Let’s start this blog post out with the one important fact: I am not a fitness expert. Oh no, if you have come here to find out how to whip your butt into shape, you will be sorely disappointed. I am, however, a practicing expert in awkwardness. I take awkward to a level you’ve only seen in your worst nightmares. Because I have been perfecting this art for so many years, I am also excellent at assessing the risk for awkwardness in any given situation, and reducing that risk. This doesn’t mean adapting or conforming, and it doesn’t mean pretending to be something I am not. It means BLENDING IN… being inconspicuous, finding the middle of the spectrum. Where is the place that has the highest level of potential awkward for me? The gym.
I am not skinny. And I love food. Like calorie-laden, terribly made, full of chemicals and additives, crap food. It’s delicious. However, as I approach 30 at a frightening pace, my body has started rebelling. It is not because I hate my body that I go to the gym, but because I love it and would like to keep it a little longer than I might if left in its current state. Therefore, for the 100th time in my life, I got a gym membership. This brings me to the first tip for reducing awkwardness at the gym:
1. Visit a gym before joining. Meet the trainers, the staff, figure out where everything is and what their policies are for use. This reduces aimless wandering, addressed later, and if you DO forget a rule, someone is going to remind you, and that is embarrassing. Pick a gym whose people make you feel comfortable. If they’re looking down their noses, not very friendly or helpful, and all the people working out could possibly have walked off the page of a fitness magazine, don’t join. Seriously. You’ll refer to them as your motivation at first, but you’ll just end up crying over a sleeve of Thin Mints and fantasizing about one of these gazelles tripping over her own feet as she cranks her speed up to double your pace without breaking a sweat. (PS to the girl on the stair climber today that made it to 30 minutes, I hate you. I died after 3.)
2. Dress appropriately: DO NOT wear street clothes to the gym. Nothing screams “I am a fat fatty newb that will probably eat cake after my half-assed workout” louder than someone who wears street clothes to the gym. It is okay to look awful at the gym. Embrace that opportunity to wear almost-pajamas in public. On that note, pajama pants are NOT workout clothes. My gym actually requires that you wear workout-appropriate clothing.
Equally as ridiculous and annoying is the person who is decked out from head to toe in obviously brand new work out gear that is all color coordinated to bright pink or purple or, God forbid,one of the colors commonly used in highlighter ink. You are trying to get noticed, and you are trying too hard. This is not a fashion show. And we know you don’t come here often. If your body is made like mine (terribly), get a bunch of black pants or leggings, and a few tank tops or t-shirts THAT FIT (neither too big nor too small), some comfortable shoes, and get your sweat on.
3. Bring water and a small towel, and maybe headphones: You NEED water when you work out. You are not a star athlete, so you don’t need some ridiculous sports drink. Additionally, make sure this water bottle is SPILL PROOF. Eff a regular plastic bottle. At some point the cap will be off, and you will kick it over or fumble it onto the floor trying to avoid death by elliptical-induced dehydration. This is the one I use: Contigo. A word of caution, every time I press the button to open the spout, it flicks water into my face. Hold away from face to avoid any snickers and/or dirty jokes.
If your gym has a tv attached to each machine like mine, bring headphones, because watching the tv on silent is both weird and frustrating. If you are a loud laugher, like me, try to avoid hilarious shows or people will stare as you collapse into giggles over The Colbert Report. I snort.
The towel is not too look like a bad ass when you drape it around your neck, or even to mop your sweaty boobs (though it does come in handy for that purpose).The towel is an awkwardness avoiding device. When you are using machines upon which you must sit, you lay this towel on the seat. People will just think you’re cleanly, but this is the real reason: Vagina Sweat. Yes, that is right, nothing is more awkward than standing up and leaving that shiny line of wetness that clearly did not come from just your butt, which would be embarrassing enough. I am so large (and Im really not that large) and working out makes my body so sad that my vagina cries bitter sweat-tears into the cushion of the resistance machines like a stood-up teen on prom night. It’s normal, but still gross. Throw a towel down on that seat, and cry it out Little Miss Hoo-Hoo and best friend, Booty-anne (That’s my butt’s name). Side note: my life is shameful…
4. Have a plan: The most ridiculous people at the gym are the aimless wanderers. They decide to go to the gym for an hour, and spend most of that time walking around, looking at the machines like they’re at JC Penney with their grandma on a Sunday afternoon. Get it together. There are lot of fitness plans online. I like to do cardio, and then resistance machines. One day I do upper body, and the next day I do abs and legs. Do whatever floats your boat.
Here are other things newbs/awkward people do at the gym
- They do 5 to 10 minutes of Cardio – That is a waste of time. If you cannot last longer than this, slow down your pace or try the bike. This is not a race. If you can only do 5 to 10 minutes at a time, that is okay. Don’t pass out. But do more than 5 to 10 minutes total (If your doc is cool with it, that is).
- They Stay at Level or Incline 0 – My pace isn’t very fast, but I am burning a lot more calories and getting a lot more benefits out of my workout than a lot of people that have been working out a lot longer than I have. It’s like I’m trudging through mud, but that is good! Check out this article on Shape.com to understand why it’s so awesome. Don’t get me wrong, you’re doing good stuff regardless, but if you want to be able to run that 5k sooner, press that arrow button! Make sure you’re not leaning back with the incline either, as this defeats the purpose.
- They Never Touch Weights or Resistance Machines: Cardio is awesome, but you show the world you don’t know a thing about your body when you only run on the treadmill. If you want to burn more calories and tone up, do not be intimidated by those contraptions on the other side of the room. There are instructions with pictures on each one. If I can do it, you can do it. Seriously. Some gyms even have a trainer with whom you can make an appointment. They will show you how to safely use the weights. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP! It may seem contradictory to this whole post, but no injury is worth saving face.
- They Don’t Use Enough Weight or Do Enough Reps: You’re not impressing anyone by quickly clanking the weights up and down on the resistance machines, or by benching 100 lbs with ease. You’re also not doing yourself any favors. (Note: Some people do this burn out thing where they do a small amount of weight a bajillion times until their muscles die. Ignore this post if this is your strategy. To each his/her own.) The first time you do a particular exercise, find your max. This is the maximum amount of weight with which you can SAFELY complete one full rep of the motion. This will give you a number with which to start goal setting. Now find the weight with which you can safely complete 8 to 10 reps… and do that 2 to 3 times (sets). Towards the end, you want to struggle. If you’re not feelin’ the burn, you’re not doing enough. If you’re afraid your intestines might fly out of your ass at any moment, you’re doing too much. No one wants to see your entrails.
- They Don’t Set Goals: You’ve got to keep track of what you’re doing and you’ve got to improve. Set baby goals and big goals, and make sure they’re measurable. My current goals are to increase my speed from 3.4 to 4.4 on a Level 7 resistance by the end of March (2014), to do a full 5 minutes on this weird tiny escalator machine without dying by the end of March, and to consistently increase the amount of weight I do on the machines once per month or more. My big goal is to be a size 14 in time for the James Taylor concert in August. That is 150 days away, and I am currently an 18/20. I keep track of all this with an app called Nexercise. I earn points and level up, and since I am a nerd, leveling up is the perfect incentive. I record my weight levels in draft emails on my phone. Whatever. It works for me. A good old fashioned notebook would be fine, too. Seeing your progress in the mirror is harder than seeing your actual progress in a notebook. PS you can’t UNDO a workout with a bad meal, so shut up with that drama.
- They Care Too Much About What People Think: This seems like a total contradiction, I know, but the bottom line here is to make sure you’re doing a routine that works for you, that actually is going to give you results, and do it to it. Screw those judgmental glares you THINK you’re getting, and who cares if someone thinks you look gross. That is on THEM, not you. You are a beautiful creation, no matter what your size. Love your body, and then show it some love. Don’t make it about looks. Make it about health. And don’t fart. Sometimes it’s hard to hold it in at the gym, but think of it as part of your workout and clench that butt. You are a lady! You do not rip it in public, and if you accidentally do, I cannot save you.
Truth is, working out comes easy to some, but for a lot of us it sucks and it’s hard. GOOD FOR YOU! You are starting a very difficult and scary journey. Take these tips, make it less awkward on yourself, and kick that flabby butt into motion. I’ll see you at the gym! And if you want to encourage each other, feel free to message me. Sometimes I need a little push, too. We can be workout buddies, and today I am redefining workout buddy to include helping you to fly under the radar until you’re so sexy it’s impossible.
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