July 09, 2007

First Time at the Gym? How Not To Make an Ass of Yourself

Not everyone likes going to the gym. Or can afford to. Or has a reasonably decent one nearby. But what about all those people who could be having a great time there but simply Fear their Local Fitness Center? The whole idea may seem intimidating and fraught with opportunities for humiliation.

Perhaps you are one of these people yourself. Or maybe you Love the Gym but know someone else who could use some advice and encouragement. If so, please read on for the Top Secrets to Not Looking Like a Total Ass Your First Time at the Gym.

But Why Go to the Gym at All?

Good question! Here's why: because even though exercise is not generally "fun," at least not like sex or chocolate cake or winning the Lottery, at the gym it is often less awful than in some other places. Depending on what options are nearby, there are all kinds of things you can play around with to keep you occupied. They have fancy equipment you could never afford yourself; aerobic classes with pulsing music and perky instructors (or their mellower yoga counterparts); they might have pools to swim in and courts to play on and cute buffed trainers to help you personalize your fitness program. Plus, gyms are climate controlled! In short: if you don't have a wonderful outdoor alternative, gyms can be awesome places to get fit without suffering too much.

However, they can seem awfully scary at first. So to help you ease your transition from Newbie to Suave Gym Rat, here are not just one but two lists of Helpful Gym Tips.

First up, a Grim Cautionary List, to keep you out of trouble.

Ten Things to Avoid Doing So You Don't look like an Ass at the Gym:

1. Don't skip the New Member Orientation. These are almost always offered free of charge. This is a great chance to avoid doing something stupid later, especially since some clubs have their own Weird Special Rules or Peculiarities that are far from intuitive. Plus you need to find out what the deal is with towels and day use lockers and parking and such.

And when you do get Oriented, don't be shy about asking tons of questions. Because when you're done with your tour, there's a good chance that your guide is going to have to go back to handing out towels (non-profits) or trying to extract membership sign-up fees from reluctant future patrons (Big Chains). Give this poor person the chance to feel Smart and Helpful!

2. Don't show up ten minutes late for a class you've never been to before, get in everyone's way, and demand that the instructor explain everything over again just for you. Some new gym-goers seem to be under the impression that class "schedules" are just suggestions. Not true! In fact, if you're new, show up extra early and tell the instructor it's your first time. They like you to do this so they can make sure they don't accidentally kill you.

3. When using unfamiliar equipment that won't seem to budge, don't force or yank things around until you break them. Ask for help. However, this generally means Find an Employee. Don't interrupt other exercisers in the middle of their attempts to bench press huge amounts of weight demanding they assist you. As it happens, most gym rats are actually quite helpful. You can usually just look a little confused and scratch your head and this behavior will often prompt one of them to wander over and inquire as to whether you need any help. But if they don't offer, go find someone who works there.

Also, don't mistake a friendly smile and hello as an invitation to relate your entire exercise history or lack of same. Go ahead and smile and be pleasant--if you're going to be a regular, you may actually meet nice people and become friends. But don't rush it and don't be a motor-mouth. Some people are not looking for pals; they just want to get through their exercise routines and scoot out as fast as possible.

4. Don't use the fact that you'll be showering afterwards as an excuse to show up smelling totally nasty and funky. Fresh sweat doesn't really smell--but old body odor and overripe gym clothes are supremely nauseating to be around.

5. Don't drop heavy weights from great heights or slam things around or make exaggerated grunting or screeching noises. (Natural grunting and sighing and groaning is fine). Don't sing or hum either. Sometimes people who have headphones on do this blissfully unaware of how much it makes others want to toss barbells at their heads.

6. Don't neglect to wipe up sweat after you use the cardio or weight equipment. Local sweat-wiping rituals vary from gym to gym and are not always obvious. You should observe what others are doing--there may be little spray bottles and paper towels off to the side or there may not; you may need to carry a hand towel around with you from station to station.

And even if you're not sweaty or dirty or diseased, at many gyms there are resident Hygiene Queens (of either gender) who will stare icy daggers at you if you don't make vigorous wiping gestures with a paper towel after you are done. This also varies greatly. At other gyms, no one gives a crap.

7. If others are waiting, it may be considered obnoxious to hog weight equipment by doing set after set after set with long rest periods in between. If someone is hovering nearby, staring at you, you might want to let them "work in." However, at other gyms, monopolizing the equipment for hours is a God-given right and considered a sign of seriousness. In these gyms, asking to "work in" will be greeted with open hostility. Try to figure out which kind of gym you're in by watching the natives.

8. Don't jump on cardio equipment without knowing the rules. Often this equipment is popular. There may be sign-up boards of some sort, usually located somewhere inconspicuous so as to embarrass first-time visitors who don't know they exist. If a machine seems to be empty and you hop on without scouting this out first, you may get a rude tap on the shoulder and a curt request to remove yourself. You should also check to see if there's a time limit when machines are all in use--often there is.

9. Don't forget where you put your towel, either in showers or up with the equipment, so that you end up grabbing someone else's by mistake. They all look the same. If someone emerges dripping from shower just as you grab theirs from the most convenient hook nearby, you're not going to be popular.

10. Don't forget to pack the toiletries and other items you will need post-shower; asking to borrow other people's stuff is generally frowned upon. (Unless it's someone you're already friends with.) Commonly forgotten items: deodorant, sunscreen, hair product and clean underwear. And there's just no way anyone's gonna help you with that last one.

Next, however, is a more encouraging list. Because it's easier to be negative than positive, this list is of course way, way shorter.

Things You May Fear Will Make You Look Like an Ass, But Won't!

1. Being fat, old, or a complete novice.

Many people fear gyms for these reasons, anticipating that they will be judged or looked down upon.

But here's a big secret: you get Extra Credit for being old, fat, or new. It's true--when buffed regulars see a shy, slightly bewildered, fat or old person come to their gym for the first time, they generally feel all warm and fuzzy about it. They think it's great that you're there and they admire your bravery. Of course they may try to show off a bit, and they may fantasize that you are impressed with their buffness or their ability to lift heavy things. But they genuinely don't think badly of you--they think goodly of you, because they know how hard it was for you to get here. And then, after a moment or two of warm fuzzies, they forget about you entirely because they have Miles to Run or Heavy Things To Lift.

2. Locker Room Issues.

You don't have to fear the locker room!

Locker rooms may seem scary because nakedness is involved. But the secret here is not just that people don't care what you look like naked. They really don't. But you've probably heard that already and it doesn't help. The real secret is that they also don't care if you're too shy to be naked! It's a very common aversion, especially in female newcomers. (Is it the same in Men's Locker Rooms? Cranky Fitness is in the dark on this point as it does not have a male correspondent.) So if you're modest, don't worry about it--go ahead and bring a little robe or a big beach towel or whatever it takes for you to feel comfortable getting from the locker to the shower, even if others seem quite comfortable parading around in the all-together. Many gyms have private showers as well as public ones, and if you're fearful, try to find one of these. You may find, as you get more used to being there, that you actually don't give a crap if a bunch of other naked people see you naked. Or not. Either way, don't let it scare you away from the gym you might otherwise be quite blissfully happy in.

So do readers have any more tips or fears or Horrible or Wonderful gym experiences to share? All comments are, as usual, very appreciated!

97 comments:

  1. I have come to the conclusion that I am *not* a gym person.

    I've joined a couple of gyms and always with, of course, the best of intentions. Each time, worked hard and waited for that high people assured me I'd get. They would tell me, as soon as you get this into your routine, you'll love it, you can't live with out it. It becomes part of you.

    Uh. No. I never loved it, I never felt I couldn't live without it and no, it didn't become part of me. I tried - I really did. Just not me.

    My husband, on the other hand, goes several times a week and doesn't like to miss it. Good for him. He's a much better person than I am. But I'm cuter. :-)

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  2. I'm also NOT a gym person. I like the total control that I have while training at home. If I don't want to hear The Black Eyed Peas or Snoop Dogg over and over and over and over and over and over again, then I don't have too! The air temperature at home is right for me. I'll make my own protein smoothie with spinach thank you very much. No one is staring at my ass or boobs :) Privacy to workout in the nude or partially clothed? Woo Hoo! I wake up around 4:30 am or 5 am to run outside. I know it rarely rains that early in the morning when I live.

    I realize that I am lucky in that I have the space for my bench, squat, and weight racks and others may have to use gyms because of lack of space.

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  3. I laughed out loud at the suggestion that you get extra credit for being fat or old (or both)! This is so true.

    I get the biggest greeting when I attend yoga classes because I am as limber as a 2x4, and chunky to boot. I receive the most saccharin encouragement, "You did REALLY well."(As in I didn't fall too many times.) "This class is SUPER tough!" (It's a whole hour long.)"Keep coming back and you'll improve a lot!!" (There's nowhere to go but up.)

    Ahhhh. If only I were old too...

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    1. ha ha im a gym bunny and im constantly looking in the mirror at the big girls that sidle to the bk of the class fantasizing abwt all the encouagement i can give...it is a sort of fuzzy feeling i get through the whole of a kettle class without realizing iv exercised coz it takes up all my thoughts for an hour....ironicly i dnt usually end up saying anything since i feel its bad manners to force yr opinions on to some poor stranger who may be in a rush to get home and see too her kids, too polite to tell u that they dnt share yr enthusiasm for the gym they just want to lose a bit of weight! funny enough they always come bk without my intervesion as big people have usually got to the point of sheer determination that gives them the guts to join in the first place! the ones that dnt come bk are the young thin pretty girls that think coz they are thin the will fly through the class....the giggle for the first half then after spotting thier red sweaty face in the mirror decide to leave in the middle of the class disrupting the class as they do so!

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  4. Hi Marijke--
    You have a mybloglog thingy now, hooray!

    Yeah, I totally agree gyms aren't for everyone. And they get boring just like anything else. There are plenty of other good alternatives out there. (And whoever was pushing the "you'll love your exercise routine" line was WAY overpromising!)

    Hi Goinggone,
    I should do a post in the future on 'why not to bother' going to the gym, because you guys are coming up with some great material! Like yeah, the music. (I also get tired of hearing the same damn boomer songs over and over, even though I grew up with them.)

    And you're right, working out in the nude just isn't very practical at the local Y!

    Hi anonymous!
    That's very funny. But also very encouraging, and I hope other chunky 2x4's out there are reading this and realizing that they might enjoy a yoga class more than they thought. Good luck with your class & thanks for stopping by!

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  5. I don't have much to contribute on this subject. I don't care to exercise with others and I can't abide by the thought of just how sweaty the equipment is, irrespective of how well wiped it might be. Gyms are fine places and I'm all for them for everybody else. Darned interesting post, though, Crabby.

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  6. I used to go to a place that only offered aerobics classes. I loved it. There were no showers involved. I loved that part! Everyone came slightly skanky, left totally gross and showered in the privacy of their own home. SPLENDID!!!

    There were definitely protocols and I can relate to some on your list...come early or on time..I would hate when people would show up late and then expect eveyone around them to inform them what equipment they needed, and move aside so they could reach said equipment. ARGH!

    Also, follow the rules even if you don't want to or don't understand them. I took step classes there and we had one class that was a shared step class. I loved it. It was a blast. You did some steps on your own step and then you would work on all the steps of the people around you. It was a riot and a real mental workout as well as physical. The problem was you would get women that wouldn't line their steps up in the necessary pattern so that you could step up on their steps when it was time! OOOH that made me so mad! Now if you have never taken a step class, this probably makes no sense whatsoever, but I just had to vent because I hate gyms, got all worked up and wanted to vent. So there.

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  7. Hi Leah,
    So the "not exercising with others" I would have guessed, but the sweaty equipment thing surprised me! I have pretty low standards for such things, and once it's dried off I don't even think about it.

    And hi Holly,
    What a great comment! I can totally relate to the Step thing, though the class I was in years ago had no step-sharing. But I do find that things that are somewhat irritating in a normal state are twice as irritating when you're all hyped up and working out. That same "charged up feeling" than can be a high can fuel a pretty good fury when someone does something selfish or obnoxious.

    And please, vent anytime, that's totally what Cranky Fitness is for!

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  8. I'm a gym rat but haven't always been. I used to have the "but they'll look at me and I realize I don't belong here!" complex. One day Molly just looked at and said, "Uh, no offense Katie, but NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOU! It's the gym! Everyone is WAY too busy looking at themselves!" Well, I got over myself and now am an addict.

    I agree about the "being old, fat or a complete novice." Not only because I once was a complete novice, but I do find myself having those warm fuzzies for the really overweight guy in the baseball cap or the reeeeally old lady with the unnaturally dyed hair. I can't help it, I'm always thinking, "You go girl!" and hope I see both of them again soon.

    Great post Crabby!

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  9. Great lists!

    I especially love #5 and #6 on the "don't" list. Men who show up and start grunting and slamming weights around might as well be wearing a sign saying, "I'm an idiot, but I'm going to show you what studly stuff I'm made of."

    No one is impressed. Got it? Not one bit.

    But if you're not doing anything obnoxious, it's true that no one notices what workout the other person is doing or what they're wearing or not wearing in the locker room!

    Here are a few Don'ts for the pool:

    1. Check the protocol for what to do when all the lanes are full. I've never been to a pool that didn't allow lane-sharing, but some pools disallow circle swim and insist you split the lane and each keep to your own side.

    2. If all the lanes are full and someone wants to share yours, let them. This is NOT the time to decide to work on your butterfly stroke, 'K?

    3. If you're a new swimmer, fantastic! We love you! But if you can't yet swim the length of the pool and keep to half a lane, don't come during peak swim hours. This is for your safety and ours. Come at a non-peak time when you can have a lane all to yourself and can focus on your form without being swam over and under, knocked into the rope and have waves splashed in your face.

    4. Peak swim time is also not the time for pool running or water aerobics, unless the pool has specifically scheduled a class for that time.

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  10. Hi Crabby - just letting you know I just added a photo for the cookies I made (no fat no sugar -- yummy!!! I can't wait to make them again!)

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  11. Hi Crabby,
    Dugg you, Delicious'ed you, reddit you and Magnolia'ed you. :)

    I even featured this article on my own blog because I thought it was very cool. Although I did disagree on a couple of points.

    Oh, and the men's locker room can be just as tough on someone who is a bit shy.

    Gal

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  12. The only gym in my neighborhood is simply one large room full of equipment with a huge window in the front facing the shopping center. It's pretty much a free show for anyone going into the supermarket next door. I considered joining, but I feel way too self-conscious to work out my flabby unfit self "on display."

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  13. From the corner of an aerobics instructor....

    Some more Don'ts for the aerobics room:

    1. Don't talk through the entire class. Maybe one of your friends is there who you haven't seen in ages. Maybe you just had the best sex of your life, or got your dreamed of promotion. I don't care. It's very distracting for the instructor and other people in the class. Instructor's aren't on automatic pilot, if we're distracted, we may call the wrong thing and mess up the entire class.

    2. Don't think that your way of stacking the equipment is the best way (listen to the instructor, or at least watch what everyone else around you is doing). Yoga people don't appreciate when a massive pile of steps falls on top of them during class because the step people didn't stack their things properly.

    3. Don't get fed up, overwhelmed and leave. As with anything else, aerobics takes time to train your body to do. You're not going to be able to show up for a step class and necessarily know what's going on by the end. So just keep going until you learn the calls.

    4. Don't be afraid to give feedback to instructors. Surprisingly, very few people do this. Now, we're not going to appreciate "dude, that class was awful, you shouldn't ever teach another one." But, if you say you didn't like a particular move, it's probably because the instructor didn't teach it well and it needs work.

    I used to be a seriously non-exercise person. I did a bare minimum in high school and college, and didn't get to gyms until after I graduated. But I find that I do much better in settings where there are other people there to motivate me (it also helps that I couldn't care less about the sweat and germs on equipment, there's no way to get around them). Some people do much better with solo exercise. Find your thing and stick with it, and tell that "friend" who's pressuring you to do it their way that they can just go bark up a tree.

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  14. Hi Katieo,
    I love when Molly gives you a hard time! You girls totally crack me up.

    And I'm glad you get the warm fuzzies too--I think so many regular gym goers do, but so often the people they're directed act don't realize it!

    Bunnygirl, what a great list! I'm not a swimmer, but if I ever started, that would be very handy. (I'd be the clueless one nearly drowning in the middle of the lane and getting in everyone's way--good point about the peak hours.)

    Hi Lady Rose--cool! I'll be over later to check them out.

    Hi Gal!
    Thank you SO much--both for writing the post and for the Digging etc! I'd like to return the favor sometime too, as you always have great posts. I shall be over to your place later to thank you in greater detail!

    Peggy,
    That sounds like, well, kind of a boring gym. But if it's reasonably priced and has some good equipment, it doesn't seem quite fair that you should have to skip it because of what others might think looking through the windows--and they'd probably be thinking, wow, I should be in there doing that too!

    And welcome, Lethological reader! What a great list--and I've never heard advice from the teacher's perspective, which is quite interesting. And great point about "find your own thing." We're truly all different in what works for us. Thanks so much for visiting--now I'm off to the dictionary to look up your user name!

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  15. Wow, that's a super, comprehensive and informational post on gym-going! I haven't been a member of a gym in a long time, but you give excellent advice to both gym newbies and long-time gym rats. :)

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  16. "Natural groaning and grunting and sighing is fine"!

    Are you sure we're at the gym, here Crabby?

    And Peggy - you get your "unfit self" out in the middle of that window display and go for it! I bet there are dozens of folk in your neighbourhood all thinking the same thing. You'll have loads of company in no time as you become the local trend setter!

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  17. So the gyms here in England all seem to have five million private changing stalls. Which I think is good for those who have religious reasons for requiring privacy or are just more comfortable that way. But, one day I saw a woman go into one, and then come out in the SKIMPIEST bikini ever. I wasn't actually sure she was wearing anything. It made me laugh. I hope she didn't realize I was laughing at her, and not the voices in my head.

    Oh, and I hate treadmills. Did I mention that? I. HATE. TREADMILLS!!

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  18. Here's the strange thing...I am a gym person. I don't care what people think...I'm not intimidated by the beef-cakes...and I love being there!

    BUT>>> getting there is my biggest dillema.

    I think I'll write about it.

    THANKS! for the idea!

    Sylvia C.
    PS- you are a hoot and a holler and you are my favorite funny writer.

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  19. Thomma Lyn,
    Thanks! Well, with the beautiful area you live in for nice walks, and the amount of writing and blogging you do, I'm not surprised that you wouldn't be spending time inside a gym!

    Hi Dawn,
    Don't know if makes it sound more or less attractive, but yes, grunting and groaning and sighing are all quite common in gyms. Sounds a lot more fun than it is. And I agree, let's get Peggy into that window display so she can inspire all her neighbors!

    NoraBarnacle--Interesting, because the UK "private dressing rooms" versus the US "walk across a huge locker room lined with mirrors totally naked" sort of fits my stereotypes of our cultural differences. While I'm generally a more reserved UK sort of Yank, for some reason I got completely used to the naked thing (in locker room, just locker rooms!) and it doesn't bother me at all anymore.

    And tell me, I'm curious about how you feel about treadmills?

    Sylvia,
    You're always so sweet! And I'll be curious about your thoughts about how to get yourself to the gym. Sometimes that's the hardest part. (I had the best luck when I lived in NYC right on top of a gym and didn't even have to leave the building to get to it).

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  20. I usually tell those intimidated by an indoor environment such as a gym to go out and get a cheap bike or go play frisbee in the park with friends. If they cannot develop a certain level of awareness of what their bodies are capable of, they are always going to be intimidated in the gym.

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  21. Hi Crabby,

    Thanks for yet another interesting and funny post.

    I am a group exercise addict. I like the energy that comes from being in a group setting; I like having someone else figure out the music and the routine for the day; I like having a set time to show up and a set time to be finished. In step classes, I like using my brain, which keeps me from noticing that I'm winded or tired.

    I realize that group exercise (especially the choreographed stuff) can be intimidating, so I just have one bit of advice: take the class three times before you decide whether you like it. Three really does seem to be a charm. The learning curve really does seem to level out during that third class. Sometimes the very lack of familarity that initially makes the class scary turns in to the thing that makes it interesting over the long haul.

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  22. Hi Gopi,
    Outside exercise is always a great choice, and you're right, it's often cheap or free. But sometimes people do gradually learn to get more comfortable with their bodies in the gym, though it can take a little while. Thanks for visiting!

    Hi Group Exerciser!
    Your great comment reminds me of all the things I used to like about aerobic and step classes--perhaps I'll have to think about getting back to it some day (knee issues though).

    And you make a great point about hanging in there a little to catch on to the steps. I am a total klutz and could never learn line dancing, but step classes seemed designed to be a little easier to follow. But it definitely took a number of classes to feel totally comfortable.

    Thanks so much for your visit!

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  23. Great article. Another couple of don'ts for the pool:

    Don't use the pool as your personal bathtub. If you've been working out for a while and have worked up a sweat, you need to shower before jumping in the pool. Believe it or not, regular swimmers will detect your skunkiness and glare at you if they haven't passed out.

    Don't assume the one other person swimming in the pool will watch your kid while you chat up the girl in the hot tub. Your kid is your responsibility.

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  24. You know earlier I totally cheated -- I came and stumbled you without reading this; why cause I can and in the middle of launch day AND I had no doubt you'd write a good post.

    Now that I actually have time I came back and read this and you're right -- this post is very sharable. I think it's one of the best posts you've done. I love #5 -- I always sing to myself (not at the gym mind you) but at stores, etc. People likely hate me -- but it was really funny to read.

    I do have the whole don't want to go to the gym phobia I feel more comfortable working out at home or with my son. I just feel funny like I'm on show when I exercise in front of people. I'm not on the fence -- I won't go, you can't make me.

    I think this is the perfect post though, to push those who are on the fence right over the side and drop them down at the gym.

    I'm telling you -- if you aren't a famous author of something someday I'll, um, let's see...Well, okay I don't know what -- storm the publishing biz? Seriously, best you've done.

    Long story short I done stumbled you again. Twice, let me know if it shows up or something?

    Also, I suggest a post on blog addicts. Which is surely what I am. I've been blogging all day and what do I do when I'm done. Go visit you and others (it's like a disease). Okay shutting up now.

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  25. I'm a lier -- ya know, I know you're into book writing and all but this would be the perfect article for a magazine; not like shape or self but a nice woman's mag... I'm just saying.

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  26. It's true that being a beginner, fat, old... doesn't gather criticism. Or so seldom that it's really just a drop of water in that huge ocean of a bucket. I've never had any problems regarding that, nor have other people around me, or even complete strangers at the gym. Generally, people are either lost in their own workouts, or pretty ready to help, but nothing else. :)

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  27. Unfortunately that list displays the difference between a gym and a fitness center. That list is totally true for a fitness center. You have three rules devoted to the fear of sweat and how to manage it. In a gym, we don't worry so much. You rule giving circuiters more precedence that people doing sets is lame too. Just because I do sets doesn't mean you have some special right to mess up my timing. Instead, try not using every piece of equipment in the gym, once for every workout.

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  28. Well, since you asked, I'll tell you. I flippin' hate treadmills! (I apologize for being unclear earlier. I promise to try to do better in the future!)

    Yeah, I do still think in some ways the Brits are more reserved than Americans.(I'm the loud, expressive one in my Anglo-American pairing.) But, not always. You still get those out on the coldest, rainiest Friday night in skirts up to their booties. No coat, because then what's the point, right? I don't feel the need to show off my legs that badly, especially not in the dead of winter. However, I do think it's about personal choice and comfort. I am perfectly happy to be naked in the dressing room, but wearing a bikini in public takes guts. So there you go.

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  29. The fist (and only) time I was dragged to any kind of workout, I was in my early 20's. My best friend (who now does Pilates) took me to her aerobics class. I had NO idea what I was doing. A day or two later I had horrible bum pain. Not knowing what could be the trouble (and being pretty scared), I went to my doctor. I had a thrombotic 'roid the size of a garbonzo bean. I was a young,trim, healthy twenty one...what kind of strenuous activity had I been doing?? Hm. Just the One-Time Aerobic Debacle.
    So, not only did I make an ass of myself, I also had a little something FROM my ass to show for it.

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  30. Hi Uneasy Rhetoric!
    Welcome, and thanks for more great pool rules. I wouldn't have guessed about the showering--I know they have those signs about showering first but I figured that was cheat-able since the pool is full of chlorinated water. Good thing I'm not a swimmer!

    Jennifer, you crack me up!
    Thanks for all the encouragement. I've done a brief mention of blogitis but need to do a big ol' post as soon as I get my own under control. I'd like it to be more of a helpful "success story" than a plea for help!

    Back in a minute...

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  31. Hi Kery!
    I totally agree--it's just too bad some people avoid the gym because they're afraid of all sorts of imagined judgments being made.

    Hi Mike,
    Good point--there are environments where the customs and rules are totally different. Yours sounds like the kind of hard core place I frankly never feel very comfortable in. Yeah, I meant the kind of more general-purpose kind of fitness center. That would actually make an interesting article, the distinction between the two cultures.

    Norabarnacle,
    I'm with you--I'm fine in public showers but haven't been in a bikini since I was twelve!

    Hi SnarkyB,
    Ha, that's (painfully) funny--who knew that aerobics could have such unappealing side effects? Hope you found something more suitable! Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  32. You've gotta be kidding me with #7. I agree with the others, but I can't rest between sets and still have the machine?? We all rest between sets, it's just a part of training, and it's something that people accept. So I should do a set of bench presses, towel all my sweat off the bench, and offer for someone else to "work in" until I do my next set?

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  33. Hi Erica,
    Thanks for stopping by! Yes, you and Mike have alerted me to the fact that at some places, the rules are completely different about multiple sets! I've tended to go to the sort of less hardcore places where when someone is waiting who just wants to do one set, you're supposed to let them work in if you plan to be doing a bunch. But you're right, that was my mistake--this rule is apparently far from universal!

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  34. Loved this post! I've never been here before, but found it through sk-rt and I just submitted it to Stumble Upon. :)

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  35. Thanks for your response, Crabby :) I definitely agree that if you're taking incredibly long rests between sets, or just sitting there chatting, you should let someone else work through. My thought is just that if your rest period doesn't take much more time than it takes for loading and unloading plates, adjusting the machine height, wiping up sweat, and so on, it seems more efficient just to wait it out. Also, I don't want to have to wait for someone in between sets, because I time my rest intervals so as not to obtain complete metabolic or neural recovery.

    I guess that I can be kind of rude though, especially when doing antagonistic supersets. Like, occasionally I will do the cable pull down, and instead of resting between sets, I'll stay seated on that bench and do a set of overhead DB presses. But with stuff like that, I kinda feel like, it's a gym, and that's how I'm actively using the equipment -- as opposed to sitting on the chest press machine while chatting and drinking water. Hope that makes sense!

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  36. Hi Csara,
    Thanks so much! I really appreciate the help. I don't usually plead for "sharing" in such a pathetic manner, but I thought I'd try it once. That was so nice of you, and thank you so much for visiting.

    Hi again Erica,
    Ah ha, now I understand what the deal is--you are an actual Serious Exerciser who goes to that scary part of the gym where Slackers fear to tread. When you said "move plates" I first started to suspect we were talking about different things, and then when you said "obtain complete metabolic or neural recovery," I knew I was seriously out of my league.

    That was really silly of me to have included the multiple set thing in the list without mentioning that by "machine" I meant the kind for less ambitious people where you just move a little pin up and down, and everyone moves through pretty quickly because they're usually just doing one or two sets.

    I have nothing but admiration for you serious folks, and try to avoid getting in your way when I visit THAT part of the gym, where all the free weights are.

    Thanks for stopping by again and explaining!

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  37. Let's not "underrate" gym training though. As great as having your own home gym is, there is still a certain amount of motivation that can be derived from working out in a space with other people doing the same.

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  38. Crabby, if you ever feel like taking a sip the free weight Kool Aid, I wrote up a routine for beginners. Check it out! http://randomfit.blogspot.com/2007/06/weight-lifting-routine-for-beginners.html

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  39. Good point, FitFriend, it can be very motivating to work out with others!

    And Erika, thanks! This actually looks very sensible and efficient. (Though somehow just the word "Romanian" sounds a bit daunting). I'll bookmark this, and should I ever do a post on free weights, this looks like a really good resource.

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  40. I love this post! So much so that I stole it ... hope ya don't mind :)
    http://www.thatsfit.com/2007/07/11/a-first-timers-guide-to-the-gym/

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  41. Martha,
    Thank you so much! You are, as has frequently been demonstrated, awesome.

    That'sFit is one of my favorite places to hang out and I always really enjoy reading your posts.

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  42. Found this through That's Fit, great post! I do have one suggestion that worked wonders for me -- splurge and buy some time with a personal trainer. They're usually very motivated and will help you get motivated into working out as well. And when you walk in, having a gym employee smile and call you by name makes you feel like you've been there forever (and therefore part of the "in" crowd).

    Kind of lame, yeah, but whatever it takes to get to the gym!

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  43. Welcome nsuga!

    Actually, that sounds like a great idea. I tend to be both too cheap and too ornery to go the personal trainer route myself, but I gather most people really love it and I think it's an especially great way to get started when you're new.

    Thanks for stopping in!

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  44. I hope you give it a shot sometime! I used to be sooo intimidated by the free weights, so I know where you're coming from. But when I started it was a great feeling of accomplishment; one of the best things about working out is doing things you never thought you could before :)

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  45. Thanks for the encouragement, Erica!

    At least I do the machines, but should I ever feel adventurous, it does sound like you can accomplish a lot, and very efficiently, with free weights if you know what you're doing. Appreciate you stopping by!

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  46. As a stay at home mom with little kids, the gym day care is a sanity saver for me. I've lost 55 lbs over the past 8 months so I am in no way a svelte gym rat but here are my tips:

    Don't be intimidated and use it as an excuse not to go - people aren't relly staring at you and snickering - most barely notice your existence. However, you do indeed get props for coming if you are old or fat and most especially if you become a regular and look like you are working hard when you are there.

    That said, my biggest pet peeve is women who blow dry their hair or do their makeup totally naked while standing at the counter. The thought of your pubes touching the counter I could potentially lean into when I wash my hands is gross. You are not at home, so put your underwear on while you beautify yourself.

    Although I don't think anyone is too fat or old to come to the gym, I do mentally roll my eyes a bit to myself if I see the following: people with bright yellow casette- playing walkmans circa 1986 and those who tote their CD players around, or even funnier, have them strapped to their wrist like a giant wristwatch. Open up the wallet and get an mp3 player, you cheapos.

    Tips on what to wear to the gym - all advice is moot if you are a gorgeous hard body - wear whatever you want.

    Get some fitness wear from this decade. It doesn't have to be expensive but I shouldn't feel like I am in the gym with Jane Fonda. Every time I see her, I shake my head a little at the grandmotherly lady at my gym who wears her purple leotard and matching tights.

    - For women: don't wear just a sports bra as your top unless you have a waistine without wrinkly skin, rolls, or pouches of fat. Really, unless you are an authentic hottie hard body just put a torso-covering shirt on.

    - For men: unless you are fairly young and have a muscular rear and thighs, do not wear spandex shorts where I can see every dimple of your flabby, non-existent old man rear. If you must wear spandex, put a pair of basketball shorts over them or wear a really long tee shirt.

    As for shirts to work out in - do not wear your semi-transparent, threadbare, holey 15 year old undershirt to workout in. A clean old tee shirt will do just fine. I would also add if you are really hairy and it extends down your upper arms, don't wear a tank top to workout in.

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  47. Hi Carolyn!
    Wow, 55 lbs in eight months? What an accomplishment! And a lot of very funny additions to the list. (Though I have to say, I love people who are still wearing clothing and using equipment from the 70's/80's/90's. I tend not to keep up to date myself, as I'm cheap and unfashionable, so it always cheers me up to see someone who's actually further behind the times than I am. But I love it that you, like me, love to see new people coming to the gym and working hard, whatever age or shape they may be in. Thanks so much for visiting Cranky Fitness!

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  48. Thank you sooooooo much for writing this article.
    I joined the gym this week after much um-ing & ah-ing. I enjoy jogging but as the nights draw in & not feeling safe while out jogging on my own I decided to sign up (and sitting on my tush all day doesn't help either).
    I'm absolutely terrified as my induction is next week. I'm not sure what to expect, but thanks to your wonderful piece, it's taken some of the fears away.
    I'm not sure as to what I should pack in my gym bag so maybe that could be another article in works (if you haven't done so already).
    Thanks so much & keep on writing!
    S
    xx

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  49. Thanks S!

    Good for you, and good luck on your first trip to the gym! It won't be long before you'll feel like an old hand, but it can be a little scary the first time.

    As to the gym bag--well, depends mostly on if you're changing & showering there and if you've got access to a day locker to stash it in or not. (A good thing to find out ahead of time. Sometimes you may want to bring your own combination lock; other gyms won't let you.)

    Most of the stuff I end up bringing has to do with the changing/showering process. And I do tend to forget my deodorant and sometimes even clean socks or a fresh bra or underwear, which can make for a disgusting post-workout scenario. I actually like it best when I can just go home and shower).

    As for the working out part, for me it's pretty much just workout clothes, a refillable water bottle, and my ipod. The gym may or may not supply workout towels.

    Have a great time and thanks for stopping by!

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  50. I never thought of myself as a "Hygiene Queen" until a chick at my all women's gym taught me the quote - Pink Eye me once, shame on you. Pink Eye me twice, shame on me. Now I wipe cardio machines off before and after I use them.

    Please add this to your next list -If you are terribly sick do not come to the gym. If you get us sick we will never forgive you. Seriously you are a leper until you stop coughing and hacking all over the US Magazine.

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  51. Great list - One thing I'd add - go light on the perfume or aftershave. Got stuck next to a guy who had marinated in his aftershave before starting his workout - clouds of aramis or whatever he was wearing surrounded him - had to stop using the treadmill and move to the eliptical to get away from the smell. :0)

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  52. It's always funny to watch men at the health club. They will life a bunch of weight really fast then strut in front of the women.

    Funny to watch.

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  53. I could never understand why some women are so fearful about changing and showering in the WOMEN'S locker room?

    Just like was mentioned in this thread, no ones even looking at you anyway, plus we all have the same parts.

    Speaking as a strictly STRAIGHT woman, I have to admit that I like a "nude locker room." It can be kind of fun to be able to walk around nude with just the girls. And again, yes, I'm strictly a STRAIGHT woman.

    Angie

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    2. It's not about being straight or gay. It's about being naked; vulnerability. A lot of people just don't have the confidence to bare it all. I know this is a really old post and you may not read this, but honestly...I have not been comfortable being nude in women's locker rooms since I was a child in elementary school. Truth is, people (kids, especially) can be brutal about one another's bodies, nude or not. If one hates what one looks like naked, why on earth would one put it on display? Just my two cents. You seem to believe that gay people are the only ones who don't mind nudity, which is a little strange. All of us shy ladies WISH we could be that bold.

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    3. Now let's see where this comment will land...
      Leah, I am in complete agreement with you and I am delighted you posted this comment. I left a whole bunch of them a few days ago but they all showed clustered at the end, making me seem like a lunatic, who was writing random things, out of context.

      I've always been extremely shy regarding nakedness and I had to change in and out of a swim suit twice and sometimes three times a day, for decades. Though I had no self image issues. I practically take a shower in my swim suit even NOW!!! So yeah, the "me thinks...." comments baffled me too and pretty much said so.

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    4. I also prefer a mostly or fully nude locker and shower room. I swim regularly so I have to get naked to change and shower before and after swimming. It is so much easier to simply take off my bra and panties or swimsuit and go naked to the shower room, let my body breath, and dry off nude before dressing. I got over the shyness thing when I did a semester in Europe. First time in a shower room I froze when I saw five fully nude women in the open shower room. I knew simply had to strip down naked and not be odd woman out. The nudity was liberating for me, and I have gone nude ever since, but I do not like to be the only nude, just as I did not want to be the only prude. Get used to being au naturel. You will be as naked as those very courageous actresses in the Take That Waltz shower scene - everything on show and be proud of it and relax - we are all women. And yes, sometimes I talk away to my nude friends in the shower.

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  54. Some of the things we can witness at the gym are hilarious. It's funny to watch how differently various age groups behave at the gym.

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  55. Loved the recent post with just a few small issues I'd like to whine about.
    I LOVE going to the gym, thank god, but there are things that irk me no end....sometimes to the point of altering my workout or leaving. Remember, these things are mixed in with a little or alot of perimenapausal irritation:
    1. Talking on cell phone!!!! I can't believe it wasn't mentioned sooner. Picture this: I'm in my zone a million miles away and all I can hear in my head is the person next to me talking to their coworker about office drama. I find it hard to believe this couldn't wait until their workout is done.
    2. PJ pants are not workout atttire. I have enough problems being self conscious about what I look like and what I'm wearing. No, its not the gorgeous girl with the perfect body that irks me. Its the one who thinks its OK to wear sleepwear out in public.
    3. Wookboots for footwear. Along the same lines as above with a urban twist. These guys just look stupid.

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  56. So funny!! But, also very true. You are keeping us all socially acceptable Cranky...thank you for that! :-)

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  57. Terrific post. I'm struggling to get there but Carolyn is what scares the crap out of me. Oh, and the superfit guy who glares at me because I seem to be using the equipment he wants and he is clearly Worthy.

    And yes, I know I'm late to the party.

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  58. Im going gym for the first time.... and im really fucking scared!

    will let ya no how it goes

    im 2 nervous 2 even speak on the phone 2 the gym!!!

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  59. Not re-racking your dumbbells is one of my biggest pet peeves. A guy at my gym was doing heavy dumbbell bench presses and left about 1000 pounds laying around. It was unbelievably inconsiderate to the other members.

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  60. hi...just joined the gym...its my first week...Im so confused about the exercise group, dying to join but they all looked pro..its like it will look obvious that Im a newbie if I join coz cant follow the steps yet...

    Im into threadmill and other cardio machines there...Im quiet shy to use the resistance machines coz I might look stupid...

    I need some encouragment...whats the perfect exercise routine for a 75kg who wants to lose 10 kg in 6 months...Im not really a gym buff but my husband is, I just want to prove to myself that I can lose weight and discipline myself esp when it comes to food...thanks guys!

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  61. hi hotmamma!

    That's so great that you've joined a gym! I know how intimidating it can be at first, especially classes where everyone looks like they know what they're doing. (Trust me, they all had to start off feeling as foolish as you do now, so no one is judging you!)

    If they don't have free orientations to the equipment at the gym, you might want to think about a couple of sessions with a personal trainer-- or can you get your husband to show you some basic moves?

    Classes, though scary at first, are also a great way to learn. And there are some good books on weight training out there too. There's a begining strength training post on the sidebar of this blog too that has some additional resources.

    Even if all you do is show up and walk on the treadmill for a while, that's a great start while you figure the rest out. Getting there is half the battle, and if you can build that habit you're well on your way!

    Congrats for getting active and healthy!

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  62. I just joined up w/my gym and they have all sorts of classes there, I started doing some of them and they're so happy I came in because I'm new, and said it'll take awhile to learn the routines, and still haven't checked out the steam room thing...but I mostly go to the gym just for the classes only...crazy huh?

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  63. I usually work out at school (still in colegio) but I'm home for Christmas and I've eaten enough to end world hunger in the last three days so I figured I'd find a free gym pass on the internet and get out there. Glad to know mine wasn't a dumb question. I googled, "What is the gym like?" I also googled "does the gym provide towels," but didn't get an explicit answer. Thank you anyway, really helpful article.

    -Karen

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  64. Great stuff!

    I'm far too terrified (and broke) to join a gym. At 5'8" and 250#, I could use one. Bad experiences with the rec center when I was in college led to me not wanting to EVER set foot in one again!

    But it turns out that I really want to get back into some of my clothes, but I also really like donuts. So something has to give, hence the nosing around the 'net.

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  65. Awesome! Being Fat, Old, & a Novice is a giant hurdle to climb over (with much grunting and crying), but I am ready!

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  66. lovely article - positive, refreshing but not cloying nor saccharine..any other posts?(maybe i should look..!)

    as a regular gym goer of the male species i totally relate to the encouragement initially felt when i first started going..my fears of looking an ass / jock bullying never became remotely apparent, and i share the same 'go you' feeling when i see soeone obviosuly new and tentative.

    i visit a pretty big, chain-type gym and it works for me..i also exercise in other ways both on my own (cycling) and in a team (soccer)..the gym is a good, intense-as-you-like place tto push yourself towards whatever it is you want...my only advice is if you sign up then go..dont waste yer money ; )

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  67. lovely article - positive, refreshing but not cloying nor saccharine..any other posts?(maybe i should look..!)

    as a regular gym goer of the male species i totally relate to the encouragement initially felt when i first started going..my fears of looking an ass / jock bullying never became remotely apparent, and i share the same 'go you' feeling when i see soeone obviosuly new and tentative.

    i visit a pretty big, chain-type gym and it works for me..i also exercise in other ways both on my own (cycling) and in a team (soccer)..the gym is a good, intense-as-you-like place tto push yourself towards whatever it is you want...my only advice is if you sign up then go..dont waste yer money ; )

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  68. I am a 21 year old at 5'4" and 250lbs, so not in the best shape at all. I was (still am) worried about going to our new campus rec center when it opens in January, but this article and a lot of the comments have given me a bit more courage when I do finally get into the gym. I hope I give someone the warm and fuzzies, as well as lose my extra weight!

    Thanks again for the helpful and humorous article and all of the encouraging comments.

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  69. Thanks for stopping by, Ravosava!

    I think it's great you're giving the new rec center a chance. Sometimes it takes a couple of visits to get comfortable, but I bet pretty soon you'll be a regular gym rat. Sometimes it's a pain in the ass to get motivated, but the rewards are SO worth it.

    Good luck!

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  70. Great advice! I just love walking. It is easy and sustainable. I usually get at hour in everyday but sometimes I just don't feel like doing it. But on these days I go for 20 minutes because it is so important.

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  71. Here's the strange thing...I am a gym person. I don't care what people think...I'm not intimidated by the beef-cakes...and I love being there!

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  72. Thank you! I am close - but not quite there yet - to my first EVER gym visit. I am 40, shy, overweight and soooo desperate to go to the gym it is unreal. Your article is so helpful - and the tips of the other readers are so helpful.....

    I'm almost there - but not quite....you have helped!

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  73. Just started the gym and could really relate to your post. I got a few of the fuzzy looks and felt quite self conscious. Now I don't feel so weird anymore.
    I was also wondering (while I was watching everyone else, "geez all they're doing is watching themselves in the mirror! Is that normal??? Now, I realise, it is!
    Great one by the way.
    Love all the advice from your readers too!

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  74. Great article....it would be helpful as well to see a more expanded discussion on locker room etiquette, so I'll add my piece.

    I'm not a first-timer to gyms....I'm 43 and have been going to them since I was in college, so that's over 20 years now. I've been through college chains, small chains, the Y, and numerous big chains such as Gold's and 24HR Fitness, which I currently belong to.

    In the locker room, I have a routine....I come back from workout, open locker, stake out end of bench with bag (because the floor's wet and gross), hit shower for a quickie, then dry off and get dressed. I don't put the bag back in the locker because it seems unnecessary and it's never seemed like a big deal....plus I don't want to be dripping wet while I fondle around with a lock.

    I went over 20 years without having anyone touch my bag or stuff. However recently I've noticed a pattern where I'll come out of the shower to find my belongings have been moved so someone can take over my space on the bench. Bear with me here....I don't take up entire benches, and seek out less crowded spots, but I still run into this sort of thing. It's happened 3-4 times now since 2010.

    Perhaps some folks would blow this off, but I see this as a hardline breach of locker room etiquette. I abide by a simple rule that I learned in Kindergarten: don't touch another person's stuff unless you ask. Period. For over 20 years, this was the case in gym locker rooms, and it was honored. Now I'm running into a pattern where it isn't.

    The first time, I was so in shock I didn't know what to say....I'm pretty sure I know who did it, as they were in the space I was using on the bench. I decided at the time that it was an isolated occurrence and the person was probably new.

    Then, it happened again. This time I asked the person if they'd moved my bag. They said they did, and started attacking me for "all the room it was taking up." In truth, it was on the edge of a bench that's 5-6 feet in length, so it was taking up a third of the space....and even with other benches vacant in the vicinity, they not only took it upon themselves to move my bag - but get in my face after I asked about it (directly, but nicely).

    I gotta say that I'm at an impasse on this one. Perhaps this is something for newbies to take note of, although this touches more on personality and entitlement issues than anything else....and these are men who seem like educated, normal Joes. It's not like it's a gym that's located in the hood either, this is suburbia.

    Anyone else run into this sort of thing? Please chime in and advise the masses, including myself.

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  75. I JUST SIGNED UP AT A GYM FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY LIFE (SOON TO BE 50). HAVE NOT HAD THE ORIENTATION YET, SHOULD BE SOON. HAVE ONLY USED THE TREADMILL SO FAR AND CAN'T WALK PROPERLY WHEN I GET OFF, WHAT IS THAT ALL ABOUT?

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  76. Thank you for this!! At 33 I have never stepped foot in a Gym, and have finally decided to sign up, and I'm so daunted by it, so its nice to have a little inside info!!

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  77. Hi, today is my first time going at the Gym and i don't really feel too good about it. But am motivated and i hope to make changes in my day to day life.

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  78. Good for you Missy! GETTING yourself there is a major step even if you don't do anything more than find the locker room the first time. Bonus if you walk on a treadmill!

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  79. I'm new, fat, and black..so I'm a Lil intimidated about going my first time. Feels like everyone is staring and judging. But hopefully you guys are right, plus I'll have my boyfriend there with me so it shouldn't be to bad.

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  80. Hi politegurl,sure hope you have a great gym experience. The gym NEEDS more politegurls, in my opinion! Best of luck!

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  81. i joined the gym three weeks ago. afriend who is a gym junky suggested i join the gym. i have never been to a gym in my life. at 32 i needed to start somewhere. i started out going with my friend and have not yet been to the gym on my own. since reading this blog i feel i have the courage to go to the gym tomorrow.

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  82. thanks for the advice. i'm headed tomorrow for my first time.

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  83. Ooooh, there is a gym right near my work.. I want to join it so bad, I would go there every day, but I am not just shy, I am SUPER SHY. I am the most awkward and shy ever. I need a buddy to join with. BUT I HAVE NO BUDDIES WHO WANT TO WORK OUT.
    I HAVE NO BUDDIES.
    What do I do???

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  84. Today is my first day at gym. I am going to the gym located within my company for employees' use only.
    I loved this article. Some points are so funny and made me laugh so much. Thanks a lot.

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  85. It has been a while since the last comment..But there is one thing about my gym I find really irritating: it is the mirrors.

    I understand that some people find mirrors useful when they lift weights and do other exercises that require a proper posture etc. But what about the mirrors in front of the cardio machines?! Who needs them? Why would people want to look at themselves whilst running for 30-40 even 60 minutes? I find the mirrors awkward and wished my gym would remove them.It's not that I have a problem with my body I just don't see why they are necessary.

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  86. I love this post! I am going to a guy tomorrow for a 'tour and taster session'. I've always been fairly slim but a new job in an office that started 1 1/2 years ago has finally started to take it's tole. I was honestly worried about walking in there and being surrounded by beautiful skinny girls and hulking men and suddenly feeling so utterly small... I was looking for tips for a first time guy goer and hey presto! Thanks for the fantastic tips!

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