Friday, June 26, 2015

Six Things I've Learned from Six Months at the Gym

This past January, I decided I would do something all original and join the gym.

I hadn't worked out regularly since the year 2005, and even at that, the only time I worked out regularly was the 9 month period before my wedding.  I'd never been what you'd call, "athletic."  Or "muscular."  Or "coordinated."  Or "well rounded."   Or "interested in bettering myself."  The gym, and all that health stuff, just hadn't been "my thing."

But that all had to change, because after baby #3, it was now or never.  No more excuses.  If the flab was going to go, it was going to now.  

And so I embarked on my gym journey.  

It's been 6 months, and much to my surprise, I have completely embraced it.  I don't go everyday, but I would if I could - I generally make it there five days a week.  The gym has become my place of respite - one of the only "no kid" zones that I get to enjoy in my life, and without the guilt.  I really love to work out.  Which is really, really weird. 

In my six months at the gym, I have gained tone, muscle, and confidence, but I've also been enlightened as to the gym culture.  It's a mini cult society in and of itself.  There are unspoken rules, unexpected truths, and a stringent dress code.  Oh and judgment.  Judgment abound.  

I was so naive when I walked through those gym doors in January.  So, so naive.  

I feel the need to pass my wisdom on to other gym novices.  To other stay at home moms like myself, who feel its their duty to get into shape, because really, we all have so much time on our hands. 


In any event, if you are considering jumping on the gym bandwagon, please consider the following tips.  After all, knowledge is power.  

1) Going to the gym will not make you skinny.  

For most of my twenties and early thirties, I was what I liked to call "skinny fat."  I was at a completely appropriate weight, but I had no tone.  I was completely okay with this, and firmly rejected "Madonna arms."  But then after three pregnancies, I wasn't really skinny anymore.  I had gained 10 pounds that I wanted to rid myself of.   I figured a completely appropriate way to accomplish all of this was to join the gym.  

Imagine my surprise when I realized that most people at the gym - including the class instructors and trainers - are not skinny!

It's not that they are fat.  In fact, they are all in amazing shape and toned and strong.  But skinny? Like, Jessica Alba petite skinny?  Like Jessica Simpson in her skinny phase?  No.  Not a one. (Except the pilates instructors - they all seem to be skinny.  But they're super-human so they don't count).   

This was a shock to me.  I had assumed that if I worked out at least five times a week, that I would be toned and beautiful and skinny.  And that I'd also be able to eat whatever I wanted.  Surely, with all that effort, all that sweat, all that actually leaving my house and going somewhere to EXERCISE would mean that I would lose all of the baby weight.  

Since January, when I started going to the gym, I have gained five pounds.  

It's all muscle!  You'll say.  Ha!  I wish.  I mean, I have gained some muscle.  But five pounds of muscle?  I don't think so.  The fact is, working out makes me hungry.  So I eat more.  And I also feel like I deserve to eat more because I've been working so hard.  Such is the cycle.  

So I'm not skinnier.  But, I am more toned.  I refuse to take pictures of my various body parts to post on the internet for all to see, but suffice it to say that I think I saw a tricep muscle the other day. That was really exciting to know that it's there.  I kind of want Madonna arms now.

2) If you don't wear clothes from Lululemon, you're not a real athlete.

In my first month of gym going, I realized that everyone was wearing the same brand of clothing. Given my ignorance to all things fitness, I didn't even know the brand - I just saw the same symbol on everyone's clothing.  

What is this cryptic curvature?  What does it mean?  And why does everyone at the gym love it so?    
I was walking the streets of Bethesda when I saw it in the distance.  There - the store - Lululemon! Truthfully, I had avoided walking into it for years because there was that murder there a few years back and the idea of going there weirded me out.  But now, I must overcome my feeble superstitions.  Because I had to know more!  

I walked in, somewhat intimidated, and did a walk through.  There was your standard workout gear, but also several jackets, loose tank tops, things to layer on top of other things, all with some mesh. I tried to keep it simple and picked up a standard tank top.  

It was 58 dollars.  

Surely, an anomaly.  Who pays $58 for a ratty tank top to sweat in?  I turned to some yoga pants.  

They were 98 dollars.  

And that's the last time I ever stepped into Lululemon.  

Look, I have spent way too much money on name brand things before.  On purses, jeans, make up, etc.  But I have to draw the line.  Because WHY DOES SOMEONE NEED TO WORK OUT IN $98 YOGA PANTS?  

I would say they are crazy, but apparently I'm the crazy one.  Because literally EVERYONE wears it. Why?  Why?  

My work out attire consists of 4 pairs of black leggings from Old Navy, and various ratty tank tops acquired over the years from Target and the like.  That's what I'll stick with.  

3) Lots of people are in good shape.  

I always knew people worked out.  But I had no idea how many people.  When I started to work out, I think that I thought I was doing something exceptional.  Something unique.  I mean, how many people find time to go to the gym five times a week?  In the early morning?  Or late at night?  Yes, I was truly sacrificing in a way no one has before.  

Imagine my surprise when I went to my first class at 8am on a Saturday morning and it was filled to capacity.  

What are all of these people doing here?  I thought.  Why aren't they sleeping in?  Or taking care of their kids?  Or nursing hangover?  

Apparently working out is a thing, and I'm extremely late to the game.  

I prefer to do classes at the gym, rather than do a solo workout, and I am not putting myself down when I say that I am consistently the worst person in the entire class.  This means that there are overweight people, old people, and injured people who are in way better shape than I am.  They lift heavier weights than me, they do more push ups than me, and they rarely opt for modifications.  

There's a woman in a class with me that has to be in her seventies, and I think she could kick anyone's ass in a dark alley.

It makes me look back on my prior, non-gym life, and feel like even more of a lazy ass than I was. Because I wasn't working out, I assumed no one else was.  Or that those that did were "athletes" or "weird" or "health conscious" types.  Now I realize that exercising is, or at least should be, a regular part of everyday life.  For all people, old and young, big and small.  

Not to make you non-gym-goers feel guilty, but for real.  Everyone is doing it.  

4) You will judge me and I will judge you.

I often take yoga classes at my gym, and there's a mantra the instructor repeats that "in yoga, we don't compare ourselves to others.  We focus on our own practice."  

I try to internalize this, because, as I mentioned above, I am generally the worst person in every class I take.  But when I struggle to do a push up, and the person next to me is doing a full on crow pose, I can't help but feel a bit insecure:  

Photo taken from this link.
I mean, really.  

This woman feels cool.  I mean, she has to.  She is looking at me thinking, Yeah, you can't do this. But I can!  Look how strong and supple I am!  I'm going to hold it extra long just to drive home the point!

And in turn, I'm looking back at her thinking: Fuck you.  

You can't help but judge others in the gym.  Because, others serve as a reference point for your own performance.  Occasionally there will be a newbie in a class I am taking, and they are struggling. I try not to watch, but I can't help it.  And in their struggle, I find a bit of confidence.  Look, that person is struggling.  I struggled like that once.  But look at me now!  I am not struggling!  I am doing all of the burpees that are being asked of me, and I am enjoying it!  Especially because that poor sap over there is looking at me and thinking how strong I am!  

They aren't actually thinking how strong I am, by the way.  More than likely, they are thinking:  Fuck you.  

Sometimes you don't even have to see someone work out to judge them.  This is particularly true with people who wear crop tops (from Lululemon), that expose their six pack abs.  Then it's like a universal chorus of Fuck yous throughout the entire gym.  If you focus on it enough through the blasting music and hum of the treadmills, you can almost hear it.  

(If I had a six pack, I totally would rock the crop top, btw.  But it would be from Old Navy).  

5) There is a social hierarchy with rules that must be respected.

Before I became a gymgoer, I thought that working out was straightforward - go to the gym, exercise, come home.  But this grossly undermines the complexities of the gym community. Through trial and error, I have several learned several unwritten rules.

First and foremost, be wary of where you set up in a group class environment.  Only those seasoned, experienced gymgoers can be in the front, near the mirror.  It doesn't matter what time they arrive - even if they are late, the front mirror position must be reserved for them.  The spot near the mirror next to the instructor is the highest position one can attain, and those that occupy it must be respected.

The reserving thing doesn't go both ways.  Say you have a friend who will be late for class.  You want to reserve them a spot, so you set up a mat and weights for them.  It doesn't take long to realize that this is not okay, even if the class is not full.  It is so not okay, that it apparently is acceptable for someone else to come and take their spot and use all of their reserved equipment.  

Do not speak to or question the instructor unless you have attended at least 5 classes.  Approach wearily.  Start by asking questions about the exercise.  Then compliment them.  Once you have established a rapport, you can exchange witty banter.  Eventually, they will call out encouraging words to you in class and share inside jokes over the microphone for all to hear.  You will feel cool and accepted and athletic.  You are on your way to the prime spot near the mirror.

If you opt out of the classes and instead work out on your own in the general gym area, keep your voice down if you engage in conversation.  The exception to this is if you are male and lifting very large weights.  Then you can grunt loudly.  

Along those lines, if you are using weight machines and follow the aforementioned male grunter, be sure to throw him an "I'm impressed glance" when you note the weight he lifted and adjust your weight down accordingly.  Remember, he is judging you and fueling his confidence with your inadequacy.  

Lastly, if you are too cheap to spring for your own personal trainer, it is completely acceptable to follow around someone else's personal training session and do exactly what they do.  You need to be conspicuous and keep your distance, but no one would dare call you out on it.  

6) It is completely okay to walk around the locker room naked.  

This may not be your thing.  But if it is your thing, you are in luck!  A walk through the women's locker room, at any time a day, and you will find boobs galore.  Women walking to the shower, women applying make up, women doing their hair, women checking their phones, women chit chatting....  pretty much anything you can think of in the locker room, and you will find a naked woman doing it.  

For some reason, age seems to correlate with level of nakedness.  The older, the more skin revealed.  I'm only 36, so as of now I'm really only comfortable with the towel wrapped around me, and the occasional walk to the sink in a bra and underwear.  But hey, I'm keeping an open mind.  

And I'm getting stronger!  And healthier!  And buying into the gym cult completely!  I'll make it to the prime spot near the mirror in no time.

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  1. Funny post! Laughted at lulu and the gym etiquette .

    Whah a great 6 months!

  2. Hilarious post! I can attest to your principal - the older, the more naked you get at the locker room. Some 50+ year old naked woman was full on scratching her butt in my face today for several minutes. I'm excited to be so "free" some day. Anyway, good for you for getting healthy!

  3. LOL!!! This is so awesome and oh so true!!!


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