The Woman’s Guide to Beating Gym Intimidation

The Woman's Guide to Beating Gym IntimidationI was about to approach the squat rack when I felt it in my gut: gym intimidation. Wut! Me?!

Now, I haven’t felt intimidated in the weight room for many years. And as someone with a little brother growing up, I have a built-in fiesty disposition. But then, out of nowhere, a gnawing insecurity gripped me. I needed to approach a rack near a group of guys shooting the bull. This feeling surprised me big time.

So I consciously thought to myself, “What the hell? You got this. They’re afraid of you. You’re a badass.”

It clicked. I threw my shoulders back approached the rack with confidence. I could see them watching. Their voices became quieter.

I looked at them. No smile… just my most matter-of-fact face that said, I belong here. Do you?

Ha! I owned it, baby, because I own that damn weight room. Now get outta my way so I can DO this.

Beating Gym Intimidation: That “A-Ha” Moment

I’ve heard from many women who’ve had this kind of a-ha moment, like Carey, an online group client:

“I came home in tears (from the gym) – and I am someone who is no stranger to the gym or even the weights area. My husband told me to hold tight and it’d get better. Sure enough, even just 3 weeks later, I had no more intimidation. I KNEW my weights, I KNEW my technique, I KNEW where I was going in the gym and how to do what needed to get done. All of the information provided by Suzanne gave me that knowledge and confidence.”

I freaking love this quote. Incidentally, Carey’s deadlift increased 142% during the program along with her confidence.

Even if you’ve been training for years, until you have the glorious realization that you own it, intimidation can haunt you. And you’ll be missing out on the incredible benefits that killer self-confidence can have in your life, not just in the weight room.

Carey of Fierce DefinitionThe Right Tools for the Job

I’m grateful for this experience because it helped me remember what it’s like for my readers and the women I coach. It fuels me to hear stories from women who’ve gone from intimidated to crazy confident in the weight room, but how do they do it?

With the new year approaching, you’ll see a lot more people in the gym, many of whom don’t know proper etiquette. That’s why I’m sharing my toolbox with you so you can be the badass you were meant to be (and get that smokin’ body you want).

Know Your Stuff

Carey’s story reveals the importance of knowing your shit in the weight room. If you’re unsure about your form or the exercises you’re doing, you’re gonna wonder if people are staring at you. The solution is to equip yourself with all the best strength training knowledge you can while following a training program – that is, a set of workouts that change on a regular basis.

I carry a small spiral training log and refer to it before every exercise. Not only does this keep me focused and progressing, it keeps me busy. No time to feel self-conscious, if I was so inclined. Plus I have bulletproof confidence that my form beats everyone else’s in that gym because I’ve studied and practiced it.

Do Like Lady Gaga

I saw an interview with Lady Gaga for the first time recently. Her eyes sort drifted all over the place and she never really seemed to absorb any one thing. Hell, she might’ve been spacey or stoned, but I mused that she’s a genius who’s developed a coping mechanism for all the attention. I call it “Spacey Eyes.”

How can this help you in a roomful of young dudes with their sparkling, hair-free chests and roaming, if not condescending, gazes?

Do like Lady Gaga. When you feel like you’re in the spotlight, put on your Spacey Eyes and never look at anyone directly. Sure, it might look like you’re making eye contact. But in reality those dudes are blurry objects in the periphery. What’s really in your line of sight is the big picture: dem weights.

A woman in the weight room can garner attention. There aren’t many of us, and yes, there is some testosterone being thrown about. Guys might be eyeing you and even whispering about your hotness. But Spacey Eyes lets you tune ’em out without looking meek. Which you’re not.

Give ’em the Steely Eye

If doing like Lady Gaga isn’t quite your style, I propose the opposite: direct eye contact with a poker face. You might even get a smile in return.

I typically avoid eye contact with everyone at the gym; this is just my way of staying focused. But facing intimidation head on may mean looking directly at the people who are freaking you out. This gives you power and control over the situation instead of meekly trying to seem invisible.

It’s really irrelevant whether your gym intimidation is real or imagined. Yes, occasionally a “meathead” might violate your personal space, ask when you’ll be done (as if you’re just in the way), or generally give you signals that you don’t belong there. Groups of guys can be especially intimidating if they’re talking trash or strutting their masculinity. You need a send a clear, confident message that you belong there as much as they do.

Body language is everything. Keep your face neutral – no self-effacing smile, no apology that you’re hurrying up, and no eye avoidance. Keep your shoulders back and move deliberately without rushing. If you’re so inclined, put a little smirk on your face, because you’re the shit and they only wish you’d give them the time of day. Ha! (But usually people are very nice in the gym.)

Imagine Their Fear

When I told myself that those guys were afraid of me, that probably wasn’t far from the truth. I’m a formidable presence in the gym because I know my shit and have the body to prove it. I’m not afraid of attention… it rolls right off me. If this seems big-headed to you, stay the course – you’ll get there too someday. You’ll understand that owning it is different than being conceited.

If you’re owning it, there’s no way anyone will intimidate you. You’re fierce and not to be messed with. And if someone smiles and says hi, well, you’re friendly back. But not too approachable, unless you’re lookin’ for love (in which case online dating services come in handy).

Wear Headphones, Like, For Real

The only reason I heard that pack of guys shooting the breeze was because I’d left my headphones at home. Normally, I would’ve shut the world out with my music. So I think it’s really key to listen to your own music and go inside yourself at the gym, especially if you feel intimidated. The less talking your hear, the more you can think about the muscles you should be activating.

You are not a victim. Own your power in the weight room and prepare to be amazed at how it transfers to the rest of your life.

This article originally appeared on

9 thoughts on “The Woman’s Guide to Beating Gym Intimidation

  1. You? Intimidated? You are the most confident sister in iron I know!
    I don’t have to share much these days but it took me forever to cross the barrier from the women’s only area (yes the gym I used to go to had one) to the squat rack.


    • I wish more women would reach out and ask other women who are doin it. I watched people and did ask before I became a trainer… I remember asking a guy how to use the Freemotion machine and was surprised it was so easy!


  2. I admit, when it comes to the weights I am still newbie enough that I still feel a bit self conscious. I have found that plugging into music helps to keep me focused and after awhile of doing a move I do feel confident. I honestly don’t think anyone is looking at me and I remind myself they are there to focus on themselves not on what I, a stranger, am doing.


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