As 2013 winds down (thank GOD) and New Year’s resolutions come into focus, there will be plenty of people venturing into previously uncharted self-improvement territory. They’ll sign up for that French class, swear to read books more and Facebook less, scrupulously count calories, chew countless wads of Nicorette. They will also swell the ranks of gym memberships. For the first three weeks of the year, my Zumba class is going to be packed, and time on the treadmill or arc trainer will be at a premium. And then? Newbies will start to fade away, because gymming it hasn’t worked out as they expected. I’ve seen it happen the last two years. I’ve done it myself.
Working a lifestyle change into a daily schedule is hard enough in the best of times, never mind a change that thrusts you into a new environment where your vulnerability is at its peak. You’re publicly declaring that you’re flawed and want a change, and you don’t know the people around you/how to Zumba (or lift, or Step, or what the hell is an arc trainer?)/your own limits. And you’re around a bunch of people who seem like they have it together within this strange new world. What’s not to be scared of? What’s not to find intimidating?
I get it, I do. I’ve got a lifetime of avoided workouts under my belt and a bunch of unhealthy living I’ve had to undo. Thus, I am here to help the intimidated, the uninitiated, the lost-at-sea-in-the-weight-room. Here are five tips to help you gym it like a veteran and approach this sweaty domain with a more positive, less “I am an athletic freak show” perspective.
1) You aren’t going to be able to do everything the instructors (and gym/class regulars) do, perfectly, from the start, every time. And THAT IS OKAY. It’s more than okay; it’s expected. That’s why they have instructors, see? We weren’t born downloading Zumba routines into our brains from the Matrix, and we didn’t spring fully-formed to life in the gym with the innate knowledge of a clean-and-press. These things take time and practice. I’ve been doing Zumba for two years so I can rock it with the best of them, but in Step class? I am the low impact derp. But I’m getting better every time, and that’s what matters.
And speaking of Step class…
2) Try everything. You may think you just want a place with weight machines and a treadmill, and then find you love kickboxing. Mixing up your workouts prevents boredom, which is an attendance killer. Plus, different workouts push you in different ways. I thought I would just want Zumba and for the longest time gave the hand to Step classes. I broke my ankle a few years ago, I’m a little bit clumsy on the best of days, I was afraid of stepping and jumping and falling and re-injuring. Then I got talked into Step classes. Now I look forward to them, and regularly test my limits. That doesn’t happen all the time; Body Attack still makes me want to stab myself in the face. But I feel that way about it because I don’t like it, not because I’m afraid of it and haven’t tried it.
p.s. I did fall once, in Step. And I survived. I do Body Attack if it’s the workout that fits into my schedule. And I survive. Lesson = learned.
3) DO. NOT. ROLL. YOUR. EYES. AT. ME. Don’t roll your eyes at me, don’t roll your eyes at the instructor, don’t roll your eyes when staring down a difficult exercise. The instructor’s job is to challenge you. Your job is to work toward that challenge. If you don’t like it, go home. Do NOT try to make me your eyeball-rolling ally, because it will not happen, newbie. I’m there to work my ass off, not be your sister in snark and give you tacit permission to opt out. Now go squat. SQUAAAAAAAAAAT.
Also, don’t talk over the instructor when they’re trying to tell the class something. They usually have information you’ll want, so listen to their tips on correct form or how to adapt an exercise for skill level, and really? Do you have to text while you’re on the bike in Spin class? Really?
If you feel like you’re not getting anything out of going to the gym, ask yourself how much you’re putting in, in the first place.
4) Joining a gym with a friend is good. Making that friend the only thing that gets you to the gym? Not so much.
Here’s the story: I joined my gym because my friend Amy goes there, and yes, it’s easier to walk into a gym with a buddy at your side than without. But if you walk through those doors solo, nobody’s going to hit you with a stick, I promise. As life goes, Amy and I have wildly different priorities. Example: she has kids. I don’t. Sometimes, she’s got to go to tae kwon do or Girl Scouts or a birthday party and can’t make it to the gym. So…if she can’t go, does that mean I shouldn’t go?
The answer, for those playing at home, is no. Of course not. When our workouts can coincide, that’s great and we have fun, but when they don’t, I still want to feel great and have fun. Zumba is ON! Amy doesn’t have to walk around in my skin, feel my sluggishness when I’ve not gotten exercise, deal with my couch potato bloat. I do. And as much as I like having a gym buddy, it’s still my responsibility to myself that should matter most. Have I relied on friends to get me to the gym when I’m feeling unmotivated? Absolutely. But the person that’s gotten me to the gym on a regular basis? Is me. It’s what happens when you make yourself a priority instead of a dependent variable.
5) Stop. Worrying. About what other people think of you. About what you think other people think of you. You know what the other people in your gym think about? They’re thinking about their own workout, about how their lungs are in their throats or how their arms are reaching that fatigue point. They’re thinking about their next water break or their form. What they’re not thinking about? Is you. Unless they’re the people who are worrying about what you think of them. More often than not, we get in our own way. Stop looking around. Don’t look at me, don’t look at the guy next to you, and for the love of all that is holy don’t look at the clock. Look at the person in the front of the room, whose job is to help you. Let your ego go and be in the moment. You’ll be fine.
The Oatmeal can explain it all for you. (Click here for the full comic (this is just the first panel), and you should because it’s worth it.)
Happy gymming! See you ’round the arc trainer!