Monday, March 15, 2010

Don't Be Afraid of the Gym

(Image from this fantastic post about women and weight training. Go read it. I'll wait.)

Way back in January, when I reminded you not to wear makeup to the gym, I mentioned that there was an entire post that could be written about not being scared of the gym. This is that post.

Disclaimer: I am not a jock. Not even a little bit. I attempted team sports at a few brief junctures in my life - once on a park-run softball team in elementary school, a tiny bit of volleyball in high school (and intramurals in college, which was a total joke) and...that's about it. My lack of hand-eye coordination is still a running joke in my family, and while fifteen years worth of modern dance should have given me some level of agility, I was enough of a klutz that my nickname at camp (orchestra camp - I told you I wasn't a jock) was "Grace." I had to take three gym classes in college - I chose ballet (lots of relaxation), badminton (which I played with my cousins as a kid) and tennis (which I SUCKED at, but had watched my entire life, and since the grade was based solely on attendance and the written final, I aced it - pun intended.) I failed gym my freshman year in high school because I refused to do anything beyond walk around the track and sit on the bleachers with the cute rebel boy who taught me how to smoke and I managed to get gym credits out of doing high school pep band (have I convinced you of my dorkiness yet?). I have mild PTSD related to the ever-popular Presidential Physical Fitness Test - while I rocked the V-sit Reach and the Shuttle Run, the memory of hanging in front of my entire 7th grade gym class, unable to do even one pull up, still gives me nervous butterflies. And let us not even speak of the Mile Run.

I give you this history, so you don't think think that the girl who always looked great in phy ed, never got hit in the face with a volleyball or lost her shoe in kickball, and went jogging on a regular basis even as a teenager is now sitting behind her computer, lecturing you about how fanTAStic it is to work out at the gym. I am not that girl. At all.

In January, I told you all about how I had a gym membership for over two years before I had the nerve to actually run on the treadmill. Besides the fact that I hadn't actually run in the ten years since I'd spent a week on the high school track team (I still can't quite explain why I thought that would be a good idea - maybe it was my dominance at the Shuttle Run), I was terrified of a couple of things. First, I was afraid that I was going to start running and not be able to sustain it for more than a few seconds. Secondly, I was convinced that, since I wouldn't be able to run for very long, I would stumble and fly off the back. That makes an excellent YouTube clip - for everyone else - but it makes for pain, suffering and emotional distress for yours truly. So for over two years, I walked. I walked FAST, mind, but I walked. I walked and I walked and I walked and while walking is good for you, and a great place to start if you haven't been active in a while, after that length of time I got frustrated with myself. Eventually, I ran across the Couch to 5K program, which starts you out with running at 30-second intervals, so I took some deep breaths, and pumped up the speed. And guess what? I didn't fall down. I don't like running today any more than I did then, but I know that I can do it, and that feels fantastic.

What about those weight machines? Those are indimidating, I am not going to argue with you. Adjusting the seats, adjusting the weights, keeping track of your could all be enough to keep you confined to the safety of the treadmill or elliptical or stationary bike. But here's a hint. Most gyms have a free session with a trainer, who will walk through the machines with you, show you how to adjust them, find the range of motion that works for you, and so on. And if you're really lucky, your gym has Fitlinxx or a similar system, which will count your reps and keep track of the current weight and range of motion for you - because I don't know about you, but when I'm rocking out to whatever terrible music has just popped on my iPod, it is nearly impossible for me to count. If trainers are scary for you, try to remember - this is their job and they are there for you. They want you to be successful, and don't you want to be successful too?

But then there's those fitness classes and the mind-numbing terror of Other People. Yoga, weightlifting, step, Zumba, bellydancing, spin...they all sound awesome in theory, don't they? But it's scary to walk in and see the girls in their fancy Lululemon yoga pants, or getting reading to do belly dance in a sports bra and leggings. Especially if its your first class, it's easy to talk yourself into the thought that everyone else knows what's going on, that you're wearing the wrong thing, that you're taking up too much space or you're going to trip over yourself or - worse - someone else. You know what, though? I'd bet you good money - or, okay, five bucks - that 98% of the people in that class feel the same way and the Lululemon gear is just their version of (fancy) armor. And if they don't feel that way today, they did once.

I've been going to the same Zumba class for almost a year now, so I'm usually pretty relaxed there. I know the instructor, a lot of the steps, the flow of the hour, and some of the other folks in the class with me - if not their names, then definitely their faces. But that doesn't mean that it wasn't completely scary the first time I went, because oh wow, it really was. My husband had to practically shove me into the room. And it was also scary when, after I'd been out for a while with an injury, I found out the instructor had also gotten hurt and had to cut way back on the number of classes she was teaching. So suddenly I went from a Tuesday post-work class to a Friday lunchtime class and that's a whole OTHER set of new people and a whole other routine in my day and you know what? It ended up being even better than the original time. Now, my extra-long Friday lunch is my treat at the end of the week, and if you'd told me a year ago that my end-of-the-week reward would involve sweating, I would have probably called to have you committed.

I know, believe me. Going to the gym can give you totally paralyzing middle school panic. You can convince yourself that everyone in the locker room thinks like this chick, that the skinnier pople are judging you, and on and on. And hey, if you do a class or a free trial someplace that you aren't comfortable? That's fine! Don't go back! But also, don't write it off five minutes after you walk in, and don't let your own set of issues - which we all have - deter you from something that could be really great. Give it a little bit of time and try to get comfortable. Do more than one class, more than one day of circuit training on the machines. You don't have to become best friends with that girl in the sports bra, but don't assume that you know what she's thinking, either. The next time you start to talk yourself out of that amazing-sounding adult ballet class, just stop, think about how everything you love had to be done a first time, and don't miss out.


  1. Group exercise classes are the only way K have fun at the gym, but only after I had the revelation that no one there was looking at me (aside from the instructor). No one else cared what I was doing or how I was dancing or whatever. As long as I stayed out of their way, they'd stay out of mine and everyone would be happy.

  2. Not gonna lie: I'm terrified of the gym. And the only time I ever felt comfortable in an exercise class was pregnancy yoga, when we were all in the exact same puffy, uncoordinated boat.

    I am intrigued by this Zumba thing, though. You've inspired me to see if any of my local gyms offer it.

  3. It took me a while to be comfortable entering the area with the free weights at the gym. All those guys walking around like they owned the place. And sometimes walking up to me to correct me on my form - mind your own business, dude! But eventually I decided that I belonged there just as much as they do - maybe more so than the middle-aged dudes that congregate around the leg-press doing six reps interspersed with 20 minutes of shooting the shit. I now walk in, head held high, like I OWN THE PLACE. And therefore, I do.

    Also, Zumba is fantastic.

  4. Daisy, you might also want to see if there's a women's gym you can attend. I'm not anti-coed gyms, but I love the women's center gym we have.