How to Make Free Weights Less Intimidating

I was recently on vacation in Orlando. Generally, when I go out of town, I like to try and visit a training facility like Thriveology so I can see how they run their program to possibly learn how we can make our services better.

This time we were visiting with family, one of which goes to the gym consistently already. So, instead of going out on my own to find a facility that concentrates on group training, my wife, Kate, and I decided to get a free pass to his gym so we could all workout together.

Now, the gym he goes to is just like any other fitness center. Meaning, it’s a pay to rent type of facility. You pay a membership fee, and with that fee you have the right to use their equipment whenever you like. I’m not going to say the name of the business because this article is intended to bash that organization. We’ll just call it Globo Gym for the sake of making this easy (bonus points if you know that movie reference).

Our first visit to Globo Gym started off as expected. I had worked in a fitness center in a previous life, so I knew (or at least thought I knew) what to expect when we got there.

Of course, there were rows and rows and rows of cardio equipment. Countless treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and so on. This equipment took up the whole top floor.

The bottom floor was where all the resistance training equipment was laid out. On one side were the machines: leg extensions, leg curls, chest presses, cables, calf raises and the like. On the other side was the free weights: dumbbells, barbells, squat racks…you get the idea.

The Revelation: What Was Wrong With this Picture?

 So far, none of what Kate and I saw was relatively surprising. Admittedly at first, I was a little blown away by the sheer number of pieces of cardio equipment, the cost of which had to have amounted to half a million dollars!

But as we started into our workout, we started to notice a trend that was a bit disturbing. As I mentioned, these types of facilities are typically broken up into sections: cardio, machines, free weights. What we observed was that each section had a distinct demographic primarily using that area.

For instance, the cardio area seemed to mostly be women between the ages of 40 – 50. The machine area was primarily men between the ages of 45 – 55. And the free weight area consisted of both men and women (but, again, mostly men) between the ages of 25 – 35.

Like I said, I worked in a fitness center for 5+ years, so the separation was not terribly surprising. What threw me off was that, it was worse than it was when I worked in that type of atmosphere. I expected this distinction to be there, but I thought for sure by now it had gotten better.

People are more knowledgeable now than ever before about the importance of resistance training and what it does for us as we age. But even with this increased understanding, the dichotomy that exists in a general fitness center setting continues to be there.

The Reason You Haven’t Pursued Free Weights Lately

After we finished up our workout, I was still troubled by the observation we had made. After all, the people who needed to be weight training the most were actually not weight training at all. As we age, our bodies slowly atrophy and get weaker. Our sedentary lifestyle certainly doesn’t help the situation.

And people who are primarily feeling the effects of this process are those in middle age or beyond…those people who need resistance training the most.

But as I reflected further on this idea, it started to become clearer as to why middle-aged people have a hard time wanting to venture into the free weights section. There are a couple of key factors going on that are worth pointing out:

There’s Too Much Testosterone Around Here!

One of the reasons middle-aged people (especially women) have a hard time poking into the free weights area is because of the crowd. Consider the crowd at the Globo Gym we were visiting: primarily men between the ages of 25 – 35.

These are the types of gym-goers that are there for one of 2 reasons:

#1) To look good naked so they can pick up a potential mate later

#2) To strut around enough to possibly pick up a potential mate now

I only say this because, again, I used to do the same thing. But this doesn’t make anybody a bad person! Everybody has their own agenda when it comes to working out, and that’s what makes us individuals.

However, this testosterone-fueled environment is certainly not the friendliest for 50-something year old women. After all, how is she supposed to feel comfortable when the guy next to her is holding up his shirt, flexing his abs in the mirror while doing curls and drinking a protein shake at the same time?!

High Barrier-to-Entry

Okay, so let’s say you’re able to get past the intimidation factor of the free weights area and you’ve decided to give a few exercises a try. Where do you start?

No, really, where do you even begin? There are so many different types of exercises you can perform, how are you even supposed to know what to do?

This is another factor that holds people back from getting into true resistance training. The barrier-to-entry can seem so high that many people feel like they’re just not able to keep up. So, they might think, why even start?!

Getting Hurt is No Bueno

Great, so you’ve gotten over the mirror-flexing and exercise-overload. Now you’re ready to really jump in and give free weights a go. You’ve decided that your first exercise you’re going to do is a squat.

Squats are excellent for overall body development. Whether your goal is to build some strength or burn some fat, squats can get you there. However, as simple as they may look, squats require proper technique to ensure that you’re not going to get hurt.

Form is yet another aspect of free weights that scares many people. This is why machines are so popular, they force you to do a certain type of form so there’s no question on how you need to move. A movement like squatting, on the other hand, requires that you practice and learn constantly. Because, if you’re form is off, you may end up injured.

Some people will try simple, single joint exercises that don’t require much practice. Curls, for instance, are relatively self-limiting, meaning, it’s hard to get hurt doing them. These types of exercises can be good accessories to an overall resistance training program. However, it takes multi-joint exercises such as squats and rows to truly build strength and tone in your body.

What You Need to Do to Get Your Free Weights Program Started

There are 3 things, then, that you need to look for in a gym when you’re wanting to start a free weight program:

#1) Does the facility have a lot of people that fit your demographic? For instance, if you’re a 50 year old women, are there a lot of other 50 year oldish women training in the facility?

#2) Does the facility have a program that is adaptable to your individual needs? Everybody has a different starting point. And, because of that, a facility should be able to have programs available that can adapt to your specific needs.

#3) Is the facility hell-bent on making sure your technique is impeccable so that you’re less likely to get hurt while performing an exercise and more likely to get the most effective workout possible?

These are important questions to ask when looking for a place to workout. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a Yoga studio or a crossfit gym. These are basic standards that should be met to give you the highest likelihood of achieving your fitness goals.

At Thriveology, for instance, our primary demographic is 45 – 55 year old women. Yes, we have men that fit this age range as well (sorry for leaving you out, fellas). Yes, we have people who are well outside of this age range as well. But the majority of our members fit this demo.

We also have a 30 onboarding process that includes an initial assessment and technique-building sessions to show you the important moves that we work on. We use the assessment to figure out what you can and can’t do to ensure that we’re not going to have you perform an exercise that can hurt you.

These are just a couple of examples of what you should be looking for when you start your fitness journey. So don’t be discouraged! Your gym-fit is out there somewhere. You just have to know what you’re looking for and go get it!

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