Articles/ fitness/ Workouts


January 28, 2014
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So, you are finally ready to give up the notion that lifting weights (or even better yet lifting HEAVY weights) will make you look manly and bulky?


Nothing bothers me more than when I hear women say they want to try lifting but stick to 5-8 lb dumbbells for any and all exercises.  If you are lifting weight that is lighter than your purse, chances you are not going to build very much or see many changes in your body.  I love hearing “Oh, I gain muscle really fast”.  I used to say that about my legs up until a few weeks ago when I took some progress pics and my husband had to question which image was “before” and which was the recent one.  I have been seriously lifting for 4-5 months now and nobody would EVER call my physique manly… I still feel super teeny tiny flexed and un flexed to be honest with you!  I squat more than my body weight, I use 20-25 lb dumbbells for bicep curls, and I can easily dead lift around 150 lbs now.  I definitely don’t lift the heaviest, but for a girl my size (only 5′ and 100 pounds) I think these are decent numbers.  You all don’t see muscles bulging out all over the place.  So, despite what you think or have been told, muscles are HARD to grow.  They won’t grow over night, in a few days, or even in a few weeks.  The kind of body type you  might be scared of having takes YEARS and YEARS and YEARS to build (and that’s if they are natural A.K.A no enhancements/steroid use).  Please rest assured, you will not become the hulk if you lift weights.  The result from lifting weights (heavier than your purse mind you), are the ones that most women want… sexy, curvy, and “toned”.   Spending the past few months lifting heavy has by far made the biggest different for me, mentally & physically.  Having more muscle has helped me burn more fat and has really changed my body and its shape.  Nothing beats lifting…. so I hope you are finally ready to give it ago and dispel all those crazy myths revolving around women and weight training!

That being said and you are ready to jump on the lifting train, where the heck do you start?

I suppose I was lucky because I had been in and out of the gym since college.  I was familiar with the gym, the equipment, lots of different exercises to train your muscles properly, etc. I also have my husband who trains with me every single day and he has also been lifting since high school so things were definitely easier for me I think.  But what about someone who has never lifted more than a 5 lb dumbbell (if that), never stepped foot in a gym, doesn’t know proper form, doesn’t know any exercises, and can’t fathom the thought of trying something new at the gym?

What do you do if you have “GYMTIMIDATION”?


Here is my answer….


You are 100% doing yourself a discredit by not taking those first steps to improve your body!

#1 chances are nobody is even looking at you #2 the only way you are going to learn and grow (mentally and physically) is to just suck it up and get it done and #3 remember EVERYONE starts somewhere, everyone was a beginner at some point and most likely felt somewhat lost just like you.  I promise you, within a few weeks time, you will have a routine down and not think twice about lifting, the use of machines, or what anyone is thinking about you while you are lifting.  I know it can be scary and for some, it has even inhibited you from joining a gym or getting serious about changing your lifestyle and body but again, I assure you taking that first step will reward you ten times over.  The confidence you will build and seeing changes the in your body (mind, and spirit) will 100% be worth it!  So buy some new cute workout gear, a pair of new kicks, some training gloves, and simply get started!

Until you get totally comfortable with the gym, I thought I would come up with a few things that will help you get over the initial intimidation and anxiety you may be feeling:

  1. Start working out and lifting at home- Prior to me getting a gym membership last year, I spent 3-4 months only doing my workouts at home.  At first I started with Insanity Asylum for 2 months using VERY light weights.  Then when I felt like my body wasn’t changing enough and I was ready to start lifting heavier, I bought more dumbbells (10, 12, and 15 lbs), ditched the videos, and started really training with a full weekly split (back & biceps, abs, legs, shoulders, etc.).  If I was unsure about proper form or certain exercises, I used  the internet, namely  They have sample workouts and videos to show almost every exercise you can think of (and some you never knew about).  It’s a great site with a wealth of knowledge.  I still continue to visit it when I need to change up my routine and need some new ideas for certain muscle groups.  Working out at home to start with should pretty much do the trick to get you confident enough to step foot in the gym and buy that membership.
  2. Utilize the free personal training session: Most of the time when you join a new gym, they will try and push their personal training on you.  I have a gripe with most trainers you find at the gym BUT for a beginner who has never step foot in the place, this service can be invaluable.  Taking advantage of those free sessions can definitely set you up for future success when you venture out on your own.  Not only will the trainer get your familiar with the layout of the gym (free weights, machines, equipment the gym offers, etc.) but they will also set you up with a sample routine AND more importantly, help you with proper form (hopefully anyways).  Most gym trainers will give you a little start up booklet to track your workouts and progress.  Use the information they provide you until you are ready to give things a go on your own.
  3. Try “Non Peak” Gym Hours: I think this may vary slightly, but for every single gym I have been a member of 7am-10am and 4pm-7pm are always the busiest times to train.  People haven’t started work or they are just getting off work, but I can always count on having a wait for the squat rack and all of the dumbbells are always gone during these times!  If you can, try to squeeze in your workout mid day or late at night when it’s empty and you have free reign over everything.  No waits, no intimidation… just you, focus, and your training!
  4. Always have a plan of attack: I NEVER step foot in the gym without knowing what I’m training.  Right now I am on a power and hypertrophy split which is always pretty straight forward.  First two days are my power days (upper and lower), rest day, and then my hypertrophy days.  If I feel a little tight or sore from my power days, I will hit muscle groups that are recovered.  I always make sure to give my muscles 48 hours before I work them again.  So, I don’t have too much guessing on my split.  You ask me what day I train what, I can almost always guarantee I know.  Same would go for a typical training split.  Monday= legs, Tuesday= back & biceps, Wednesday= abs & cardio, etc.  Once you have the muscle groups divided up, come up with a list of exercises that you will do each day.  Have that list with you in your gym bag/car and carry it with you at the gym.  Write down the amount of weight you are using on each exercise, if you tried something new, if you did cardio, etc. and use that as your guide for at least 3-4 weeks, then change the routine up as you get more comfortable with lifting and the exercises.
  5. Have a gym buddy: One of the best ways to keep yourself accountable and moving forward is to start this new lifestyle with someone.  Whether it be your partner, spouse, or friend having someone hit the gym with you can really help you relieve any and all anxiety you may be feeling.  Not only can you chit chat in between sets, but it takes the pressure off of you while training as well. Having someone next to you can also help keep your form in check.  If things start to look wonky, it’s much easier having a friend point it out to correct it immediately.
  6. Use the machines (initially):  I RARELY every use machines.  95% of all of my lifting is done in the free weight area because I’m not a fan of most circuit equipment because I want to make sure I am utilizing ALL the muscles I can for EVERY movement & exercise.  Machines are great for beginners because it provides the proper use and form BUT it also inhibits using the compound movements that can be essential for working your core and other tiny muscles that are used during free weight motion.  Until you work your way into the free weight area, definitely jump on the machines and get your circuit done.  Better yet, after a couple of weeks of machines and getting familiar with exercises, attempt to grab some free weights and incorporate them into your circuits.  Before long, you too will give up most machines… especially as you see your core develop.
  7. Try a class:  As fas as I know, most gyms like LA Fitness and 24 Hour Fitness offer a whole bunch of different classes for their members.  Cardio classes are great if that’s you thing, but personally, they just aren’t mine anymore.  However, for newbies who need some help with form and are interested in classes, try a Body Pump class or something similar that at least incorporates weights (dumbbells or barbells) into the whole routine.  The instructor should go over form in the class.  Again, I’m not a fan of excessive cardio… did that my whole life and all it got me was being “skinny fat”.  Remember, building muscle is what changes the overall shape and physique of your body.  Cardio is great for heart health and weight loss though so don’t totally give it up!  Just use it sparingly, more as a tool NOT an every day thing unless it’s what you love… then keep on doing it for YOU!
  8. Use the Group X and/or stretching area: Still not convinced you are ready to hit the free weight area with the obnoxious grunting men?  No problem!  Don’t let that stop you from using the free weights.  Grab a few dumbbells and a pre weighted barbell and head to the cardio room (or if your gym has a little ab/stretching area).  Less intimidating being around 0-5 people VS. a whole free weight area full of people right.  Again, you should already know what your routine is (that list is in your bag remember), so take over a little spot with your free weights and get going!  Find a tucked away corner if you have to, but make sure you have a mirror to keep your form in check!
  9. Get yourself a nice pair of headphones:  There is nothing better than having my Dr Dre Beats on while training.  With your favorite tunes blaring in my ears, I swear everyone else around me disappears… even my husband!   I’m focused, I’m in the zone, and it’s just about me.  I can tune anything and everything around me completely out.  It’s a beautiful thing!  Really helps when you have those grunting men throwing weights around as well.  Nothing more intimidating (and annoying) than some meat head being loud and obnoxious right next to you.  Headphones should take care of that for ya!  Create a playlist that will last you at least 45 minutes to 1 hour of the type of music that gets you pumped up the most.  Or download Pandora or similar app where you can create your own station with the genre you like the most.  If your headphones run on batteries, always have a set of spares in your gym bag or the car.  I also keep an extra set of ear buds in my car just in case I happen to leave my headphones at home for some reason (I have a 15 year old who always sneaks my Beats out)!  I swear there is nothing worse than getting to the gym all pumped and then you come to realize you have NO headphones!  They are a must for me!
  10. Be a  stalker (discretely):  No better way to learn how to use equipment and basic exercises than to watch others performing them!  If you don’t want to be “that” person who gets to a circuit machine, spends 5 minutes reading the entire “how to” snippet that’s attached to it and still look like you have no idea what you are doing, simply jump on a piece of equipment you know how to use OR grab a spot on the perimeters of the gym (maybe pretend to stretch) and people watch!  You will be able to see how everything is used, how you should position yourself, etc. and then just adjust the weight according to your strength when you are ready to give something a try.  If you are wanting to learn some free weight exercises, stay on the outskirts of the area (again, you could pretend to be stretching) and soak everything up!  Make it a point to learn 1-2 new exercises every time you are at the gym!

Hopefully, a few things here will help get your over that little speed bump you may have going on in your head.  If you are feeling an itch to give lifting a try, please scratch it!

Start with basic exercises and above all else, perfect your form first!  Give it 2-3 solid weeks and try to lift weights that are challenging for you.  My general rule is if I can easily get 12-15 reps of ANY exercise, the weight is too easy.  My goal is usually 8-10 reps on my hypertrophy days WITHOUT sacrificing form of course.    Your muscles should be fatigued by the 8th-10th rep, almost to the point where you don’t think you will be able to get another rep in.  Rest for 1-2 minutes, then repeat exercise for 3-4 sets.  Personally, if my muscles don’t feel like noodles when I am done with an exercise, I can almost guarantee I didn’t push myself hard enough.  I want to be able to feel EVERY rep, EVERY set, EVERY exercise!

I promise you with all my heart, at the end of a few weeks you WILL not only feel a difference in your body, it’s shape, and how you feel about yourself BUT you will also be able to visibly see a difference!!!!  Before you know it, you will be striving to hit PR’s (personal records) regularly… nothing like seeing yourself get better and stronger than you were the day before!

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  • Reply
    January 29, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you so much for this, it is so helpful! I found your site a few weeks ago and you have been such an inspiration to me! I have only started lifting heavier a little over two weeks ago (thanks to all the information on your site/ig) and it really has made a difference for me! I feel stronger and better about myself 🙂 I also ate clean for almost a year and it really put a damper on my social life and my emotional state. Now that I follow iifym based on your journey, I am so much happier! As a newbie to this whole journey, I just wanted to say thanks for sharing yours and inspiring others 🙂

    • Reply
      January 29, 2014 at 5:08 pm

      Hi Karen! Thank you so much for your comment! Means more to me than you know! Im here for myself, but if I can help or inspire someone else…. its a huge bonus! Nothing like flexible eating + weights 🙂 Keep it up!!!!

  • Reply
    January 31, 2014 at 4:00 am

    This is the motivation I needed today 🙂

  • Reply
    February 18, 2014 at 5:57 am

    I’m curious what you do on “hypertrophy” days? Is that just doing a ton of reps with not a lot of weight until failure?

    • Reply
      February 18, 2014 at 6:10 am

      Hi Sara! It’s more like higher volume training… I use moderate weight and hit anywhere from 8-12 reps VS on my power days, I’m using heavy weight from 5-8 reps. I dont really ever do sets to failure or drop sets… not at this time anyways! Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    March 4, 2014 at 2:29 am

    I saw a before and after picture of your abs from under a push up position maybe. I was wondering how you got them to be so tight. The caption talks about weight lifting. If you used weights, what did you do with them?

    • Reply
      March 4, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      Hi Alex My routine changes all of the time, but I lift heavy for all body parts and rarely hit abs much. Doing compound movements like squats and dead lifts help quite a bit!

  • Reply
    September 7, 2014 at 3:25 am

    i love your story and the way you decide to share it. Good work!!

  • Reply
    December 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    I realized today that I have gymtimidation. If there are men in the weight side of the gym, I completely finish my cardio and leave the gym. Too intimidated. I do know I need to fix this because it is not getting me anywhere mentally OR physically.
    I am so glad I stumbled upon your website!
    Definitely going to use some of your exercise routines!
    Thank you 🙂

  • Reply
    January 16, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Thank you so much for your help!! I have been going to the gym for the past 4 years and got to a point where I felt I was breaking my self and yet no change in my body. I have been following the iifym principles and feel way better throughout the day! I do struggle like you said in the beginning feeling like I cant eat any more carbs but I feel I will figure that out with time. My concern is I have been doing heavy supersets for 40-45 min and sometimes the next day im not too sore, but when I leave the gym I defiantly feel my pump and tired. Am I doing something wrong or not working long enough?

    • Reply
      January 27, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      Not everyone gets sore but definitely change things up every now and then… take a deload week as well every so often!

  • Reply
    January 25, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    I just joined 24 hour Fitness and I attempted to do free weights (I literally did a single set of arms and jetted!) I was so intimidated! Your blog is so encouraging! Thanks for the advice! I’m ready to hit the free weight zone TODAY! Lol

  • Reply
    penny lunasun
    August 3, 2015 at 11:40 am

    thanks, i feel a lot more confident now! heading to the gym for the first time ever ^^

  • Reply
    September 20, 2015 at 1:26 am

    So helpful! Thank you.

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