My First Time: Falling In Love With The Gym

For a lot of us, actually DOING anything at the gym is the hardest step. We fear that we’ll look stupid; if it helps, we’re running in place on a belt, biking on bikes that go nowhere and lifting heavy things for fun. I’m pretty sure that to much of the world’s rural population, we all look more or less stupid. Accept it and let’s move on.  Maybe we fear that it’ll be boring, or that we’ll get stuck on the only broken elliptical at the gym and it will all be for naught.  Or, the very best and the biggest paradox, we fear we’re too out of shape for the gym.  Um, what???

When we’re just starting out, getting to the gym is our biggest hurdle. When we start factoring in new trends vs old hat (TaeBo? Soooo 1995), goals like losing weight or toning those arms, plus all the jargon we hear about intensity  (BMR, RMR, RHR, VO2, etc), it is enough to send us running for the hills. Well, maybe calling a cab.  We run funny, and someone might see.

All joking aside, when starting out, our first goal should simply be showing up and committing.  Associate exercise with fun or personal time.  Use time on the treadmill to read your favorite book or magazine – I’d always bring two. Backup plans are a must at the gym. More on that later.  Hit the gym when your favorite show is on.  Almost every gym now has consoles attached to their machines into which you can plug your headphones, so you’re not just stuck watching misspelled transcripts of your favorite show fly across a screen.  Or for iPhone Nation, download a show or movie onto your device of choice and tune in as you press the “START” button.

If you would rather have people to watch for cues but have anxiety, hit up a class and stay in the very back.  Tip: everyone in the back is watching the people in the front, and the people in the front know it and are just trying to not look stupid in front of you (see paragraph 1).  Most gym classes are free with membership, and many boutique studios have cheap(er) or free 1st classes for newbies.  If you hate it, it’s no skin off your back.  And you tried it.  You showed up.

No gym?  No place to go?  No problem!  I’m sure you know someone who does something to work out.  Badger them to be their gym date or to go to a class with them.  You might even know someone who’s an instructor or personal trainer. You know that person that you haven’t seen in eons who posts about their classes or their rad clients on Facebook?  Hit them up.  99.9999% of people in the fitness industry are in it because they LOVE IT. They’d be more than happy to secure you a spot in their class or walk you through a 15/30/60 min “intro to ass kicking” training sesh.  The worst thing you’ll hear back is that you might have to pay for the session or a guest pass.  So what.  Skip the Whole Foods salad bar for one day and use what you already have in the fridge.

I know it is so easy to get caught up in lofty goals when venturing into fitness territory.  But think of when you were first being taught how to write.  You didn’t just bang out perfect grammar and loopy cursive.  You needed to learn how to hold a pencil first.  It’s something we now take for granted — holding a pencil! — and there is no way we could’ve attempted even two words without knowing how to do that.  We can worry about intensity and variety and routines later.  Just get on and go. Do it, then evaluate later if you’ve found something you like.  If you’re looking for perfection, it’s not gonna happen.  And you will probably stop the second a negative thought enters your brain.  It might not be easy; keep going.  It might feel awkward at first; keep going.  For right now, for just this instant, screw trends and screw over-analyzing.  Just take in the experience and evaluate after.

Everyone’s got their Thing, and everyone’s got their In, their “fitness gateway drug”.  My friend Paul LOVES the stair stepper.  Personally, I hate that damn machine.  I can’t really explain why, nor do I want to, because it might be your newfound love and I don’t wanna offend Paul.  But it’s what works for him and what he knows can be his Old Faithful at the gym.  He also loves hikes.  The two mirror each other – it makes sense.  And his love of hiking came after his love affair with the StairMaster was hot n’ heavy.  He got the act of doing it into his body, then conquered duration, then conquered intensity. Now he’s Mr. Hikes-A-Lot.

I don’t use the elliptical much any more, but I am a HUGE advocate of that contraption, which I lovingly refer to as the Lippy.  It’s pretty much the perfect gateway drug into an exercise regime.  My very first time on the ‘Lip, I lasted 6 minutes.  No joke. No typo.  I was one week into my freshman year at college and Oprah was on.  I hopped on, watched six minutes and that was that.  Exhausted.  But it was a no-brainer activity.  And low-impact, so I knew I wasn’t going to hurt myself.  And there was a row of Lippys directly in front of the big screen TV that housed The O every afternoon at 3pm.  I kept coming back.  I got my Oprah fix.  And 6 minutes miraculously one day turned into 16, then 36, then to my surprise and delight, 60.  I started reading fitness magazines.  I ventured over to the free weights on a whim.  The entire row of Lippys was full one day and I had to create a backup plan, a “second choice”, so I stepped onto a treadmill.  And I was hooked — not on one specific thing, but on the idea of fitness and health as a constant in my life.

One more thing.  You’re not “too out of shape for the gym”.  Every single person who looks like they are an elite athlete there started in the exact same place at one point in time.  There is this idea that only fit people go to the gym.  Well, guess what?  I also have a bridge to sell you, along with a small island off of Fiji.  You’re probably focusing in on the folks jumping off tall boxes or bench pressing three times their body weight.  If you soften your view to include the entirety of your surroundings, you’ll find that gym goes run the gamut.  You fit right in.  I promise.  I’ve been the novice in the room and I’ve been the expert.  And I’ve also thought I was the expert then walked into a class and had my ass handed to me on a platter.  Or started out on a run and found that my legs just felt HEAVY underneath me.  Point being, we’re all “advanced” and “beginner” all of the time.  It’s no big deal.

Now, who’s down for some Tae-Bo?

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