Come February, it’s all clear once more. The flocks have lost interest. Presumably, they’ve settled back into more familiar routines, munching on Doritos while keeping up with the Kardashians. Selfishly, I’m relieved. No more sharing in the sandbox. But deep down I wish a few more of the nobly intentioned people could make a longer go of things. No one needs to feel badly about their appearance and then feel like a failure on top of that. I know what it is like for self-esteem to take a beating. “At least you tried” is no consolation.
This is why I humbly offer my own thoughts about how to make a more successful run of striving to get in shape. Bear in mind that I have no training in kinesiology or any other fitness-related domain. No doubt, I do a lot of things wrong. But I’ve exercised regularly for the last twenty-five years in all sorts of gyms (and outdoors). I have some perspective. Here goes:
(1) You belong. It’s difficult walking into a new gym, especially if you are out of shape. You are immersed with the regulars who can be quite territorial about “their gym”. They don’t look up. In the best of times, they grunt. They are focused on their established routines—and the incoming texts on their phones. It feels like they want to break you. They are absolutely bearish: Who’s been sitting on my bench?
Really, you simply don’t exist to them. And that can be a good thing. The most in-shape people aren’t judging you. Just watch them. If they look up, it is only to check themselves out in the mirror.
(2) Step right up. January is particularly hard to elbow your way into a gym. Mondays are the worst. Many a time, I’ll walk into the gym and consider turning right around, walking out and going surfing instead. Couch surfing. Bless whoever came up with that term. Surfing is such an active way to pass time. Why distinguish?
In its most crowded moments, the gym can look like there is no open space. It simple requires stopping and scanning. Find something. Anything. It doesn’t have to be part of your brand new routine that was created for you during that free, one-time session with a highly disinterested personal trainer. If there’s a mat, take it. Do those sit-ups you used to do in high school. Who cares if the form has since been proven to require corrective back surgery? This is for five minutes, not the next five years. Stretch if nothing else. Just identify a teensy space, mark it as yours and do something. In time, a machine or a barbell will open up. Then you can pounce on it without any residual muscle pain. You’re sufficiently stretched, after all.
(3) Go easy. I know there are people who say that all that soreness you feel from a strenuous workout is a good thing. It’s your muscles waking up. That’s what you want. But, no, that’s not really what you want. Not at the outset. Achy muscles make it easier to skip the gym the next day. And the day after that. Before you know it, a week has passed and you’re not into the gym at all. You’re three seasons behind on “Downton Abbey” and it’s really starting to get good. Binge-watching sounds more appealing. After “Downton”, then “Dr. Who” and “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” and “Transparent” and, well, you can probably find the entire library of “The Beverly Hillbillies” somewhere. Jethro was awfully hunky. Nine more months pass before you have the nerve to cancel your gym membership. An expensive mistake, that’s what it all was.
I suggest beginning with shorter, easier workouts. Twenty minutes, thirty tops. Don’t be the least bit self-conscious about sharing your dumbbells with that ninety-two-year-old woman with the walker. I’ve already said it,…you belong.
You are in this for the long-term. A few impressive workouts with gawk-inducing heaving sounds isn’t going to tone your body or add muscle. You’ll only want your gym relationship annulled as your calf muscles cramp up with excruciating pain in the middle of the night. If it takes three weeks to establish a routine, then be patient. Go weak, go light for twenty-one days. Get to know the layout of the gym. Get a better understanding of how all this pseudo sweating impacts your laundry day. Discover your signature doodle in the margins of that Workout Journal you bought at the dollar store.
Only after this routine is set should you start to add on five pounds of weights and five minutes in time. Build up gradually. You won’t get to be that buzzy New Year’s resolutionist at the office who loses fifteen pounds in January, but you’ll still be working out in July when she’s regained all that weight and then some. (Poor thing, another summer with a self-imposed swimsuit ban.) Remember, this is a long-term thing. Come next January, you want to be like me and the other regulars, irked by all these naïve newbies who think a gym membership is all that’s required to get in better shape.
Best of luck to you! As cranky as I get in that first month of every year at the gym, I want to see you stick it out. I won’t dare make eye contact—I still am plagued by moments of feeling like I don’t belong—but just know that I am in that gym too and I am rooting for you.