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.
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.