1. Check your ego
If you are new to the weight room, or simply just aren’t feeling all that confident in your abilities, it’s important to check your ego at the door and consult with an expert. “My biggest tip is to ask the staff at the gym for a tour to get acquainted with the equipment, layout of the facility, and general etiquette rules,” explains Jackie Cooney, the fitness manager at Calgary’s Talisman Centre. “Get instruction on how to properly use the machines and the proper form for lifting.” This is not only important for avoiding injuries (and potentially embarrassing episodes at the squat rack), but also in developing the lean physique you are after. Cooney also suggests trying a new piece of equipment each time you train so you gain comfort with a variety of workouts.
Also, remember that everyone is slightly confused and intimidated at first.
2. Use the buddy system
Research shows that working out with someone else not only makes you more accountable for showing up and getting it done, but it’s also more fun and less intimidating to step into a foreign environment with an ally by your side. “In an ideal world you could find a friend who is already familiar with the weight room and have them show you the ropes,” says Erin Phelan, a trainer at Equinox in Toronto.
Phelan also suggests starting with a strength or pump class in which instructors come around and correct technique on classic weight lifting moves. “Weight training is something that everyone should be doing. Not everyone loves working out on the gym floor, but once you have the basics and know what you are doing, it can be a lot of fun.”
3. Crack a book
According to Crossfit coach, J-me Hannay of Calgary’s Crossfit AI North, the best thing a woman can do to increase her comfort level in this kind of testosterone-filled atmosphere, is research. “Empower yourself by reading peer-reviewed sport science journals and exercise physiology and kinesiology textbooks,” Hannay, who is also an exercise physiologist, kinesiologist, and nationally-ranked figure competitor, says. ” If you’re looking for a great resource, check out humankinetics.com for a great knowledge base. I find this comes in handy when that guy at the gym who wears too much cologne comes over to tell you that you’re doing a bicep curl ‘incorrectly’.”
Hannay also cautions females to consider the sources of their information carefully. “Learn to decode female-focused magazines and the negative stereotypes they perpetuate about women very carefully,” she says. In other words, aspire to look strong and fit like female athletes, rather than thin or “hot” like the airbrushed models and celebrities who grace most covers.
4. Mind your manners
While you can’t correct the bad behaviours of your fellow gym-goers you can be sure that you aren’t that person that everyone on the gym floor ends up annoyed with. Realizing you are in a public space and respecting the fact that equipment needs to be shared will go a long way. “No one wants to hear your music blaring out of your earbuds or hear you singing,” says Phelan. “You don’t own a machine or a set of weights, especially when it’s busy. Generally speaking, doing one set is acceptable, but if you’re doing two or three sets in a row, get off the equipment, have your water, then get back on, allowing someone else to work in with you.”
Re-racking your weights when you are through with them is a must for Hannay, as is staying off of your phone while on the gym floor. And those folks pumping iron in front of the mirrors? Turns out it’s not just about taking selfies. “If someone’s weight training in front of a mirror, it means two things: Firstly, they were there first, so it’s their space to train in. And second, they are likely using the mirror to cue themselves and/or help with body awareness,” she explains. “Wait until they are done before you hone in on their turf.”
There’s nothing wrong with sweating. That’s what we are at the gym for, after all. But all the trainers agreed that wiping down equipment after use is one of the most overlooked (and grossest) behaviours in the weight room.
Oh, and even if you’re trying to fit in, keep the grunting to a minimum, ladies.