Gym? Duh: The January 1 workout survival guide
I hate January 1st. And the 10th, and usually the 20th, too. Five mornings a week, between the first day of a new year and the thirtieth, my life becomes exponentially more annoying. There’s someone sweating on my treadmill, a line-up for the elliptical and – last resort – a grunting gum-chewer on the recumbent bike next to the only empty piece of workout equipment in the bustling life-sized hamster cage. Personal trainers are barking a little bit louder, women in the locker room are weighing themselves with a little extra scrutiny, and a new crop of obnoxious, insulting posters are lining the gym windows.
Of the hundreds of people at my gym, I assume that around 50 percent consider working out a chore. In January, as membership skyrockets, that probably shifts to 75, maybe 80 percent. Nobody who resolves to exercise more, or drop 10 pounds, or do 90 minutes of daily yoga, really wants to be in fitness apparel at 6 a.m. on a Monday. If they did, they’d have been doing it for years, or they’d at least not have chosen the most cliched possible opportunity to make a vow of gym-going. And that’s not my problem – until it is. When someone’s not invested in fitness for the enjoyment, or for their upcoming race or some tangible – positive – goal, they kind of suck to workout with: towels left lingering on machines, weights scattered on the floor, coffee that you really should have consumed before you got to the gym, spilling onto the stretching mats. And don’t even get me started on the cell phone chatter. Dudes. If you can chat on your cellphone, you might as well just sit in the lobby, rubbing chocolate cake onto your stomach, for all the good this gym membership is doing for your New Years resolution.
I know. I’m a huge gym spaz, and you probably hate me. You probably think I’m self righteous in my proclamation that the treadmill nearest the window belongs to me. And this is all true. But I also know a thing or two about having an enjoyable gym experience, having joined and quit four New York-area fitness palaces in 18 months (I’m also a gym slut, apparently). If you dislike gyms, don’t vow to frequent them: vow to find something active that you actually like. For those who don’t take that advice to heart, or for those who do aspire to gym-rat-ness, allow me to offer a list of essential tips to surviving the January gym-going experience. I present GYM, DUH.
1. Go get some shorts. You can workout in khakis and a polo shirt, or leggings and a fur stole (no, seriously, this is New York – it’s happened). But that’s a really good way to sour yourself on exercise before your free trial even expires. Nobody at the gym cares what you look like – they’re all too busy feeling bad about their own bodies. Do yourself a favor, and go get a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and something without a three-inch heel. Oh, and while we’re at it, if the back of your shorts says “JUICY” please go home and curl up with your toy poodle and your hair gel. You have failed.
2. You really shouldn’t do that. Lift weights that make your forehead resemble a ripple chip. Run for an hour after a fourteen year “hiatus” from your track-and-field “career”. Do deep lunges in side-slit athletic shorts. Use common sense, both in how much you do (because injuries suck) and how much you reveal (because there are mirrors everywhere, and we’re bound to catch a glimpse). If your body is screaming at you, go home. If the woman doing bicep curls to your left is screaming at you, go home.
3. Make it count. Don’t do too much – but avoid doing too little, as well. If you want to read US Weekly on the elliptical, then power to it. If you want to read your damn study notes on the treadmill, then I’m inclined to suspect that you really aren’t putting in the effort. Image-heavy magazines, with minimal content and large font, are acceptable. Scribbled notes on fundamental physics are not. Oh, and those TVs at the front of the gym? Those are for people to watch while they exercise. They are not free cable for you to enjoy while you sip your fruit smoothie.
4. Don’t talk to me, or anyone else. Some gyms are more of the “meat market” variety than others. If that’s your thing, then check those places out. But at the average neighborhood fitness center, pick-ups are unwelcome: usually for the person being picked up, but even more importantly, for the people forced to observe this awkward, sweaty interaction as they try to exercise. You smell, they smell, and everyone’s feeling vulnerable, irritated and a little bit thirsty. These are not sexy times. These are also not times to brag about negative splits, ask an iPod-wearing runner for the time, or, really, even make eye contact with anyone but yourself.
5. Unless that’s water, put it away. Muscle Milk seems to be the latest non-water option for over-enthusiastic gym-goers, convinced that a 30-minute strength session requires 50 grams of whey protein condensed into a $3.95 bottle of chalky lactate. Muscle milks, 5-Hour-Energies and ginko-electrolyte-ades are gimmicks, meant to convince new gym attendees that they’re “fueling up” for an intense, sweaty experience. For a workout that’s an hour or less, drink some water. For a workout that’s longer than an hour, why are you even in a gym? Go outside.
6. Heed the masters. By now, you probably think I’m arrogant enough to consider myself a gym-master. Hardly. I’m too busy cruising from one fitness center to the next, while others are mastering a single gym – cultivating relationships with managers, establishing a complex workout dynamic, knowing where to get extra towels or the best magazines. Find those people. Subtly trail them. Learn. How to track one down? She’s got an iPod strapped to her tanned bicep, waves at the desk staff, and winks at the best-looking trainers. He’s definitely got a shaved chest, does unimaginable things with his abs and a Bosu Ball, and is confident enough in his sexuality to stretch with a yoga strap.
If you survived January – got some shorts, avoided injury, learned to love water – and you’re still motivated to wake up at 6 a.m., stumble to the coffeemaker and throw on your sneakers, then congratulations. It won’t be long before you’re welcoming a new crop of gym-goers into your world. With a sneer when she flies off the spin bike, and a sigh when he dribbles coffee onto that silk Armani tank-top, you’ll peer into your eyes in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, and smile: oh, how far you’ve come.