The Gym – Not So Scary

A lot of people make a New Years Resolution to go to the gym more. To be brutally honest, you couldn’t pick a worse time. Right now the gym is packed to the gills with people who don’t know what they are doing (which isn’t their fault – they are just new).  It does die down however so hang in there.  By mid-February you won’t be waiting in lines for equipment, there won’t be a line at the front desk to check in, and you will be able to get a bike in spin class without showing up 2 hours early and bringing a sniper rifle.

For many people the gym is a big scary place.  I’m a gym rat from way back so for me it’s really more like home.  All the sights, sounds, yes even the smells of the gym make me feel comfortable.  It’s really sad to me that lots of people who would like to try the gym are scared to for various reasons.  I put together this post to hopefully make the gym less scary and more inviting:

Choosing a Gym

This is a matter of money, vibe and what you need in a gym. Typically more money means more amenities so decide what you want.  I once toured a gym that had a $10/month membership fee but didn’t have locker rooms.  Um, no.   There are gyms that are snotty, gyms that are laid back, gyms that are more based on group exercise and gyms that don’t even have a cardio room.  Some have a pool, some have a pilates center etc.   It’s worth it to take the time to check out the gyms in your area and see what’s available.  Some of them will have incredibly pushy salespeople who say that you can only get this special if you sign up Right.  This.  Second.  Ask to speak to a manager and ask what’s wrong with their gym that they don’t think it will stand up to a little comparison shopping.  Then ask for the deal in writing and two weeks to make a decision.  Be prepared to negotiate down to a week or so but this has always worked for me.

There is a gym called Planet Fitness that has declared itself a “No Judgment Zone”.  I’ve not been into one yet but I’ve had some friends signed up and I checked them out online and they look very cool at first blush. Their website doesn’t have a single reference to weight loss – only fitness.  What a concept!

Being a Newbie:

First, try to have some old timer empathy.  Imagine if you shopped at a store 5 times a week every week for 9 months.  Then all of a sudden the store was filled with new people who don’t know where anything is, start moving things around etc.  Suddenly your 30 minute shopping trip takes 2 hours and the things that you buy 5 times a week are all sold out.  Of course it’s nobody’s fault, but it is at least a little understandable.  I for one am glad that you’re here, as long as you follow some basic etiquette:

Take a deep breath, everyone around you was once a Newbie too – none of us was born knowing how to adjust machines that look complicated enough to require launch codes.  If your gym offers classes to help you learn to use the equipment take them.  If you aren’t sure how to adjust a machine,  Do ask a friendly looking person.  Do ask someone at the front desk for help.  Don’t ask a personal trainer who is in session – remember that someone is paying that person for their undivided attention.

Look around before you just start grabbing things and moving them around. Think of it as a new job, you learn the office etiquette before you start playing your radio, trying to make coffee, taking breaks etc. It’s the same at the gym–figure out what’s appropriate before you re-arrange furniture like it’s “Trading Spaces–the Weight Room Addition”.

When you go into a group class for the first time, it may behoove you to stand back around the edges for a little while to get the lay of the land, let the regulars get their spots etc.  (Some people get very possessive of their spots – trust me when I tell you, you don’t want any of that action).  Pay attention to things like how far apart people tend to stand – unless you want to tell your grandkids about that time you got kicked in the head in step class.

People might say stoopid things to you.  While it’s pretty rare that someone says or behaves in a way that is mean, plenty of people may behave in a way that is annoying.  Some people may congratulate you for starting an exercise program (even if you’ve had an exercise plan for the last 10 years)  or encourage you on your weight loss.  (This happens to me all the time)  While this is a very real concern, I personally think that if stay home because people might be idiots, I’m the one who loses out in the end.

Of course it’s your choice how you deal with this: thank them, use it as a teachable moment for Health at Every Size, put Bengay on their sweat towel (that was a joke, don’t go telling people I told you to do that).  I typically prefer teachable moments, but whatever you choose I would recommend deciding beforehand and practicing.  It’s harder than you might think to say what you intended to say when you are sweaty, exhausted, and surprised by a perfect stranger weighing in on your life choices.

Bring a water bottle and a towel to wipe your sweat off the machines.  If you’re going to forget something, forget the water.  The water is for you, the towel is for everyone who uses a machine after you.

Crap Old-Timers Try to Get Away With

Sometimes when old-timers can peg you for a newbie they will try to get away with the following behaviors.  Here’s what to do:

Time limit?  What time limit?

This one is usually accompanied by a look of wide-eyed innocence.  Especially during this time of year many gyms put time limits on their cardio machines.  People who’ve been around awhile tend to try to get around this by:  putting their towel over the clock, restarting the timer every 10 minutes, just ignoring it thinking nobody will say anything.

You can handle this directly with them (excuse me, but can I take a look at the timer on your machine to see what kind of wait I’m looking at?  I’m sorry, you may not have noticed but you’re over the time limit).  Or you can tell the good people at the front desk.*

Opposing Muscle Musical Chairs

A lot of resistance training is based around working opposing muscle groups.  Some people like to alternate between the two (one set of biceps/one set of triceps, lather rinse repeat) so they will work on one machine and leave their water bottle and towel on the other.  This is not cool.

You can deal with it directly (Normally I ask “may I set in” but if someone is pulling this I just say “I’m going to set in on this machine”) or passive agressively (don’t say anything, just move their stuff and start working out) or ask the nice people at the front desk to deal with it.*

Mine. Mine.  All Mine.  My Precious.

Some theories of  weight lifting (pyramid sets for example) require the person lifting to use a number of different weights.  While that’s fine, it is NOT FINE to get 12 sets of weights and put them under your bench at  peak times at the gym.

Again, I typically come by and ask “Mind if I use this” indicating the weights that I need.  You can also talk to the people at the front desk.*

*A note on talking to the front desk people about your issues.  I don’t particularly recommend it unless someone’s behavior is egregious or they don’t respond to polite inquiry.  Most people will start to act like they’ve had some home training if they are just confronted.

A last note:  I’ve noticed at my gym, it’s as if every year there’s a newbie class who meet each other and then wave and say hi at the gym forever.  It’s not that they all hang out or even chat very much, it’s just that in 2008 they all survived being gym newbies who work out around 6pm and now they are bonded.  It’s pretty cool.  I’m an early morning or late night worker outer.  We seem to have a camaraderie all our own.  We are hardcore and while we basically communicate only through grunting and pointing,  when you life weights with someone at 3 in the morning a few times a week for a while, you’ve bonded.

A last, last note about the gym and Health At Every Size.  The gym is NOT the only path to fitness.  So if you think it would be fun to take water aerobics or spin class, if you love the elliptical or  the idea of getting strong through weight lifting then I highly encourage you to try the gym.  If you want to move more but you’d rather have a root canal than come to the gym then  then please find a movement option that makes you happy!

Speaking of New Years Resolutions, if you haven’t checked out the New Year Revolution Resource Page then you are missing out!

6 thoughts on “The Gym – Not So Scary

  1. Thanks so much, again. Every post is always great, but this week I’m going to check out a new gym. I have check out one, and while I felt fine about working out there, they just didn’t have the equipment I was looking for (recumbent bike and treadmills.) So, going into a new gym is a little scarier, but you just made it better! 🙂

  2. I love this list of suggestions; for both the newbies and us old-timers. It is a good reminder that we were ALL once the ones timidly looking around and wondering where to start. 🙂

  3. I hate gyms. But! it was a revelation to me, the kid who despised gym class and physical activity of any kind, which usually came in the form of organized sports when I was a kid, to find that I really loved biking and yoga. I was surprised at how great it made me feel. I don’t like competition, activities that are high impact or things flying at my face, but give me the outdoors and a good walk or yoga tucked away in a corner of my house, and I’m very happy. There are all sorts of ways to be active (and not be psycho obsessive about it), it’s all about finding what works for you. My husband simply walks to and from work, and he loves it.

  4. If you can afford or find a gym with a steam room, this really makes going a whole different experience. I had to leave mine when I became a student a while back and no other gym facilities will do now – unfortunately! While I have come to love (I realize now) sweating it out on the elliptical with my favorite playlist blasting in my ears and hefting weights till my arms fall off, having a steam room to go to after transformed the whole experience into a pamperfest. What was most amazing to me about the steam room was seeing who was self conscious about baring it all – many of the most “culturally acceptable” bodies. The steam room seemed to be a place where those of us with bigger bodies felt free to openly luxuriate in the steam and our fat, judgment free. Maybe I just got lucky at that gym but hopefully I’ll experience that again.

  5. Figuring out what works for each person individually is so important. I’ve realized over the years that paying for a gym membership is an utter waste of time for me — if I have to pack up and go somewhere else for my movement and physical activity, I won’t. I just won’t. And it doesn’t matter how much I yell at myself, or cajole myself, or try to trick myself, it’s just not something I can do on an ongoing basis. Activity and movement, for me, need to be incorporated in my daily life on a moment-by-moment basis (e.g., ride my bike everywhere; take the stairs instead of the elevator; use the kitchenette that’s on the other side of the floor instead of the closer one).

    And once you find what works for you, it feels so good! The bodyweight exercise routine I’m doing has really clicked for me, and I’m loving getting stronger and looking at myself in the mirror and thinking “Ooh, bigger muscles! Check me out! Looking vibrant, baby!” *big grin*

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