Overcoming Gym Intimidation – Entering The Testosto-Zone

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Okay gang. I’m going to start this with a story. When I was a medical student in Dublin, I used the college gym a couple times a week. I played team sports, and I love running, so for me, the gym wasn’t a place that really registered as an important part of my life. To me, fitness is, and always has been, defined as any activities I enjoy, so until my intern year, that meant a run, a match, a training session with my team, or a Youtube HIIT workout. In the gym, I was definitely the ‘cardio bunny’ – I used the treadmill if I couldn’t run outside, or the cross-trainer, or the rowing machine. As a runner, I understood the need for a strong core so I would include exercises for ‘abs’ like the plank, bicycles, etc. But weights? Nah. What even were they? I hadn’t a clue, except for at least recognising what a dumbbell looked like. In my college gym, the weights area was dominated by dudes, flexing and repping, and shouting occasionally. I actually don’t remember seeing any girls training there. In hindsight, knowing what I do now about the benefits of resistance training, and how much I enjoy it, I find it pretty hilarious that the concept of ‘#girlswholift’ was alien to so many.

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Along came intern year. In my first week on the job, I met a new friend Aisling, who was my co-intern starting out. We became instant buddies (sharing the terror of suddenly ‘being a doctor’ will sort that out pretty easily!), and it was Aisling who showed me Instagram, and who I learnt about strength training from. Aisling has done competitive body-building (and she’s pretty frickin’ fantastic at it, dedication like you haven’t seen before!), and so had a veeery decent understanding of how to start out lifting weights. There are only a few things we don’t agree on, and my love and her hate of cardio is one of them! I was a little bit fascinated by this whole realm of fitness I had just been unaware of until that time. So, I decided to see what the fuss was about. I needed a gym close to work anyway, as I wasn’t going to just run everyday to keep fit, and I couldn’t commit to team sports with new intern hours. So, I joined Herberton Leisure, right beside the hospital, and dove right into how to start ‘lifting’. Was I nervous walking in to the weights area for the first few times? 100%. And that was just using dumbbells. The resistance machines I had only looked at before, and the squat racks I had thought were ‘just for dudes’ – all new toys I wanted to figure out how to play with. 

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This post is about the concept of ‘Gym Intimidation’, and I opened it with my own story about just that because I think it’s important for you guys to know that EVERYONE starts somewhere. Everyone is on a journey, and there are so many chapters in a journey to health and wellness. Just because I blog about food, fitness and a balanced lifestyle doesn’t mean I’m nailing it. And I want this post to help YOU – if you want to start somewhere to improve your fitness, and a gym is your best fit, then I hope that after reading this article you’ll feel that bit more confident to go for it, and reassured that LOTS of us are doing the exact same thing.

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In January, I was approached by Nicole from the company behind Aaptiv, an audio fitness app, to write this piece, in conjunction with an infographic about gym intimidation that they have created, which I’ve shared here below, because I think it’s a brilliant read. Aaptiv have really helpfully identified five key reasons people experience gym intimidation based on their user feedback, and I agree with each and every one of them. Even more helpful still, Aaptiv have included solutions to each issue, which I’ll talk more about later. Here they are, and the infographic below with some really interesting stats about gym use:

  • I don’t know where to start
  • I don’t know how to use the equipment
  • I feel lonely or singled out
  • I feel self-conscious
  • I don’t see results


Just FYI, I don’t use Aaptiv, though of course after hearing from Nicole, I did check out and try the app, and it’s really cool! I’ll let you guys check it out yourselves if you’re curious. To give you a one-liner, Aaptiv combines motivation with music using playlists of your favourites. I’m just telling you this so you know it isn’t a sponsored post I’ve written – just from the heart as always!

So. Why should you use a gym? Why put yourself through ‘gym intimidation’ if you can avoid it? Well, I’ll tell you. I don’t believe fitness exists only by use of a gym. Like I said, I think fitness is defined by what activity YOU enjoy and engage with. I use a gym, but I also do yoga and pilates classes. I walk, I run, I swim. Using a gym complements the other activities I do. I use one because it allows me access to regular strength training (the main reason for me really), a pool, spinning classes, and new faces. And it’s convenient to have right beside work, when I have unpredictable hours.

Access to facilities to engage in regular resistance training is a HUGE benefit of gym use, in my opinion. This style of training is neglected by SO many, particularly females, either due to lack of awareness of its importance, or fear of starting to lift. It’s one of the things I’ve loved seeing in my F45 Training this year – so many women (and men of course!) just going for it with weights, being educated on proper form and technique, and most importantly, loving it! In case you need convincing, here are some of the key benefits of strength training:

  • Increased muscular strength and endurance
  • Increased lean body mass and reduced adipose (or fat) tissue
  • Increased bone mineral density – meaning a decreased risk of osteoporosis
  • Increased resting metabolic rate
  • Increased cardiovascular health
  • Improved mental health and psychological well-being
  • Increased functional ability as we age (the most important in my book!)

So if I have convinced you to think about trying out that gym membership, then where do you start? Many of us joke about joining a gym in January and then cancelling it due to lack of commitment and use. That annual New Year’s theme drives me mad. Why not make 2018 the year you make USE of the money you’ve spent?

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Here’s where the Aaptiv ‘Gym Intimidation’ solutions come into play. As well as sharing those with you, myself and my twin gal Catherine (a qualified dietitian, all round gem, and @the.sporty.dietitian on Instagram – we wrote my ‘Plant-Based Diets’ article together!) have put together some simple beginner workouts you can jot down, screen shot or save to take with you the next time you hit the gym. Have them ready, plan when you’re using them in advance, and that way, when you walk into the weights area, you can kick that fear in the butt, and get your workout started. I really recommend listening to your favourite music while you train – plugging in those headphones distracts you from those around you and helps you focus on YOUR goals. You could also try buddying up to tackle that intimidation – pick a workout, do it together, and have a laugh while you smash it!

Here are Aaptiv’s tips for solving those Gym Intimidation problems:

  • I don’t know where to start: So commit to a program.

This takes us back to the two ideas I’ve shared above. Pick your workout, pick your buddy, or maybe even think about investing in a personal trainer to help you start your gym journey! A quality qualified personal trainer can show you the gym ropes, educate you on proper form and technique, and get you started on a program you can use after you’re finished your time with them!

  • I don’t know how to use the equipment: So ask for help.

This relates to the first point. If you’re unsure how to use a machine in the gym, or what a ‘deadlift’ actually is (been there!), just ask! Ask the trainers in the gym or an experienced friend. That’s FAR more sensible than winging it and ending up with an injury as a result of poor form long-term.

  • I feel lonely or singled out: So don’t go it alone.

If heading to the gym by yourself is a big barrier for you, rope in a friend! Like I said above, this keeps you accountable, and the workout could and will be a LOT more fun together.

  • I feel self-conscious: So focus on yourself.

Trust me when I say this – NO ONE CARES what you’re doing in the gym. Genuinely. They REALLY don’t. Unless you fall off the treadmill, in which case yes, they will laugh (once they know you’re okay hopefully…). When I’m training, the only time I ever even look at anyone else is if I want the machine or weight they’re using and I’m wondering when they’ll be finished! Everyone is at the gym for their own reasons – but most are simply there to be the healthiest and best version of themselves, just like you do. We all deserved to be applauded for that! So don’t let this fear be any part of the gym intimidation you feel.

  • I don’t see results: So give it time.

Progress. That one word sums it up. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and gains weren’t made overnight. Instead of looking in the mirror for ‘results’, reflect on how you FEEL. I absolutely love the vibes I get after a really solid strength session – I feel pumped, strong and healthy, and I know I’m benefitting from this style of training. Don’t expect to have a Beyonce booty or be ‘toned’ after a week – it doesn’t happen like that, and health is NOT defined by aesthetics. Remember that fitness is just one part of a healthy lifestyle, and the other factors like diet, sleep, relaxation and recovery are all equally important.

Finally! Let’s get to the workouts guys. Here are some super simple beginner circuits for you to try in your gym, and some can be done at home! Catherine and I have included workouts for your upper body, lower body – one each for the gym, and one each you can do at home with a basic set of dumbbells and a resistance band!

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And that is IT! Check out our workouts below! I was so excited to write this post guys, and I hope you find it helpful. Catherine and I would LOVE your feedback – leave a comment here or on Instagram, or send a DM! Tag us if you try these workouts, we would love to applaud YOU for smashing it! I’m @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook, and Catherine is @the.sporty.dietitian on Instagram! Good vibes only guys – there’s never been more gals embracing the gym and strength training, so let’s roll with it!

Ciara x


Gym Workouts


We are not qualified personal trainers. We have simply put together a collection of workouts for beginners or any gym goer for a little bit of inspiration whether that’s at home or in the gym.  We would also recommend watching how the moves are performed beforehand for example on YouTube or screenshotting photos of the exercises to ensure good technique.


  • DB= Dumbbells
  • RB= Resistance Band
  • BB= Barbells
  • Drop set= Perform the given exercise, then immediately reduce (drop) the weight and repeat for the given number of sets. These can be either every set (go back to the original weight each set), or on the last set of an exercise.
  • Superset= Perform two exercises in a row without stopping.

Upper Body Workout- Gym

Number Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
1 BB bent over rows 4×10 Pull in your belly button (engage core)
2 Seated DB Shoulder Press 4×8 Drop set each set another 8 reps
3 Standing DB Lateral Raises 4×12 Focus on keeping your torso still when your moving your arms
4 Seated DB Curls 3×10 each arm Both arms together
5 DB Chest Press On Flat Bench 4×10 Go Heavy!
6 BB Skull Crushers 3×12 Use the EZ bar if your gym has one
Finisher KB Swings Superset Burpees 5×10 For a sweaty finish!


Leg Workout- Gym

Number Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
1 Bodyweight Lunges 3×10 per leg Make sure your knees don’t go over your toes
2 RB Glute Bridges 3×10 RB above knees & squeeze glutes at top
3 DB Walking Lunges 3×12 per leg Go Heavy!
4 Barbell/ Goblet Squats 15,12,10,8 Increase weight as you decrease reps and push through heels.
5 DB Bulgarian Split Squats Superset Body Weight Jumping Lunges 3×10 Focus on pushing through the heel.
6 Leg Press 3×10 Drop set each set another 10 reps each
Finisher Jumping Lunges Superset Squat Pulses 4×20 For a sweaty finish!

Kettlebell Workout – Gym – 40s ON – 15s OFF – 5 Rounds

Number Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
1 KB Swings 40s Use Hips to Propel Movement
2 Single Arm KB Swings 40s Squeeze Glutes at Full KB Thrust!
3 KB Cleans – 4 Each Side + Switch 40s
4 KB Arm Rows 40s Use 2 Light-Moderate KB Together
5 KB Deadlift 40s Use 1 Heavy or 2 Moderate
6 KB Static Lunges – Alternate Sides 40s 20s Each Side
Finisher KB Squat to Overhead Press 40s For a sweaty finish!

At Home Workouts

Upper Body Workout- at home with dumbbells

# Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
1 Walking Press Ups 4×10 Arms wide & engage core. Can perform on knees.
2 Squat to DB Shoulder Press 3×10 Low squat push through heels & engage core when pressing upwards
3 Plank jack With Push Up 4×15 Again engage core
4 Tricep Dips (on chair) 3×20 Legs straight if possible
5 DB Bent Over Flys 3×12 Both arms together
6 DB Front Raises 3×12 Make sure your torso remains still while you move your arms


Finisher Plank Jacks With Shoulder Tap Superset 1 Press Up Into 2 Burpees


5×10 For a sweaty finish!


Lower Body Workout- at home with resistance band

# Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
1 Jumping Lunge To Kick And Punch 3×10 each leg Use opposite arm to punch with than your leg
2 RB Fire Hydrants 4×20 Also known as “Peeing dog”- RB above knees
3 RB Kickbacks 2x 50 RB at knee and use body weight to hold in place- engage core when kicking back
4 Clams 3×20 Each side- can use elbow to prop up head
5 Raised RB Glute Bridges 3×20 Squeeze glutes at top
6 Raised RB Glute Bridge + Abduction 3×15 Squeeze glutes at tops then straight into abduction


7 Frog Pumps 2×50 RB at ankles
Finisher Jumping Lunges Superset Mountain Climbers 4×20 For a sweaty finish!


Core Workout – 35 Seconds ON – 10 Seconds Rest – 5 Rounds

Number Exercise Sets x Reps Notes
1 Dumbbell Threads

(Plank Shoulder Taps if no DB!)

35s Pull the DB under your core side to side
2 Russian Twist 35s Move the DB side to side touching mat each side
3 V-Sits 35s Legs Raised With Bent Knees or Feet on Mat
4 Lying Leg Drop 35s Keep Legs Straight (if possible) – Keep Elevated
5 Commandos 35s In Full Plank or On Knees
Finisher Full Plank 35s For a sweaty finish!


4 thoughts on “Overcoming Gym Intimidation – Entering The Testosto-Zone

  1. Sonachú says:

    Such a great blog post! I’m a newbie at the gym and only joined a month ago. I’ve been doing the classes until I feel a bit more comfortable and my next step is to ask for help with equipment etc and workouts! It’s scary but the rewards will be so worth it. Can’t wait to try the workouts! Would love to see more content like this and more workouts 😁 x

    Liked by 1 person

    • theirishbalance says:

      Aww that’s so awesome to hear thank you my dear! I’m so glad you like the post! Let me know when you try the workouts – I would love to hear what you think! 🙂 x


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