Before You Join A Gym

My Best Friend got this figurine for me in a little shop in Astoria, Queens. Sadly I don’t know the artist.
As this year draws to a close, gyms in the US are starting to gear up for their “New Year’s Resolution” advertising. Which is to say that they are writing checks that their actual results can’t cash. But don’t worry, when their promises turn out to be not worth the annoying postcards they’re printed on, they’ll blame you for failing, and try to sell you the same thing again next year.

Gyms will promise almost anything to get you in the door – weight loss,  a certain look (“long, lean muscles”, “sculpted muscles” etc.)  But they can’t provide a single study that shows that more than a tiny fraction of people achieve these results, let alone maintain them long-term.

If gyms were honest, I think they would say something like this:

Thanks for considering joining our gym. We want to tell you up front that we can’t guarantee anything, and any gym that says they can is trying to take advantage of you. Our bodies – including their size, shape, the type of muscle we build, health, abilities, and athletic potential  – are complex and influenced by a number of factors, many of which are out of our control.

Evidence suggests that exercise is a good way to help increase our odds for health (which is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or guaranteed under any circumstances.) Exercise is always optional, and if you’re just starting out, or starting over, that’s great. Remember that, regardless, there’s no need to go too hard too fast – unless you want to be the fittest person in traction. Besides, the research shows that even a little bit of movement can be beneficial and most of the benefits of movement can be gained from about 30 minutes of movement about 5 times a week. And it can be any movement, it can even be broken up into smaller bits.

We know that the research shows that internal motivation works better than external motivation, and that the first step to deciding how you want to take care of your body is realizing that your body is worthy of care, so you won’t find any body shaming trainers or messages here. We recommend that you find some movement that you really enjoy at a time that is as easy as possible for you to make.

That’s what I think gyms should say if they were telling the truth. If they were really trying to do the best thing I think they’d also say:

You’ll notice that our gym has instructors, trainers, and pictures with positive images of people of all sizes, because of course “fitness” and “health” are not a body size.  You are not a “before” picture and there is no “after” picture, there’s just “during” and we’re glad that you are here.

Regardless, if you’re contemplating joining a gym (or any fitness center) remember that they work for you, you do not work for them. Your goals are what is important here, not what goals they might want you to have. You have ever right to approach your movement using Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, and to find a gym and fitness professionals who will support you in that.

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Over the course of eighteen self-paced, content-packed, quick videos you’ll get the tools you need to create healthy relationships with food, movement, and your body, and you’ll map out a path to health that makes sense for you, in an easily digestible format. Built-in tools allow you to track your progress and keep notes individually or as a group.
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Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRONMAN triathlon, and I’m having a sale on all my books, DVDs, and digital downloads to help pay for it. You get books and dance classes, I get spandex clothes and bike parts. Everybody wins! If you want, you can check it out here!

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

8 thoughts on “Before You Join A Gym

  1. I joined a gym mid-summer because I want more muscle strength and I enjoy lifting weights. I’m in a great position as an invisible middle-aged woman to observe the goings on of the trainers, and wow. If anyone is considering joining a big gym, my advice is to stay away from the trainers unless you have a very trustworthy recommendation. You’ll probably get better advice from YouTube videos. The gym “trainers” seem to prescribe the same generic workout for everyone and a lot of what they teach is a fast track to injury. Yikes.

    1. That’s the only thing I miss about the small local gym vs. the big (but faraway) chain we used to use before gas prices shot up through the roof. The small one’s got no pool.

  2. I miss my local Curves franchise. Sure, they had diet stuff, but it wasn’t pushed at people. The one metric that was pushed at you was your pulse, which was checked against a big chart on the wall. The point was to get it to a nice low rate for your age, and let everything else follow. It felt so good to get moving, laugh with the other ladies at the cornball music, and just sweat.

    My income recently went up, and I could theoretically join a gym now–but the Curves is gone, and the others are all about looking like the people in the ads, so.

  3. I feel lucky that my gym is both affordable and seems to attract all sizes of clientele. I’ve been going at least twice a week now for almost a year. My size is exactly the same as it was when I started. But I went out of my way to find the things I’d enjoy the most. Also, I do a short workout when I’m busy, and a long workout when I’m not.

    I’d add that as I worked out more, my appetite increased and in the spirit of intuitive eating, I ate more food. None of this fits well into how gyms are advertised, but I think this coming year will see me still going… happily, not with a sense of dread or frustration.

  4. I used to work out, because I was supposed to. After my injury (not exercise-related), I found, almost immediately, that I missed it. Not that I ever got that endorphins rush or exercise high that some people (trainers would claim ALL people, but that is such a lie) get. But I missed the joy of being able to put that weight slot one notch higher on the machine, as I got stronger. I missed being able to walk longer without getting short of breath. I missed the zen of the weight machines (I always used the machines, for safety’s sake, because free weights scare me), and having to count my way through the cycle. If you have to count, to maintain accuracy and balance (don’t want to work out one side more than the other), then it forces you to clear your mind. It’s a kind of meditation. Treadmills, cycles and elliptical machines were OK if I had something to occupy my mind. No meditating there.

    But yeah, I tell young people now to enjoy exercise, while they can, because I MISSED IT. Meanwhile, the gym I paid for and forced myself to go to every morning at five started me with a “trainer” who put me on a stationary bike, and told me to do no less than 30 minutes every morning, for the rest of my life, and never even showed me the weight machines. If I had it to do over, I would have focused on the weight machines, and done treadmill or elliptical no more than twice a week, just to get some stamina, because you know what? If you are adding reps and cycles to your weight training, you’re adding stamina, as well, and keeping up the rhythm is somewhat cardio, anyway.

    The point is, the time I had a trainer actually train me on weight machines was almost the best. The best was dance classes. I could dance every day and find supreme joy! But I wouldn’t be confident that I could lift THAT weight, or open THAT heavy door. Maybe weight training, and dance, and skip the treadmill.

    I wish that P.E. classes would actually teach the right way to do a variety of exercises, and then give the students the option to choose for themselves. Also, I REALLY wish P.E. classes would do some actual teaching and training, BEFORE the tests (you know the ones – run a mile, for the grade, but you’ve never even hit the track before now, or the Presidents Physical Fitness Tests, doing things FOR A GRADE that you’ve never even seen before). My P.E. class, we didn’t have a gym, because it was still being built. So, once a week, we would run around the neighborhood, for a grade. The other four days, we would sit in an unclaimed classroom and watch videos. He never took us for walks around the neighborhood. He never took us for walks around the school campus, or let us run around the football field. Nope. Just sit still four days a week, and then run for a grade on Fridays. It sucked, and I learned really fast to hate exercise, because it was always so much pressure to do it right, without ever having been taught how. And a GOOD teacher would know that you have to TRAIN before you perform. You don’t just throw newbies at a marathon, do you? NO! But he thought that was how to do “education” in P.E. He wasn’t the only one, either. Just the last in a long line of “physical education teachers,” who barely did the physical, and didn’t even touch on the education, at all. I remember ONE P.E. teacher actually teaching us the rules for a sport, before we had the sports section, where we played that sport for a few weeks, before moving onto something else. Just the one, though, because it wasn’t a popular sport in our area. All the other sports, such as football, baseball, etc., were just the same – All right, pick your teams, fat people get chosen last, and hit the field. I’ll referee, and of course everyone knows exactly what to do and how to do it. And this is for a grade, y’all! Ugh. Then there was the infamous rope-climbing. NOT ONCE have I had a P.E. teacher give an actual demonstration, or even verbally explain how to do it. Just screamed at us to make it to the top, and make it back down again without falling (sometimes there was a pad at the bottom, but usually it was the bare hard gym floor), and then scream at us for injuring ourselves, and “faking it to get out of class.” So much screaming. Like on The Biggest Loser. Newsflash: This does not work to make people WANT to exercise!

    Once upon a time, I saw a news piece about a school doing an experiment: The first part of the year, the gym teacher taught the students a variety of exercises, such as how to use the various equipment in a standard fitness center, free weights vs. weight machines, cardio machines, etc., and how to do a variety of sports, and then, after the students had been taught all the various options, they were then given the choice of what they wanted to do, and basically spread out among all the different exercise stations that the school had set up, and they just checked in. “Coach, I did 30 minutes on this, and fifteen on that.” And the kids were happy, and successful, and all showed physical improvement, learned how to organize themselves, and LIKED IT. It was a resounding success. And yet, over a decade later, it’s still incredibly rare.

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