Thoughts on the Gym at New Years

back bend cropped

Ragen Chastain 5’4, 284 pounds, Photo courtesy of Kate Wodash and the Mindful Body Center.

A lot of people make a New Years Resolution to join a gym or to go to a gym more.. This is a, well, let’s call it a unique time of year to join because, at the moment gyms are  packed to the gills with people. 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 tying people to poles in the locker room.

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.  If you read this blog regularly then you know that I don’t think that going to the gym, or any kind of movement or exercise, is any kind of obligation – whether or not someone chooses to move their body within their ability is absolutely their choice and all choices are valid.  I just don’t want someone who wants to go to the gym to skip it because the gym seems so unfriendly.  Here is some stuff that might help:

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.

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, they start moving things aroundetc.  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 the newbies are there, 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, 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, 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 may not 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 I stay home because people might be idiots, 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, 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 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.  If you are going to use the weight are and you’re going to forget something, forget the water.  The water is for you, the towel is for everyone who uses a machines after you.

Crap Old-Timers Try to Get Away With

Most old-timers are going be on a spectrum from awesome to at-least-they-leave-you-alone.  Sometimes old-timers will try to get away with the following behaviors.  Here’s what you might 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 programs are 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” (in other regions they say “may I work in”) but if someone is pulling this you can just say “I’m going to set in on this machine” or 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 gently 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.  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.  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 help, the Fit Fatties Forum has created virtual training and support groups.  You’ll be part of a group furn by a fat fitness professional who can help you with everything from creating a program to injury prevention to support as things come up.  There are groups for those who plan to train for an event, for those who want to get 150 minutes in each week, for those who just want to have fun, and there’s even Team Zombie.  Check it out here.

Activism Opportunities:

If you want to get involved in an activism project around movement, the Fit Fatties Forum is inviting you to get involved with Fit Fatties Across America, this is a project where people of all sizes from all around the world will pool their time, their distance, from whatever movement they do to see how long it takes us to travel from NYC to LA.  Check it out here. 

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs (hint:  Free shipping was supposed to end on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to make the changes to the pricing so there’s still free shipping until I get it done)!  Click here for the details

Become a Member and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

Published in: on January 2, 2013 at 10:36 am  Comments (10)  

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It took me a long time to sign up for the gym. I’m on my one year anniversary and it’s one of the best decisions I made last year. I decided early on I wanted to do classes – left to my own devices, I knew I would do some half hearted pedalling and call it a day. Then I got overwhelmed by the choice! And I started to think I HAD to do an aerobics class every week PLUS a weight lifting class PLUS something else and maybe I should throw in Pilates or yoga as well…

    Reading the research that’s come out this year that moderate exercise three times a week is just peachy helped me a lot. I’ve had to give up the fantasy of a sculpted, toned body… it’s never going to happen. Another difficult fantasy to give up, though.

  2. I’d like to join one of the new groups but I am disappointed that none of them seem to really fit for me. I already do well over 150 minutes of exercise a week, and I’m at a point where I want to move past just being fun — to start having goals, to try to reach my own achievements, to try new activities, etc, but at the same time I’m not interested in training for a particular event. I’d like to see a group for folks like me who are regular exercisers and want to work to improve without training for a specific event!

  3. One of the first things I looked into when I moved to this new town (6 or 7 months ago) was a gym. I was delighted to find out they had TWO for a town this small, and then I was instantly deflated when I found out that neither had a pool. The last time I was part of a gym, most of what I did was swimming during lap time and I loved it. A gym membership here just wouldn’t be worth it to me if all they have is a hot tub or a sauna, which is generally what I’ve been told when I’ve lamented the fact that neither has a pool (“but they’ve got a spa!”), as if I can do laps in a hot tub?
    Disappointing to say the least. I tried a treadmill that I bought earlier this year and really didn’t take to it (my sister convinced me to buy it–last time I listen to her about trying to become a runner like she did!). I’m trying to sell it now and bought a recumbent bike that should arrive this week or next week. I hope I like that more…….

  4. Once again I must plug Planet Fitness. I pay $10 a month for 24 hr access and they do have a locker room, with clean showers and everything! They also have all over the walls large purple lettering that says this is a JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE. I love going there bc I see fat people, thin people, young people, old people. Everybody is doing the best they can.

    • It’s funny, because I see Planet Fitness slammed a lot in my work-out universe. I like lifting heavy things, which often involves grunting and a bit of weight-clanking, even if you’re being as gentle as possible with putting down the bar. Evidently they have a “lunk alarm,” or something to the effect? I don’t know if they still do this, but I know that I would feel really embarrassed if I got called out for grunting too much or accidentally dropping my weight too hard. But then, I’m lucky and have access to a large university gym. There’s a pretty sweet weight room that’s virtually empty early in the morning. I also just started an aerial silks class, which is basically the shit. Evidently it is possible to climb a rope if you are fat (I’m 5’3, 215-ish). Even though I haven’t managed to climb more than a step yet, my awesome instructor says that I mostly just need to work on my technique. Hooray for size-positive athletics instructors!

    • I’ve had a good experience with Planet Fitness, too. My only concern is that they’re one of the sponsors of the “Biggest Loser,” at least according to their own ads. I’ve never heard of a “lunk alarm”; maybe they stopped doing it.

  5. I love, love, love my YMCA. Everyone there is so friendly, non-judgemental, and supportive of everyone (and it is very family oriented). People of all sizes are really comfortable there. Plus, the facilities are really clean, including the pool. Pool schedules and fitness class schedules are nice and varied. I’ve been taking Tai Chi and yoga classes, as well as lap swimming several times a week. For a period of time I had to suspend my membership because of financial issues (and I missed being there SO MUCH), but they were really cool with it, and when I could finally reinstate it a couple of months ago, I didn’t have to pay a fee at all. BONUS: if you are low income, they have sponsorship programs to help with the membership dues. They do not turn anyone away and help those with difficult financial means as much as they can. And the dues are not that bad. For Denver, a single adult membership is $55/ month. Family memberships are even a better deal. My YMCA currently has big plans to expand the facility into a world class community center and gym. They’ve been raising funds for this over the past year, and have reached 75% of their goal. I cannot wait to see the new facility, which is projected to be completed by 2016.

  6. Ragen, next time someone congratulates you on working out, I dare you swing your leg up to your ear in an outrageous stretch like it one of your photos. I’d love to be a fly in the wall!

    I’ve been going to a local council gym in the UK for 6 months now. My health need is severe depression related rather than weight. Other than walking the dog, its the only thing I can do right now that doesn’t require much thinking. I still hang around my old class/group who are for medical referrals (usually arthritis, strokes or weight)and the newest person always asks what I’m doing there because I’m obviously physically fit/fitter than the rest…

    Our gym tiny reopened yesterday and its really quiet! I’m surprised. But the old men (I call them the Sugar Daddies) who are in first thing (70+) are super polite and say hello when someone walks in, goodbye when they leave. Its lovely and I need to get some guts and do it to strangers too. Happy New Year everyone!

  7. I’m lucky to have access to the therapy pool where I work. I use it–alone–before going on for my night shift. Working out would not be nearly so pleasant without it. It’s great for my fibromyalgia, and I’ve done a lot of rehab on my shoulder and back issues.

  8. With all of the new year hype and getting back in the gym, I have question…
    I am currently working on a line of plus-size active wear for women. I realize the plus-size market is underserved and in order to make this line successful I want real women’s opinions! What do you normally wear to the gym? What do you feel is missing in the market place regarding plus-size active wear and accessories (i.e.. bags, sweatbands, etc.)? What do you find most frustrating about the plus-size athletic wear that is already available? Please tell me what you think! Thanks!


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