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!