How to overcome a fear of the weights section at the gym

In many ways I consider myself a strong, independent woman *sassy finger waggle* but until recently my gym habits were one area in which I fell down massively.

Thing is, I’ve always found the weights section of the gym pretty intimidating, and instead of venturing in there, fell into the typical ‘girl’ pattern of cardio and floor work, steering well clear of that testosterone-fuelled, grunty area in the corner.

Until now.

I’ve been keen to introduce more strength work into my fitness regime for a while (girl gotta get some abs, right?!), and I finally realised that there are only so many kettle bell swings you can do before you need to start lifting proper weights.

It was time to go into the danger zone.

Firstly, I needed to know what to actually do in there. If you are a weights newbie, I urge you not to just hop on over to the squat rack and start ‘having a go’ – it’s really important to get proper advice on technique if you want to avoid injury.

Luckily for me, I had one free personal training session with Fitness First, so I asked my PT, Georgina, to focus on strength training, and show me how to do all the basic lifts and bits of equipment.

With her, I wasn’t bothered about going into the male-dominated area of the gym – her being a PT felt like it legitimised my presence (which is ridiculous, I know). Plus, because she was fetching and setting up all the weights for me, I didn’t feel like a goon trying to work out what I was doing.

The first time I ventured into the weights area alone, however, was a different story.

First of all, there was the panic of trying to work out what to do. Georgina had shown me the techniques, but I had no idea how to actually set everything up. I felt super self-conscious as I fannyed around trying to adjust weights and heights on various bits of kit, partly because some of the guys in there were legit just staring at me (thanks for the offer to help, lads).

Weights etiquette was another area I couldn’t get my head around, initially. I ended up accidentally stealing the squat rack from someone because even though he was nowhere in sight when I arrived, he was still ‘using’ it (apparently I should’ve been able to tell from the fact there were weights on the bar, which is weird because people hardly ever bother taking them off at the end of their session).

Finally, there was the perving. And I know it happened because the place is FULL OF FRICKING MIRRORS. As I lay back on a bench to do a chest press, I was treated to the reflection of a guy who genuinely just stared down my top for the entire 15 rep set. Sigh.

Ok, so my first foray into the weights area on my own was a bit of a disaster, and I spent most of it feeling flustered and embarrassed. But, luckily, things have improved a lot since then.

Part of this is getting into the groove of knowing what I’m doing. After my first solo trip, I recruited my boyfriend to go to the gym with me (poor guy agreed to be seen in the weights section with A GIRL, what a hero). We both did our own thing but it was nice being able to ask him occasional questions without feeling like a moron, and I was soon a pro at sorting out the equipment myself.

I also came to the realisation that actually, the guys in the weights area of the gym are just the normal guys you meet in every other area of your life, but wearing gym stuff. I know it sounds stupid, but I had conjured them up into a special breed of extra scary man in my head, whereas actually, it’s just the nerdy guy from IT but in shorts. Yes, just like in real life, a couple of them will be pervy, but most of them are just nice men going about their own business.

Most of all, my transformation into weights lover came from growing confidence, and the realisation that I had just as much right to be there as anyone else, even if I was squatting 30 kilograms not 300. At first, I felt embarrassed putting my piddly little weights onto the bar; now I feel proud that I’ve finally overcome my fears and am getting stronger as a result. Beyonce booty, here I come.


  • Definitely ask someone to show you the ropes to begin with. This could be a personal training session, a member of gym staff or even just a particularly knowledgable friend. It’s important not to start off with bad habits when it comes to lifting weights, because you want to improve your body, not demolish it.
  • Try a weights class like Body Pump to get the hang of certain moves – such as dead lifts – before lifting weights on your own.
  • If you’re feeling shy, recruit a weights-loving friend or partner for your first few trips to help you build confidence, knowing there is someone to ask if you’re unsure. And don’t be scared to ask people around you for advice – they are just normal people!
  • Unsure if someone is using a piece of equipment? Just ask. If they’re not even nearby and they claim to have been ‘using’ it, they can get stuffed – you can’t claim half the weights section to yourself, mate.
  • Don’t lift the same amount every time – gradually increase it to challenge yourself. Record your progress on your phone so you can see what you lifted last time and hopefully increase it.
  • Start off with moves that use multiple body parts (weighted lunges, squats, dead lifts etc) – you can move on to more targeted work later, if you wish.

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