Although an increasing number of women are taking up weight lifting, there are still many who are too shy to step into a gym for the first time. While, nowadays, I am definitely not scared of waltzing into a new gym and throwing some iron around, it may surprise you to learn that I was once very, very afraid of the gym – just like many of the women who write to me. It took months of my ex-husband coaxing me before I finally agreed to try strength training.
Here are some things I wish I knew when I first started:
- You don’t need a coach: Given that I am a personal trainer myself, it may sound silly for me to not recommend having one. If you have any injuries, are extremely self-conscious or are really unsure about using gym equipment then, by all means, hire a coach for a session or two, but it’s not absolutely necessary. When I first started, a bodybuilding coach wrote me a program (which, in hindsight, was definitely generic and handed out to every single one of his clients), but he did not coach me in person. I taught myself how to do everything. I printed out my program and wrote copious notes in the margins, and saved instructional videos to my phone, so that I could walk into the gym with (fake) confidence every time. It can definitely be helpful to have someone program your workouts initially, when you do not know what you are doing, That said, I did not stay with that particular coach for very long. I trained mostly unsupervised for three years before hiring a coach to prepare me for my first strongwoman competition. No one ever even looked at my squat until after I had competed in five strongwoman comps and one powerlifting meet. My use of coaching has always been sporadic and selective.
- If you do hire a coach, it doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing. Do a little research before you hire a coach and don’t just hire the first one you see. I’ve written about how to find a good PT here. One or two sessions is enough to learn the basics of the main lifts (squat, deadlift and bench press), and the rest you can learn from YouTube. Yes, really. If you hire a PT and they lead you straight to the treadmill, run in the opposite direction. There are so many shitty coaches out there, especially on Instagram, who have no idea what they’re doing. If you’re going to spend money, spend it wisely.
- Nobody is paying any attention to you. I remember the first time I walked into a gym by myself. I was convinced everyone was looking at me and wondering what the hell I was doing there. In reality, no one is paying any attention to you. The more experienced you become, the more you realise that most people in the gym don’t have a clue what they’re doing themselves, and the gym bros aren’t paying attention to anything other than their own reflection.
- If you convince yourself you’re not ready, you never will be. It’s amazing how many people tell me that they will join a gym as soon as they lose 10 pounds, learn the basics of lifting at home first, or find the perfect gym environment. Stop making excuses as to why you can’t join a gym today. The point of working out in a gym environment is to get fit and become more comfortable performing exercises – you do not need to be an expert before you start.
- There are many different ways to work out, and none of them are necessarily superior. You will certainly see a few questionable workout styles in the average gym, however, just because someone is training differently to you doesn’t mean they’re wrong. I must admit that when I started lifting I had a huge superiority complex. I was convinced that what I was doing was the best form of exercise and everyone else was stupid. Now, I look back on those days and laugh! I had an abs and calves day, for heaven’s sake! These days, I spend most of my time training like a powerlifter, but I don’t look down on those who train for speed, agility, hypertrophy or whatever else. We all have different backgrounds and goals, and what you are doing won’t work for everyone.
- Don’t be afraid to eat! If you are lifting weights, you need to adequately refuel with plenty of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Again, I should have run a mile when my coach stuck me on a chicken and asparagus-only plan, given that I was a complete beginner and had no business eating like a figure competitor.
- Take time to rest. As I blogged about last week, rest is just as important as the work you do in the gym. I started off lifting six days a week AND doing cardio seven days a week. It’s totally unnecessary to train like that! These days, I lift three to four days a week, with two cardio sessions at most (usually dance classes, which don’t feel like exercise at all).
- Nobody cares about your workout routine. I was an obnoxious little 21-year-old. I was excited to “discover” weight lifting, but I was a giant pain in the ass to everyone around me. It’s okay to feel passionate about lifting weights, but don’t ram it down everyone’s throats.
- Be careful about who you befriend in the gym. When you spend a lot of time at the gym, it’s natural to meet people and develop friendships. This is fine, but accept that if any friendship or relationship goes tits up, it will create a lot of negative energy in what should be a safe space. Be very, very sure about starting a relationship with someone you meet at the gym. If you break up, one of you will likely have to leave, and people will gossip. I’ve actually made it a rule not to date anyone from the gym anymore, because it always ends in disaster.
- Don’t assume that you have to start in a commercial gym because you’re a beginner. It took years before I had the courage to step foot into a powerlifting gym, but now I see how stupid I was! Powerlifting and strongman gyms are incredibly open and accepting of beginners, and you will progress at a much faster rate if you start off in one of these gyms rather than a commercial gym.
Is there anything you wish you knew when you started lifting?