their hands where their feet should be and feet where their butt should be!
Muster up the courage to ask for guidance: you will feel more confident in what you’re doing, and you’ll get so much more out of your workouts.
Understand your body and your mind
So you’ve familiarised yourself with the gym, know what each piece of equipment does, and you’re feeling pretty confident, now what? Want to increase your weights, step up your training to the next level? Unsure where to start?
Understanding your body and your mind, and how they interact, will give you the confidence you need to turn things up a notch.
Listen to your body
Before you even think about upping your load, is your technique perfect? Have you practised perfect technique enough so that when the going gets tough, your body can take over and know exactly what to do?
Don’t start loading up that barbell or putting the pin three bricks lower, until your form is on point.
Secondly, take notice of how your body is reacting to your training. Are you constantly dealing with a shoulder injury, or a niggling feeling in your lower back? Do you feel energised every morning, or like you’ve been hit by a bus?
Listen to what your body might be trying to tell you, and don’t be afraid to adjust your training on the fly if you need to. Before you start throwing big weights around or increasing your HIIT sessions, know what your body likes and doesn’t like.
Why confidence starts in your mind
A piece of advice I learned early on, which really helped with my confidence and ability to push myself was this: ‘Your mind will tell you you can’t, when your body can.’
What this means is, your mind will fail you before your body does. So when it’s telling you you can’t do one more rep, or can’t push through one last round, chances are, your body can, you’ve just got to break through that mental barrier.
You will know this feeling if you’ve ever said to yourself ‘Nope, it’s too hard, I can’t do any more’, then out of nowhere you do one more. How invigorating is that!?
Having confidence in your physical ability is crucial — it’s a lot stronger than our minds will sometimes have us believe! The best way to build your mental strength, is to keep proving it wrong. If it says you can’t manage one more burpee, do two more and give it a little wink.
Building mental strength is the key to training with confidence, and if you know your body, you’ll know just how hard you can push it, and when you’re being a little too confident or overambitious.
Be bold, be brave, be FIERCE
No matter if you’re a workout rookie, or seasoned veteran, being confident in the gym is the key to getting the most out of your workouts and having a good time while doing it.
Everyone’s fitness journey is unique, including mine, but if there is one thing we all have in common, it’s that we want to be the best versions of ourselves.
So whether it’s knowing which machine does what, the types of lifts to try, or when to turn your training up a notch, be bold, be brave, be confident. And let’s kick goals together.
How do you boost your confidence in the gym?
* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.