“You guys are all insane in the best way!” Justin Goldman, a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at Equinox in New York City, hollers at a studio full of sweaty students, one of whom is me. We’re slamming 25-pound sandbags onto the ground, thrusting dumbbells into the air and holding planks until we shake.
I live for these 45-minute HIIT classes, in part because they’ve made me very strong, but mostly because I love the positive self-talk that happens during these workouts. Even when I feel like I can’t possibly do one more rep, if Goldman tells me I can sink a little lower in my squat, I do it. Gym Emily feels confident and capable of anything.
Except venturing into the weight room.
Just outside the group fitness room is a well-equipped gym floor. But while weightlifting classes tend to be pretty evenly split between men and women, the floor is basically Bro City.
“It’s extremely difficult to find the confidence to go into a section of the gym that is dominated by men,” says Katherine Menna, another group fitness instructor at Equinox who specializes in classes that draw a predominantly female crowd: Pilates and barre. “Especially if you’ve never done it before, and you don’t have a personal trainer showing you the ropes, which can cost a fortune.”
So how can the intimidated gym-goer step foot in the weight room (or the gym in general!) and get a good workout minus the anxiety?
Enter: The “shy girl” workout.
What is a “shy girl” workout?
There are almost half a billion views for the “shy girl workout” on TikTok. The shy girl workout is comprised of exercises you can do either at home or in a corner of the gym without much equipment or space — basically a workout you can do without drawing unwanted attention to yourself.
Brianna Joye Kohn, a fitness influencer with over 3 million social media followers, posts popular #shygirlworkouts on TikTok. She was inspired to create them specifically after hearing from women that they were “scared” of going to the gym, whether it was because they weren’t sure how to do movements like lunges or squats or worried that others would judge them on their form or appearance.
Her routines can often be done using just your body weight, making them perfect to practice at home. Novices can familiarize themselves with the movements and then level up with light dumbbells.
“Eventually I would love for girls not to feel shy when they go to the gym, and be able to work out in their own space without caring what other people think,” Kohn tells TODAY.com. “But I also know that everybody does care a little, and that’s normal. So the shy girl workout is for those who are not as confident working out, or newbies in the gym.”
Goldman says “shy girl” workouts are a great introduction for beginners, just like the group fitness classes he designs. “The gym can be a really intimidating place for any person. So every movement you do in here gets you more comfortable to work out in a gym floor environment.”
Why are “shy girl” workouts so popular?
I noticed that many of the “shy girl” workout videos are also tagged with lingo like “gymtimidation” and “gymxiety.” Why do so many women (myself included) feel too scared to take up space in an environment they are paying for access to?
“Girls say that to me a lot,” Kohn says. “Because there’s a lot of guys in the weightlifting section huddled over the machines, it’s like girls are scared to go there. It’s just intimidating, this fear they’ll look at you like, ‘You’re not strong enough. What are you doing here?’”
Kohn attributes part of the success of her workouts to the fact that they don’t require people to go into what she refers to as “the men’s section” for heavy weights: “My followers wanted workouts you can do where not everybody’s looking at you, and that you felt safe doing in your own space.”
2 sample “shy girl” workouts
Find a corner of the gym, pop in your headphones and perform this simple bodyweight routine from Kohn. Perform each exercise for one minute and repeat the circuit three times:
- Jumping jacks: Stand upright with your feet together and your arms by your sides. Push off the floor and jump your feet out, landing on the floor with feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. At the same time, swing your arms out to the sides and up overhead. Jump back to the starting position and repeat.
- Cross-body reaches: Standing tall with your feet planted, reach your right arm straight across the body (toward the left) and tap your right foot out to the side. Return to center and reach the left arm straight across the body (toward the right) tapping the left foot out to the side. Continue alternating.
- Butt kicks: Standing tall with feet hips-width apart, bend at the knee kicking your right heel up toward your right butt cheek. Return to standing, then kick the left heel up toward the left butt cheek. Continue alternating. You can perform at a walking pace or pick it up to a jogging pace.
- Plank pikes: Come into a low-plank position on your elbows. Squeeze the glutes and engage your core. Keeping your legs straight, pike your hips into the air, forming an upside down “V” with your body. Return to the plank position in a controlled motion. Repeat.
- Mountain climbers: Start in a plank position with your shoulder over your wrists. Squeeze the glutes and engage your core. Then bring your right knee under your chest toward your right elbow. Return the right leg back behind you before bringing the left knee under your chest toward your left elbow. Continue alternating.
- Tuck-ups: Start sitting tall on your sit bones with your palms on the ground, fingertips pointing toward your body. Squeeze your legs together and use your core to pull the legs in toward the body and back out straight. Repeat.
Once that feels comfortable, try the first three exercises while holding water bottles or 2-pound weights in each hand.
Ready for more? Kohn says this one will light your muscles on fire. Repeat the circuit 4 times.
- 12 squat curls: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hips-width apart. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand. Sit down and back into a squat. As you squat, pull the weights up to your shoulders into a bicep curl. Lower the weight back down as you return to standing. Repeat.
- 12 reverse lunge presses. Start standing with feet hips-width apart. Hold one dumbbell in each hand and let them hang by your sides. Step backward with your right leg into a reverse lunge until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. At the bottom of the lunge, curl both arms up into a bicep curl and then press them up overhead. Return them back down to your sides and then press through the front leg to stand. Step back with the left foot and perform on the left side. Alternate, performing 6 reps on each side.
- 12 bent-over rows. Stand with your feet hips-distance apart. Hinge forward at the hips, keeping the back straight, so that your torso is at a 45-degree angle. Let your arms hang down in front of you with a weight in each hand. Rotate the weights so that your palms are facing each other. Pull your elbows up toward the ceiling, raising both weights to frame your ribcage. Lower your arms back down toward the ground. Repeat.
- 12 shoulder presses. Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Holding a light dumbbell in each hand, bring your arms up to a goal-post position. Push both arms up overhead, return to the starting position. Repeat.
What are some other workouts to ease “gymtimidation”?
Menna recommends on-demand programs like the ones by Obé Fitness (where she is also an instructor) to learn how to use different workout equipment and proper form. “Obé creates a really safe space where you can follow along,” she says. “Then you can go into any class in person and feel like you’ve done it before in the comfort of your own home. You can build your confidence where no one’s watching you, which is why the world of fitness blew up during the pandemic.” The key, she says, is to “take that confidence that they gained in private and apply it in public spaces.”
Those who don’t want to brave the gym floor quite yet might want to give group fitness classes a chance. Goldman sees them as a way to build your confidence when working out around others. “There’s a camaraderie because everyone is doing the same movement, and you can get instruction and look at others for tips,” he says. “So I think it’s one of the better, if not best, entry points to a gym.”
Tips to feel more confident in the gym
“It’s not a secret that if people had a comfortable space, where they knew they would be free from judgment while trying something new, more people would be working out,” Menna says. “It’s extremely intimidating to try anything new at any age.”
She relies on some tried-and-true methods to feel confident at the gym and get a great workout: a playlist that hypes her up, the right shoes for different activities and to dress the part in an outfit that she feels good in.
All three experts agreed on one big takeaway that we can use to ease any anxiety around working out in the gym: “Remember that everybody is just trying to make themselves feel good in their own body,” Kohn says.
During her classes, Menna encourages people to close their eyes and remind themselves that everyone present is there for their own personal gain. “It is the only place that you can be completely selfish,” she points out. “If you can look at it like, ‘I’m going to be dead one day, so I’m just going to do what feels good and focus on me,’ that’s all you can do. Just starting is something to be extremely proud of.”