As I worked out yesterday I noticed a very striking detail. During the peak hours of the gym I was the only female in the free weight area. It wasn't until I was leaving that I walked past the group fitness studio and was able to locate what seemed to be the totality of my girl tribe , packed into every inch... of "New York" square footage the space had to offer. Maybe the instructor was** FIRE** and his/her class was packed (rightfully so) but the gender divide was jarring. With zero men in sight the juxtaposition of the two scenes really baffled me.
I also did something out of the norm for me, I decided to workout sans headphones (actually I forgot to charge my headphones... and had no choice but that's beside the point). This made me thoroughly aware of the commotion on the gym floor. As the guys threw more weight on the machines and egged each other on, for some odd and I'm certain facetious reason they frequently yelled "Chalupa" . The overall environment felt more like a football locker room than a health club that welcomed 9-5 (ers) working in accounting. Suddenly, it dawned on me , this culture could be perceived as hella intimidating.
For someone who's spent her life in athletic centers and army bootcamps I'd become immune to the peacocking. It often happens in large groups of guys with insecurities and sorry ladies it's done more for the benefit of the other guys than for us. (It's how they crown the top beta male or something) . While witnessing the sloven display of machismo I carried on with my lifting routine as per usual. Navigating between the squat, bench, and deadlift like the Wakandian Warrior that I am .
Simultaneously I thought to myself, how can I help other women feel more confident in these spaces and why exactly did I feel so confident ? Before putting my thoughts on paper I began scouring the internet for answers. I ran across dozens of articles about how to feel more confident in the gym. Although, disguised as confidence boosters, most of the articles read like 1950s " How to Guides" for women entering a predominantly male workforce. I came across tips like find a corner, build a workout fort , avert your gaze as to avoid direct eye contact .. or play your music so loud that you go partially deaf in one ear, but at least you won't hear the cat calling.
Now, this last statement maybe drenched in hyperbole but the general concept of teaching women how to hide in plain sight was more than just an undertone. Needless to say, these answers did not do it for me. I don't believe that placing yourself in some sort of fictitious bubble is the same thing as building one's self esteem to confidently occupy shared space. So after a bit more research and soul searching, I came up with my own list to help you OWN the gym floor.
Tip One: Find Your Community
This is extremely important in building your confidence in the gym. Just because a gym is down the street from your apartment that doesn't mean it's your new gym home. Every gym has its own culture and "Culture" is everything when it comes to gym life. The lingo , the dress, the cleanliness of the space, the attitude of the members and staff, music choice, conversation levels… will all be dictated by the culture. If you want to be left the F*** alone during your lunch hour workout, the high-end gym down the block with 20 trainers on staff at any given hour is probably not your ideal location for a hassle free floor workout. (just saying, mid-tier gyms will not staff the lunch hour )
With no shortage of boutique and niche gyms in NYC you're bound to find a gym culture that speaks to you . Are you a big fan of bodybuilding , powerlifting, weightlifting , are you a runner, or maybe HIIT style training is more your thing. No matter the training style there is a tribe to support it . If you're not absolutely certain what your thing is or what it’s going to be that's okay. Sample a bit of everything until you find your ride or die fitness gang. You can find fitness groups on Meetups or attend fitness events on by searching events in NYC on Eventbrite.
Tip Two : Learn the lay of the Land
Come in and locate the necessities. Give yourself a week or two to explore your turf before to jumping head first into a new routine. For example , do you need to bring your own lock or are the lockers automated? What about the water stations ? Do you fill your water bottle near the locker room? Are there restrooms on every floor? These things may seem insignificant but looking lost does very little to project confidence .
Tip Three : Know the schedule .
Check out the morning traffic versus the evening traffic. Are the machines you plan to use most heavily occupied at 6 pm or 6 am ? On Saturday mornings is the gym so packed with weekend warriors that you might as well have stayed in bed til brunch to get your lift on? High traffic hours mean lots of substituted exercises . So, make sure the exercises in your program are easily interchangeable and that you have confidence in your ability to navigate the floor and find substitute machinery .
Tip Four : Make Friends.
The easiest friend to make is the mayor of the gym. ID this person and introduce yourself. Wait ! Who ? Yes, every gym has a mayor or maybe even multiple mayors . This is the person in your gym that literally knows everyone and has probably been at the gym longer that most of the staff . The gym for this person is part sweat, part social, and one hundred percent family. Be proactive and get to know them by name since you'll eventually meet them anyway.
Tip Five : Know the Floor .
Another key to learning the lay of the land is learning where and how all the equipment is dispersed. Most large commercial gyms are all laid out the same. They have
A. A free weight area,
B. An area for selectorized machines (i.e hamstring curl, leg extension etc. )
C. A functional fitness area (space for sleds / trx / cable machines, etc.)
D. A cardio area
E. An allocated stretch space
F. Lastly the plate loaded equipment (squat racks / leg press / hammer strength etc.)
( Other areas include group fitness studios)
Tip Six: Learn the Lingo .
The guy to your left just asked you to work in. Is he hitting on you ? Of course not. He's asking if he can share the equipment with you while you take your rest period. Make an effort to speak gym. Just like there's company jargon there's gym jargon. Check out this cheat sheet for more great to know terms often used in the gym.
Tip Seven : Know Your Equipment
According to a study conducted by Fitrated , who surveyed one thousand Americans (male & female) "Nearly 59 percent of women and around 44 percent of men felt uncomfortable at the gym because of their improper use of the equipment". (Fitrated 2016) This insecurity can be easily addressed and here's how.
I'll let you in on a little secret : "All GYMS" will give you at least one comp training session.
Most gyms in New York City now offer two . Do yourself a huge favor and purchase a couple of sessions of your own up front before ever meeting with a trainer. Think of your trainer as the tour guide of your new gym city. Yes you can always roam freely and discover things on your own but your tour guide is an expert of your new space. They've spent countless hours training themselves and various clients of diverse fitness levels using the equipment in question and are therefore equipped with backstory and insight that you may have otherwise missed.
Tip Eight : Learn the moves
The easiest way to project confidence is to know what the f**** you're doing. If your program calls for squats but all the squat racks are taken , it's very easy to supplement with leg presses instead . Not because its leg day but because the leg press is a knee dominant lift and therefore will work the same musculature. I know what you're thinking: that’s easy for you to say it’s your job to know this stuff. Wrong Answer! In college I studied fashion merchandising . When I moved to New York City I was modeling and interning but I knew if i wanted to stay in good shape I'd have to hit the gym . So I started grabbing fitness magazines and began to learn moves that way. Way before ever considering personal training as a career. The links below do an amazing job at laying out the 7 fundamental movement patterns as well as the exercises that fall into each category. It’s your body - learn how it works.
Tip Nine : Make a Plan
Once you know how to do , it’s time to decide what to do. Your fitness goals will determine your workout routine and what you do on the gym floor. Not the trend that's making its rounds throughout your gym . You are bound to see all types of crazy s*** taking place on the gym floor. So, do not get distracted by the guy balancing on his head while doing crunches. If performing circus tricks is not your goal.
A big part of confidence is knowing your purpose. If your purpose is to shed a few pounds then why are you comparing yourself to the olympic lifter across the way, when the HIIT workout you’re doing is working just fine. If you have no idea how to appropriately approach planning your workout most trainers deliver customized training programs for a substantially smaller fee than one -on - one training. Or check out pre- written programs and plans like the ones in Strong by Rachel Cosgrove .
Tip Ten : Practice / Practice / Practice
There was a time when I was terrified to barbell squat, then I was terrified to bench press, then some kook asked me to try olympic weight lifting and I thought he'd lost his mind. After years of practicing I can perform theses moves and most others confidently. I tried , I failed and I kept practicing until I gained enough confidence in my ability to execute the moves properly. No one enters the gym day one and knows what the heck they're doing. They've all experimented in some capacity and practiced the things they've learned in passing or from a coach. So if you truly want to confidently OWN your space on the floor and not feel intimidated by the guys don't be afraid to truly let go of your insecurities. Just start learning and doing and in doing so you will build you the confidence you need to navigate the gym for like a Boss .