Good morning!

Today I want to talk about two topics that I feel very passionate about: group exercise and strength training. As many of you know, I embarked on my strength training journey about two years ago around this time. Prior to doing so, my main forms of fitness involved a lot of cardio: spinning, running, kickboxing, and trying a lot of group exercise classes.

Group exercise incorporates strength components for sure, especially classes like bootcamp and anything with a name that resembles total body conditioning, body sculpt, or circuit training. The group exercise classes at RMA Fitness Center in my hometown and at the Peterson Rec Center at Providence College are where I first learned how to do properly perform squats, lunges, pushups, and various arm exercises. We used free weights, resistance bands, and steps, and my instructors at these gyms helped me feel comfortable with the basics and inspired my passion for fitness.

I love group exercise, and I always will. I’ve taught fitness classes since my junior year of college, and I don’t want to ever stop. I think group exercise classes are an EXCELLENT place to start if you are looking to get comfortable with fitness in general, work up a good sweat, meet a community of like-minded people, or just try something new. I belong to ClassPass still and take spinning and yoga classes to supplement my strength training program.

However, I think group fitness can be limiting to those looking to get stronger beyond the opportunities available to in class. For example, in the classes I teach now, the heaviest dumbbells in the group exercise room are fifteens, and there aren’t even enough to go around. There are minimal opportunities to incorporate heavier kettlebell or barbell work into a class, nor should there be, because the instructor can’t possible safely teach those types of movements to a large crowd. It’s very easy to settle into a very comfortable routine when it comes to group exercise, and even the most challenging of classes aren’t tailored toward YOUR specific fitness goals and physical abilities. You may learn an exercise one week, and the instructor may not incorporate it into the class format again for another month. And really, in order to progress with any exercise, you should be practicing it with carefully planned progressions.

As someone who teaches fitness classes but has also gone through a personal shift from taking group exercise classes up the wazoo to doing more solo strength training, my goals for my total body class members have also shifted. I always think back to one morning when one of my current class participants said to me, “what happens when these fifteens feel too light?” Honestly? While a packed class of familiar faces is always awesome, my goal for that class member is to teach her straight into a place where she feels comfortable LEAVING my class and training in the weight room on her own. While I would definitely miss her, I’d be so happy with her dropping back in every once in a while or using my class as more of a metabolic supplement to more traditional strength training if it meant her confidence was built up enough to give solo strength training a go.

If this is resonating with you, and one of your goals in 2016 is to become more consistent with strength training and more comfortable in the weight room, you may be interested in the FREE series I am running on the blog in January:

Don't Fear the Weight Room

In “Don’t Fear the Weight Room,” I will be sharing my best tips and insight for beginners looking to get serious about strength training.

This series isn’t just for complete newbies or group ex junkies looking for a change. A beginner strength trainer can include those who have worked out with machines or free weights before. If you are someone who does mainly cardio and finishes your workouts with a few arm toning exercises, some lunges, and some crunches, there is nothing WRONG with that, but you are a beginner strength trainer. Basically, I am defining a beginner as someone who hasn’t learned the proper techniques or trained consistently with a few basic compound movements. If you can’t properly perform (or you aren’t sure if you can properly perform) lifts such as squats, deadlifts, pushups, rows, vertical and horizontal presses, lunges, chin-ups, etc., then this series is for you!

Over the course of January, I’ll touch upon topics such as:

  • Breaking the “but I’ll get too bulky” mindset
  • How to navigate the “scariest” pieces of equipment in the weight room
  • The main movement patterns to focus on for the biggest bang for your buck

Interested!? The main topics will be posted and available on the main F&F blog every Monday in January, but there will be BONUS content (think extra tips, sample workouts, and weekly action items) available to those who subscribe to the extras by clicking here. You’ll get all the Don’t Fear the Weight Room posts straight to your email, including the insider and bonus information. And you’ll continue to be in the know with all F&F posts moving forward.

Sign up for Don’t Fear the Weight Room today!

Before I go, I want to leave you guys with one action item. This is one of the main things that helped me overcome my fear of the weight room when I gave strength training a go at this time of year two years ago:

Go do something in the weight room THIS WEEK.

Seriously, guys. Don’t wait until January 1st. The gym is always dead the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s. I urge you to carve out a little extra time this week and go into the weight room and just do something. It doesn’t have to be a full workout, in fact, I don’t recommend it. Just go in there, or in to an unfamiliar part of your gym, and do an exercise that you already know how to do. Maybe you ask a friend who knows what they are doing or a trainer at your gym to show you how to use a piece of equipment that you are unfamiliar with. Maybe you try an exercise that you read about online or saw on a YouTube video. Maybe you just take a look at a machine and practice setting it up. Anything!

I went to the gym yesterday at a prime hour, and this is what it looked like:

Empty Weight Room

Since the gym is so much emptier than usual right now, I guarantee you’ll feel much more comfortable trying something outside of your comfort zone with barely anyone around you than you will in a couple of weeks during the New Year’s rush. Once you do something this week, come back and leave a comment on this post to let me know. I’d love to hear what you guys try!

Let’s chat! Are you new to strength training? If so, what about the weight room makes you the most uncomfortable? What would help you to know about strength training before giving it a try? What about strength training makes you the most nervous? More experienced lifters, what do you wish you knew when you first started out? 

Your comments today will really help me tailor this content to you personally! After joining the Don’t Fear the Weight Room series, you might also want to check out these posts:

  1. Athena, how awesome!! I was in the gym the other day and realized there are a few strength training machines I’m a bit intimidated by, even being an instructor and avid gym-goer myself! I’m somewhat ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. I could do bodyweight and dumbbell exercises all day, but when it comes to the machines, I’m just not there yet. I just signed up for this series because of it! What a great idea – I can’t wait to start.

    • Hi Ellyn, thank you so much for signing up for the series! It’s funny – when it comes to the weight room and strength training, I actually don’t use as many machines as I thought I would need to when I first started on my journey. Only a few major ones: squat rack, pull up bar, bench, and a couple others for lat pulldowns, cable work, etc. But anything I could get more bang for my buck by doing free standing? I don’t use the machines! I think it’s more about feeling comfortable just navigating around. Can’t wait to see how people like this. Happy New Year!

  2. After MANY years of wanting to be healthier, trying different exercise methods (and then failing/feeling horrible after working out), I went to the gym twice this past weekend and actually enjoyed myself for the very first time in my entire life! It was SUCH a transformative moment. The gym I just joined is a new location, so I am taking advantage of the empty space to familiarize myself with as much equipment as possible before it gets too busy post-new year and post this location getting more members. As a SUPER newbie, these are some of my questions/concerns:
    1. I feel okay with trying new machines that have examples on the machine showing good form, but need more guidance on # of reps/sets and when to increase weight.
    2. I would like to know how to do more serious lifting (deadlifts/squats w/ weight etc), but I am afraid of injuring myself without having someone there to correct my form. I would really need to feel comfortable with what to look for in terms of good/bad form before attempting any of these on my own (and also, like #1, know how to progress in terms of weights/reps). I don’t have a local buddy who knows these things either. [sidenote, #2 is a long term goals as I want to get myself more established in the gym first before advancing to this]

    • Hi Mel!

      First, congratulations on your transformative moment. That is great! It’s so awesome you’ve been going this week to take advantage of the empty space before the post New Year’s rush. Like I mentioned in my post, doing that helped me so much when I started on my weight training journey.

      Thank you for the insight for my series! You are not alone in how you feel.

      Miss you a lot! Happy New Year!

  3. Are you new to strength training? If so, what about the weight room makes you the most uncomfortable?
    – Having the correct form and following a weight lifting plan — knowing what to do when I get in there.

    What would help you to know about strength training before giving it a try?
    – One on One assistance.. Having someone show me the proper way to do a front squat, deadlift, press, etc.

    What about strength training makes you the most nervous?
    – It might sound naive, but I don’t want to look like an idiot! Or hurt myself.
    Your comments today will really help me tailor this content to you personally!

  4. I LOVE this idea! Can’t wait to see what you come up with. I think this is such an important idea for a series — fear seems to be the biggest thing keeping most women out of the weight room. I tend to tell people to try it for like a month, to really get a feel for things. If they still hate it, then so be it!

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