Claiming your space in the gym

He hogged it for hours...

He hogged it for hours...

One of my distance clients offered this thought when reporting back on the first month of her workout.

“The part of the program that has been the hardest for me has been getting comfortable enough at the gym to claim my own space.”

She went on to describe how she’s learning that she has a right to use the gym equipment, even if that means using two pieces equipment at one time, going back and forth between super sets.

The statement jarred me with its truth. I’ve been lifting long enough to forget that many folks, women especially, feel this way when they first go to the gym.

When you’re a long time gym goer, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to learn how to own some space in a gym, and more importantly, FEEL you have a right to be there. 

My first gym was a tiny World’s Gym with 15 treadmills, 15 stationary bikes, a few weight machines, and a small living room’s worth of space for free weights. Two benches, one squat rack, and an even smaller warm up area with one foam roller.

I take anywhere from 5-10 minutes with a foam roller, but if there’s only one or two in the entire gym you can suddenly feel like your hogging it.

“Foam roller hog! Stop hogging all of the foam!”

Said no person ever.


If you’re on a treadmill or piece of cardio equipment, you feel you have a right to be on that equipment, because hey, there are plenty of other treadmills and cardio machines to go around.

But what about the first time you step into a squat rack? That just happens to be the only squat rack in the gym? And right after you set up for your first set, four WWE wrestlers walk in to train?

Ok, maybe they’re high school football players. Either way, they are coming in there to hit the big lifts, and suddenly you feel rushed and embarrassed and like you’d better head to the other side of the gym with the machines and five pound weights so that the “real” people can train.

You are the “real” people. Person. You’re the real person.

You have to start somewhere, and those big dudes waiting to lift were doing squats with 65 pounds at some point in their lifting life.

Sure, they were seven, but still. 

Tips for claiming your space

It doesn't matter if there is only one set of 15lb weights. You are entitled to use them. 

It doesn't matter if there is only one set of 15lb weights. You are entitled to use them. 

1. Plan your workout

Knowing what you’re doing in the gym is half the battle, both in getting over the initial intimidation, and in feeling that you have a right to be there. Going in to the gym with a plan of eight exercises with a specific number of sets and reps gives you a plan.

Many programs have super sets:

A1. Trap bar deadlift – 4 sets of 5 reps
A2. Yogaplex – 3 sets of 5 reps/side

In this program, you perform one set of deadlifts, then your yogaplexes (just made that a plural word) before moving on to your second set of deadlifts. The supersets are designed to give you a longer break between sets, and to also complement the first lift.

This means that you’ll be walking away from the trap bar, and if it’s the only one in the gym you may suddenly feel like you have to rush. You don’t. If possible, don’t wonder too far away from the bar; leave your water bottle and clip board near the bar.

And if you see someone waiting, offer to let that person jump in. More on sharing in a minute.

Don’t have a program? Try this or this or email me.

2. Research your exercises first

If you’re doing a new program for the first time and you’ve been given a set of Turkish Get Ups, first of all, those are awesome and awful all at once, and second of all, the movement is complex. Watch the video at home, make notes on your workout and bookmark the video so that you can reference in during your workout if necessary.

3. Share equipment

If you take your headphones off, you’ll find people can be remarkably friendly. I don’t leave my headphones off all of the time, but if I see someone hovering, I’ll either let them know how many sets I have left or offer to let them jump in. And, this took some getting used to, but I will also ask to jump in.

For a long time at my gym, there was only one squat rack, and one gentleman in particular always walked around and asked anyone if they needed the squat rack, since he was going to be there for a few minutes.

He was a great influence on some of the younger guys that came in and spent an hour in the squat rack area.

4. Own it


You pay just as much as everyone else does for the gym membership. You don’t pay for just the elliptical and recumbent bike. You have every right to be there, regardless of age, experience, or ability level.

So own the space like it’s yours.