I still feel like this some days.
One thing most everyone is intimidated by when they first hit the gym is feeling like a weak piece of shit. No one wants to slump into the weight room and "start with the bar." Especially if you're a dude. But if you pile on plates in an attempt to look like a badass, you're just going to end up hurting yourself and never come back. Not to mention, nothing attracts unwanted attention like the dude/chick who grabs off the bottom rack and clearly has no idea what they're doing.
Back in March, I was incline dumbbell pressing and a super-skinny young guy walked in wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He had the deer in headlights look and it was obvious he had no idea what he was doing or that he even had a plan in mind. He stared at me for a moment, noted my use of 35's, assumed he could/should lift heavier than me, and grabbed the 40's. He pulled up in a chair way too close to me and proceeded to try and shoulder press (note: not incline press - straight up shoulder press) these dumbbells. So, here's my face, right underneath a 40 pound weight, with nothing in between but his tiny, quivering, twig of an arm. He was not going to abort, presumably so he didn't look like a twat, and threw his whole back into getting those weights up for a few more reps. I sat right up and got out of the way before I became a statistic.
I get it, I do. But I'm here to tell you this type of machismo and pride is unnecessary.
So, how do you stop feeling like a wimpy loser and get in there with the big guys?
1. Have a plan. Do not go into the weight room without doing a bit of research. Find a beginner's program online, or use your free personal trainer session to figure out what you are going to do. This will help you feel purposeful and keep you from grabbing the first piece of equipment you see, and winging the fuck out of it in a panic. Be confident enough to know what exercises you are going to do and how many sets and reps to perform.
2. Suck it up and start low. Empty bars, 10-20 pound dumbbells, it's okay. No one cares. I cannot stress this enough, you go largely unnoticed unless you are doing something incredible, or incredibly stupid. No one knows if you are rehabbing after an injury, warming-up, deloading, simply out of practice, or what your story is. The bodybuilders and fit freaks in the gym do not care. They are not interested in what you are doing at all. The only people that may care are insecure beginners, themselves. Besides, there are a bunch of legitimate reasons (above) why you might not be lifting heavy weights, so if it bothers you that bad, just pretend in your head that's your situation.
3. Rest assured, you will advance quickly. Once your body gets used to the movements, you will be able to add more weight, and more on top of that. If you are consistent and persistently challenging yourself, you'll be adding plates and pulling off the bottom rack soon enough. Always focus on where you want to be, not where you are.
4. Don't let the sight of a smaller person (or woman) lifting heavier psych you out. Strength comes with time. Maybe they've been doing this for five years? Just because you walked in today and aren't up to snuff will mean nothing in 6 months, or a year. That person could have been at this a lot longer than you, or maybe they are working in a lower rep range. Most likely, they, too, had humble beginnings.
5. Understand the gym isn't High School. It's not a building full of competitive shitheads all trying to outdo each other. It's a place where adults of all ages, stages, and starting points have one thing in common: the desire to get in shape and be better versions of themselves. Keep that in mind. Most people are just like you - waking up after being a mom, tired of feeling like a slob after years at a desk job, or perhaps they had a health scare and can't afford to be unhealthy anymore. Even the jacked and stacked were once small and/or dumpy. No one gets spit out of the womb with a barbell in hand. Everyone works for it. Everyone has been where you are at some point.
6. Accept that even when you are able to lift more weight, there will still be weaker days. For instance, last week, I was hitting 5's and 6's with 40 pound dumbbell incline press. Yesterday? Couldn't get the damn things off my thighs. I felt like an ass taking them off the rack like a boss and then immediately slinking back to re-rack them like a wuss. But, whatever. This happens to all of us from time to time. You can't let it get to you. It will re-occur as long as you are lifting.
The good news is, each time this happens to you, it will be a heavier weight.
So, please, be patient with yourself and remember no one is judging you. Whether you're fat, skinny, weak, or simply haven't a clue, ease into it and don't worry at all about the people around you - only worry about being better than you were yesterday. Within a few weeks, you'll get the hang of it. Within a few months, you'll feel right at home. Within a few years, you'll be the one the new crop is looking up to.