If You’re Considering Joining a Gym

IMG_2012A lot of people make a New Years Resolution to join a gym or to go to a gym more. As always, “fitness” by any definition is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, or guaranteed under any circumstance, and people who participate are not better than those who don’t (running a marathon and having a Netflix marathon are, indeed, morally equivalent activities.) But for those who are thinking about joining the gym (or just starting to go to the gym they joined!) I have some suggestions for a better experience.

This is a, well, let’s call it a unique time of year to join a gym because gyms are about to be packed to the gills with people. It does die down – 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 two hours early and slipping a 20 to the front desk attendant.

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, lord help me, even the smells – of the gym make me feel comfortable.  Again, going to the gym, or any kind of movement or exercise, is not any kind of obligation – whether or not someone chooses to move their body within their ability is absolutely their choice (and is a choice that can be limited by external circumstances) and all choices are valid.

Choosing a Gym

This is a matter of money, vibe, location, and what you need in a gym. Typically more money means more amenities, so if you’re on a budget you might have to prioritize what’s most important to you.  I once toured a gym that had a $10/month membership fee but didn’t have locker rooms.  That obviously works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me.  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, massage tables, juice bar etc.

It’s worth it to take the time to check out the gyms in your area and see what’s available (a lot of this can be done online.) Go and see where you feel comfortable. Take advantage of free trials.  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 and your mileage may vary, but this has always worked for me.

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 years.  Then all of a sudden the store is filled with new people who don’t know where anything is, they 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, they were newbies once too, and you have every right to be there and use the gym (and it’s not an excuse for them to be an ass,) but some empathy can help.

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, it may behoove you to 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, making coffee, 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 help to stand back around the edges for a little while to get the lay of the land. 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 ridiculous 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, even though you aren’t interested in manipulating your body size. While this is a very real concern, I personally think that if I stay home because people might be jerks, I’m the one who loses out in the end, so I strategize.

Of course it’s your choice how you deal with this: thank them while you think really hard about rolling your eyes, use it as a teachable moment for Health at Every Size/Size Acceptance, put Bengay on their sweat towel (that was a joke, please don’t do that).  Whatever you choose I would recommend practicing some options beforehand.  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 their assumptions about your life choices.

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’ve traditionally been a late night worker outer.  We seem to have a camaraderie all our own.  While we basically communicate only through grunting and pointing,  when you lift 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.  Fitness is NOT an obligation, and 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 it’s completely cool for you to find a movement option that makes you happy!

If you want some support, feel free to check out Fit Fatties, it is a fun and supportive group, founded by two fathletes, for people of all sizes who are interested in talking about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective.

If you’re feeling some gymtimidation, I wrote about dealing with that in a piece for the Better Humans platform.

Was this helpful? If you appreciate the work that I do, you can support my ability to do more of it with a one-time tip or by becoming a member. (Members get special deals on fat-positive stuff, a monthly e-mail keeping them up to date on the work their membership supports, and the ability to ask me questions that I answer in a members-only monthly Q&A Video!)

In case you missed it, my adorable dog and I have a poem to help you resolve (for the first time, or again) to ditch diets. I’m having fun doing videos like this so there will definitely be more – if you want to make sure not to miss future videos, you can subscribe to my YouTube channel!


I mentioned that I want to have more fun with my activism this year. As part of that, I’ll be doing a stand-up comedy set at the FATCH New Year, Same You show on January 10th at 9pm at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on Sunset in Los Angeles. Tickets and info can be found here (Accessibility info: there is a fat-friendly bench in the front, the rest of the seating is stadium theater seats with arms up at least one step. The venue is wheelchair accessible, but there is limited space for wheelchairs.)

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Wellness for All Bodies ProgramA simple, step-by-step, super efficient guide to setting and reaching your health goals from a weight-neutral perspective.  This program can be used by individuals, or by groups, including as a workplace wellness program!
Price: $25.00 ($10 for DancesWithFat members – register on the member page)

Body Love Obstacle Course

This e-course that includes coaching videos, a study guide, and an ebook with the tools you need to create a rock-solid relationship with your body. Our relationships with our bodies don’t happen in a vacuum, so just learning to see our beauty isn’t going to cut it. The world throws obstacles in our way – obstacles that aren’t our fault, but become our problem. Over the course of this program, Ragen Chastain, Jeanette DePatie, and six incredible guest coaches will teach you practical, realistic, proven strategies to go above, around, and through the obstacles that the world puts in front of you when it comes to living an amazing life in the body you have now.
Price: $99.00
($79.00 for DancesWithFat members – register on the member page)

Love It! 234 Inspirations And Activities to Help You Love Your Body
This is filled with thoughtful advice from the authors Jeanette DePatie, Ragen Chastain, and Pia Sciavo-Campo as well as dozens of other notable names from the body love movement, the book is lovingly illustrated with diverse drawings from size-positive artist Toni Tails.
Price: $9.99 softcover, $7.99 Kindle, ($6.95 + free shipping for DancesWithFat Members)

Non-Members click here for all the details and to register!

Book and Dance Class Sale!  I’m on a journey to complete an IRON-distance 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!  (DancesWithFat Members get an even better deal, make sure to make your purchases from the Members Page!)

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!

I’m (still!) training for an Iron-distance triathlon! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com .

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

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