Your first day in the weight room can be intimidating.
You walk in after your warm up on the treadmill and begin to feel a bit overwhelmed. Everyone in there is focused and seems to know exactly what they are doing.
An incredibly muscular man is deadlifting at the squat rack. Someone else is running a circuit between the free weights and machines and somehow sharing a machine with another guy.
You glance back at the cardio room with the girls in their matching sets on the ellipticals and suddenly you’re wondering,
Stop. Take a deep breath and remember that these are just people. And, like you, they’ve all had a “first day in the weight room” at some point.
Working out in a weight room isn’t stressful as long as you know how weight rooms work. Just like knowing the unspoken etiquette of audition rooms, the subway, and even the cardio section of the gym helps you to feel more confident, the same is true in the weight room.
Most people learn these rules through trial and error. But we want you to feel as confident as possible walking into the weight room.
So, we made a list of essential gym etiquette rules that are sure to have you navigating the weight room like a pro in no time.
Now, It’s important to note that the “etiquette” and culture of weight rooms can vary. This is especially true if you are traveling in another country!
Did you know that in Japan, you cannot enter a gym if you have exposed tattoos?
Some gyms require you to bring in shoes that haven’t been out on the street.
That’s why this first “rule” of gym culture is so important.
Know Your Way Around
The fastest way to feel comfortable in any space is to get to know the lay of the land. So, before you do anything, just take a walk around the weight room.
This gives you a chance to see where everything is so you feel less like a lost lamb when it’s time to change machines or swap out weights.
This also gives you a chance to see who is in the gym and what spaces are free to work out in!
But beyond understanding your way around physically. It’s also important to learn the culture and rules of the gym your stepping into.
This looks like reading the signs of the gym rules (often posted near the front desk or in the weightroom). You could also talk to the front desk about their policies and sometimes even get a tour of the space from them.
The more information you’re armed with the easier planning your workouts will be. And on top of that, the more confident you can be about taking up space within the gym.
Save Circuits for “Off-peak” times
Now that we know the lay of the land, let’s talk about how to plan your workout.
If you’re training with Dancers Who Lift, you likely have a workout already programmed for you.
If this is the case, I recommend taking a look at what that workout is before you head to the gym.
This gives you a chance to see if you will want/need the space to workout at a less crowded hour of the day.
How do you know what times of day are less crowded?
The easiest way to learn the “off-peak” hours of the gym is to ask the front desk! Some gyms even have special promotions for guests that use the gym during this time, so it’s always worth an ask!
Why does this matter?
Some workouts, like circuits, require the use of a lot equipment. When the gym is busy, it can be frustrating to others if you’re occupying three sets of dumbbells, two machines, and the only free yoga mat space in the weight room for 20 plus minutes.
This doesn’t mean you can’t do a circuit during peak times. It just means you need to be more mindful about how.
The best way to politely do a circuit when it’s crowded is to replace your weights after each set. That way, someone can use them while you’re completing your circuit. Most gyms have multiples of each weight so this shouldn’t cause many problems for you other than *maybe* adding a few steps between sets.
Speaking of replacing weights between sets, let’s talk about “hogging” weights
Don’t “Hog” the Weights
While we want you to feel confident about taking up space in the gym, we also want to ensure that you are remaining mindful of those around you.
The fastest way to get the stink-eye from your fellow lifters is by “hogging” the weights.
And I get it. It seems easier to grab what you need and move to another area of the gym where you might feel more comfortable. But in the end, a gym is a shared space and it’s considered courteous to keep this in mind.
I don’t know how many times a workout has needed to be adjusted because someone monopolized three sets of dumbbells for their entire 45-minute session.
As you know, most lifting workouts require you to perform “sets” of “reps.”
The widely accepted gym etiquette – in the U.S.A. at least- is to only remove the weights you need for the set you are currently performing. Once you finish your set, if you’d like to go up in weight, you can return the weights to the rack and select a new pair of dumbbells.
*Reminder: don’t forget to put your weights back when you’re done! This also applies to plates! Not everyone is as strong as you, so be sure to help the next person by putting everything away!
Another way you can, accidentally, “hog the weights” is by blocking others’ access to the weight rack.
For the safety of themselves and others, people give each other a wide berth in the weight room so as not to cause any accidents.
So, if you have planted yourself too close to the weight rack to do your bicep curls, no one else has the room to both respect your personal space and select the weights they need.
Speaking of personal space, let’s talk about what that looks like in the gym.
Give People a Wide Berth
This might go without saying but be respect of everyone’s personal space.
In the weight room people are often working to the point of failure. This means that sometimes, weights get dropped, people fall off balance, and distractions need to be minimized.
That’s why it’s a good idea, for your safety and the safety of others to give people a wide berth when walking around the gym.
Additionally, the gym can be a vulnerable place for a lot of people. So be considerate about how you watch people too!
What is working-in?
Working-in happens when a person is using a machine that someone else also needs to use. So, when the lifter is resting, the person in need of the machine might ask if they can work-in. That is, do their lifts during the other person’s rest time and vice versa.
For the longest time, this intimidated me. I didn’t want a stranger watching me lift! That meant I’d have to *gasp* speak words out loud to a human I don’t know!
But after a few workouts of lying and just giving the person my machine, I started to come around to the idea.
I especially started considering it when I found myself wishing I could work-in to someone elses set-either for time efficiency or because it was my last exercise of the workout.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, the gym is already a really vulnerable place. So, if interacting with another human is too vulnerable for you in this moment, here are a few alternative options.
The first option is to make a substitution.
For example, let’s say you’re waiting for the chest press machine. So, instead of using the chest press machine you find a bench and do some dumbbell chest presses.
This is often the path of least resistance as most exercises have alternative options. In fact, Coach Arial has an entire series of “Gym Swaps” on the Dancers Who Lift instagram if you’re ever in a pinch!
The next option when someone is using equipment you’re in need of is to get curious and be observant.
Are they doing low reps and lots of sets? If so, you can hang close and do a quick mobility flow or active stretching to stay warm until the machine is free.
Are they doing higher reps and just finished their second set? Great! They should be done soon and you just got a little bonus rest time before your next exercise.
Finally, the most vulnerable option is to be brave and ask if you can work in.
To do this confidently, take a second and make sure their timing would be compatible for the work you need to do.
Ask yourself, will I be able to do what I need to do without feeling rushed? Will I get an appropriate amount of rest while they do what they need to do?
If the answer’s yes, I say give it a go! (Just remember to always wait until they are on a rest period!)
Now here’s the thing, some people will say no. And that’s okay! They might be feeling just as vulnerable as you.
But most of the time, people are happy share.
So, the next time someone asks you if they can work in, give it a try.
Most of the time, it’ll be an easy yes. And if, for whatever reason, it’s a no, use a modification of the lift or simply move on to your next exercise and come back to the machine when it’s free.
And, if you’re lucky enough to not have to share, make sure you wipe down the equipment after you use it!
Move With Confidence (Even if you’re not feeling it!)
Ever heard the phrase, “fake it ’til you make it?”
Well, faking confidence in the weight room will absolutely help you feel comfortable there.
Now, let’s be clear.
Faking confidence does NOT mean lifting more than you’re able or trying lifts you don’t know how to perform.
Confidence IS recognizing that you have just as much right to take up space in the weight room as every other person in there.
Confidence is NOT sticking to a weight that’s too heavy because you feel embarrassed to swap it out.
Confidence IS feeling comfortable saying “whoops!” and grabbing a lighter dumbbell.
Unburden yourself from what you’ve been told about who belongs where, and allow yourself to do what it takes to get stronger, faster, and more powerful.
How do we do that?
Have a plan.
Whether you have planned out your workout ahead of time or working with a coach who has given you a program, come into the weight room knowing what you have to accomplish.
Not only will that yield a better, more efficient workout, but it will give you the confidence you need to ask to work in, grab the right weights, and get started working out.
And when you start to feel intimidated by the guy lifting heavy weights next to you, just remember, weight training is all about working to your maximum until you cannot work any more. That threshold is different for every single person.
There are exercises I absolutely demolish in the weight room that my husband (a 200 lb HUNK) struggles with.
The important thing is that you remain consistent. Showing up, day in and day out for yourself and your goals.
So, next time you’re in the weight room and you’re feeling out of place, take a deep breath and remember,
“I deserve to be here.”
Because you do. And now you have the tools to feel a little more at home in the space.
Now, go on with your bad self and get a lift in!