What You Didn't Know You Needed To Know About the Gym

I am a gym rat! I love the gym. I love the clank of the equipment, the whirl of the treadmills, the crappy music and even the sometimes weird, flashy outfits. I love it all. Give me some lifting gloves, good music in my headphones and some iron and I'll see you in 1-2 hours! Love it. Love it. Love it.

However, this was most definitely not always the case. I used to feel such anxiety when I went to the gym. I felt like everyone was staring at me, wondering why the fat girl was in the gym. Then, add on top of that, not knowing what the heck I was doing. I felt like a fat fool, and my gym memberships usually collected dust (along with my gym bag) until I finally would cancel them convinced I'd start again later. Maybe New Years, after I had worked out at home for a while and lost some weight first (which also never seemed to happen).

I see it now in my clients. The unease. The feeling that everyone is staring. Convinced they don't belong. They are somehow different. So here's what I know about the gym that may make it easier for you to walk into your own the next time......

You will never know what to do if you don't ask! It is stressful enough to go into a gym where you aren't comfortable without walking in clueless on how to operate anything or even where everything is located to begin with. At the gym where I work part time, we have an amazing program that is free of charge where we will work with members and teach them how to use all the equipment and set them up with different workouts. While most gyms might not have anything nearly this involved, they will probably offer some kind of orientation. You may have to ask for one. Ask! You're a paying member! If they offer nothing, pay for just a single personal training session and ask the trainer to teach you how to use all of the equipment. It'll be the best money you've ever spent in a gym!

The two giggling women on the treadmills are NOT laughing at YOU!....Neither are those men on the other end of the room. This is actually a fear I somehow forgot to have when I was overweight and new to the gym environment but I see it in so many of my clients. People often go to the gym with their friends for two reasons, it is more fun and it is more comfortable because THEY are often self-conscious too. Often, they never look up, only down at the treadmill and at each other. They get in their own little world and cut up and have fun to make the hour pass. They don't even notice you doing squats and, if they do, there's really nothing funny about squats! Unless if you are just doing some kind of bizarre exercise that no one has ever seen before or just in some kind of way trying to draw attention to yourself, I promise, they aren't laughing at you!

Which leads me to my next point. No one thinks it's weird or funny to see an overweight person at the gym. This is what seems to keep overweight people out of the gym the most. However, oddly enough, people almost always feel the exact opposite about overweight people working out. They respect it. Especially if you're really working hard. Okay, I'll admit it, if you sit on a recumbent bike eating a doughnut, they're probably going to judge you. But if you're red faced and huffing and puffing, they're gonna admire the hell out of you!

You shouldn't skip the gym because you've had a bad day. A horrible day is a PERFECT excuse to go work out. Take each stressful moment you've had in your day and sweat it out! Leave every ounce of stress and anxiety on that gym floor! Exercise is THE BEST medicine for stress and anxiety! I am living proof! (In case if you're new to my blog, I cured postpartum depression through exercise and proper nutrition.)

Waiting one more day really does matter. All those days you've been skipping?....They've added up to years! If you work out today, you'll feel so glad you did. You'll look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow, and not feel hopeless. Perhaps the most discouraging thing about being obese is this: You can eat perfectly, work out religiously for an entire month and STILL be obese! It feels like you'll never get to your ideal weight.

In fact, I have to say, having just recently gained about 10-15 pounds and plugging away at them these last couple of weeks, it's sooo much easier than trying to lose 10-15 pounds when I still had 100 to go. This is for a few reasons. First, it's easier in general to move, which makes exercise much more pleasant (or at least tolerable). Second, my hormones are not all out of balance like they were when I was obese which means food and exercise affects my body differently. And, perhaps the biggest motivator, I can work out and eat good for a few days and see results in the mirror and in the way my clothes fit. However, when I was larger, the actual pounds fell off much quicker. I remember I had a friend I would text each Monday after my weigh in with texts like "down 5 pounds this week", "down 7 pounds this week". Now, I'm extremely happy if I can manage to lose 2 pounds in a week. Which doesn't happen many weeks. But, overall, much easier and motivational.
So, in the beginning, when those giant drops started to dwindle to the standard 1-2 pounds lost, I had to learn to shift my focus from the "superficial" results and, rather, focus on the immediate, internal results. I would really pay attention to how my energy level was after a work out and my mood in general. Perhaps the biggest motivator of all was really focusing on how proud of myself and in control I felt when I DID work out opposed to when I didn't. Notice everything. Do you feel more positive? Do you sleep better? Control your cravings better? More energy? Does your back ache less the next day? THESE are the things that will keep you going when the scale starts slowing down. 

You should go even if your workout buddy just canceled. .....no seriously, it wasn't your "sign" not to go! Workout buddies are a tricky thing. My boyfriend is my best workout buddy ever. Like me, he's a total gym rat. I can always count on him to be by my side, pushing me to the point of exhaustion. We joke and laugh which makes the workout fun and he always keeps me motivated. BUT I'm lucky! Most people's workout buddies....quite honestly?...suck! Because most people, quite honestly? Aren't motivated yet! It is estimated that only 15% of the population works out on a regular basis. So right now you are trying to become part of that 15%. If you've got another person who is trying to do the same and you both are depending on each other to get to the gym then, guess what?! You have MORE than an 85% chance of failure. So, you have two options. If your workout buddy keeps dumping you to go home and watch American Idol with her hubby then dump HER! Either decide you are going to go by yourself or find a friend who is already part of that 15% and ask them to drag your butt to the gym with them every day!

Crotch sweat/swamp butt is normal!! I remember when I first joined a gym many moons ago that one of the (many) things that made me self-conscious was the line of crotch sweat that would be on the seat after I used a piece of equipment. News Flash: Your crotch sweat is probably smaller than mine! My boyfriend and I joke that I leave a "Y" on the seat while he leaves more of a "T". Some people just leave a big honkin' sweat puddle....which is totally rude. Clean up your sweat guys! But, bottom line, your bottom is gonna leave a line. :)

It's okay to make faces! I've trained a few women who won't work too hard because they are worried they are going to grunt or make an unattractive face. Look around folks!! The people making the ugliest faces are usually the ones in the best shape! No one is going to be like "haha, look at the face that woman who is working hard is making". 95% won't even notice, the other 5% will admire you for pushing yourself. I make the ugliest faces imaginable when I work out. However, my goal is not to be attractive in the gym, it's to work hard so I can be attractive everywhere else.....oh, and um, to be healthy and junk too.

Strength training is not just for meatheads!!! Women, lifting weights will NOT make you big. Oh, you're the exception? No, you are not the exception.....no, seriously, you're not. I thought I was too. I'm almost scrawny and I curl 25 pound dumbbells. When I was heavy, my arms were tree trunks. Turns out that was hard, solid fat on my arms wrapped around tiny muscles, not bulging biceps. Men, lifting weights almost definitely will not make YOU big either. Getting really big takes hard work and specific diet. That's just for men. For women, forget about it. We need testosterone to gain muscle and we just don't have very much of it! Muscle is hard to get. HOWEVER, we want it!!! YOU want!!! When it comes to metabolism, I want you to look at it like this: our bodies are vehicles and calories/energy/fat stores is fuel. If our bodies are made up primarily of fat, we are a little 4 cylinder, fuel efficient car. It takes very little energy/calories/fat stores to get us around. However, if we are primarily muscle, we are a Hummer. Extremely fuel inefficient and burning up calories/energy/fat stores all over the place. Not at all fuel efficient. We want to be Hummers!!! The reason most people start gaining weight in their 20s is because that's when we start losing muscle (approximately 1/2 pound of muscle a year). That means that, if we are eating the same amount of calories in our 20s, 30s, 40s+ that we did in our teens, we will gain weight. UNLESS, we offset this loss with as much muscle mass as possible!

And, on that note, The free weight section is not just for the men! I see it constantly. Women walk in the gym, hop on a piece of cardio equipment, and an hour later they leave. As I just mentioned, strength training is essential! Furthermore, long extended cardio is not an effective way to lose weight! I love to drag women kicking and screaming into the free weight section and introduce them to the joy of true strength training. I've seen many fall in love with it. There's a reason the men flock to this section. It's where the results happen! Very little can take the place of unsupported, free weight exercises. Ladies, this is YOUR area too! Men will not drop their weights and turn to stare in disbelief if you walk into "their turf". In fact, they're probably so wrapped up in what they're doing that they won't notice you've walked in at all! If anything, they'll admire you for "working out with the boys". And, ladies, that's at ANY size! The bigger you are, the more admirable it will be!

The stability ball will not pop!! Overweight people, take note. These balls are meant to hold a LOT of weight. Some balls can even hold up to 750 pounds. Check the ball to make sure it's a little mushy (not too firm, not to soft) and that there's no bulging seams. Then sit that tushy down on that ball and get to work. You'll be fine! ....same goes for treadmills.

So, there you have it. The gym seems scary because it's unfamiliar. The more times you set foot in there, the more comfortable you will become. If you are a member, you have just as much of a right to be there as anyone else! Make sure you pick a gym that isn't a "meat market". A good sign of a meat market would be women working out in sports bras only. A more conservative gym will not allow this. The YMCA is a great family type place, so definitely check it out if you have one near you. Make sure you find a place that makes sense in your life. Close to work or home? Good hours? Child watch if needed? Then take the leap and just go! Also, keep in mind, anytime we make ourselves uncomfortable and step out of our safe and familiar zone, we grow as individuals!

Good luck and I'll see you at the bar. (That's gym talk....you'd know that if you went.)