When I was younger, like in middle school, I used to lift weights a fair amount. I played a ton of basketball, and part of one program I did – the Katy Steding Basketball Academy – involved regular weight training. It wasn’t anything like what I’m doing now, it was all low-weight/high-reps stuff, but I got to know my way around a weight room pretty well. I’ve lifted intermittently since then, but never really got familiar with lifting at any gym since then, until now.
Finding the right equipment at the gym and figuring out how to use it should be easy. My trainer gave me a list of all the exercises I should do, and since I do them with him, I should be able to figure them out on my own as well. I don’t workout at the gym where he trains me, so it wasn’t completely obvious which machines I should use the first time I did things on my own, since some of them look different than his and they’re all arranged differently at my gym, but this shouldn’t be a huge obstacle. Unfortunately, I suffer from extreme weight room anxiety, and am terrified to talk to anyone in there or ask for help. This makes things harder.
I’m not embarrassed by my weight room anxiety because I’m pretty sure a lot of you have to deal with this too. For anyone who doesn’t deal with this issue, let me describe the problems that it causes. First of all, I never ever ask anyone any questions in the weight room, definitely not where the right machines are or how to do the exercises. Instead I found an app that has all the normal lifting exercises and wander around my gym until I find the right machines to do it with. This makes first-time workouts take forever, and is really inefficient. Especially since I had to stand there and watch the little animations within the app show me how to do each exercise.
Then there’s the issue of spotting. When I work out with my trainer, he spots me the whole time and helps me out when I can’t push through the weight. So far I’ve never worked up the mental energy it would take to ask a gym employee to spot me. That will probably never happen. One time I was doing the v-squat and I went down too far with too much weight and couldn’t get back up, so I had to slide all the way down and crawl out of the machine. Definitely less embarrassing than asking someone to help me in the first place. Here’s a video of someone doing a v-squat, in case you don’t know what it is. He’s only slightly better at it than I am.
Next, there’s the fact that sometimes there are other people in the gym that are using the machine that I’m meant to use right at that moment. When the situation is reversed, people sometimes come up to me and ask if they can work in with me. Last time someone did this, I said no because I was almost done and they looked like they were going to pile on all the 45 lb plates in the gym, and that would take a long time. Then I spent the rest of the day stressing out about how terrible my gym etiquette was. I’m still upset about it, in fact. I don’t want to cause this potential stress in other people, so when someone is using the machine I need, I don’t hassle them. Instead I stand about twenty feet away and stare at them for a few seconds, pretend to go get water, and then stare at them more, and then look at my phone, and then do some more staring. If they’re not done by the end of this routine, I think about asking if I can work in with them, and then go do a different machine. If this happens on the last exercise of my workout, I double the time I spend staring at them and then give up and leave if they still don’t finish.
Finally, my weight-room anxiety reaches an all-time high when someone at the gym decides to talk to me. A couple of weeks ago I was doing some bicep curls, and I did a set with 15 lb dumbbells in each hand. Understandably, I started struggling after five reps because that is an insane amount of weight. I did a couple more and ended my set. The guy at the bench next to me decided to make this a teaching moment, and said, “When it gets that hard, try alternating.” I said, “Okay, thanks,” and immediately felt conflicted. First of all, why was he watching me do bicep curls? Second, was he going to keep watching me? If I switched to alternate curls on my next set when it got hard, I would look like I didn’t know what I was doing and needed advice from strangers in the gym. If I didn’t, it would look like I thought he was a huge idiot and didn’t care about all of his gym knowledge. I decided to make sure that I didn’t struggle on my remaining sets, and so I would have no reason to alternate. I picked up the 12.5 lb dumbbells and used those for the rest of my sets and hoped he wouldn’t talk to me again.
It’s moments like these when I really miss running. If a stranger talks to you while you’re running, you can run away from them. If they talk to you when you’re lifting weights at the gym, things get way weirder if you get up and run away. In downtown Portland there’s a gym called the Non-Intimidating Gym for Beginners (I’m not joking). Every time I walk by it, I wonder what happens after you’ve worked out there a few months and aren’t a beginner anymore – do they kick you out? Is there a Slightly-Intimidating Gym for the Moderately Experienced? But now I get it, being a beginner in a gym is extremely intimidating. My vision of this gym is one where everyone is wearing blinders so you know you probably aren’t being looked at while you clumsily figure out how to use the machines, and nobody is allowed to talk. That would be ideal, anyway.
I can’t wait until I am ultra-experienced and get to intimidate everyone else working out in the gym. I will hand out so much unsolicited advice and ask every single person at the gym if I can work in with them. It’s going to be great.