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Dec. 30 2009 - 2:57 pm | 813 views | 5 recommendations | 21 comments

Gym? Duh: The January 1 workout survival guide

Spacious Gym Floor Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs

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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.


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  1. collapse expand

    I can never understand why people bring their coffee with them to the gym. I’m all for drinking coffee BEFORE working out, but really – do you need that iced latte while you’re on the elliptical? I didn’t think so.

  2. collapse expand

    As a dedicated gym-goer for quite some time I also grit my teeth through the month of January, waiting for the inevitable massive February attrition. But as a doctor, I do find that those who linger into the second month and beyond are inspiring. And hey, at least they’re trying.

  3. collapse expand

    Now that was fun to read and oddly informative. (He said from his barstool.)

  4. collapse expand

    Miss P, what is this ‘gym’ you speak of? Intervals in 30-50mph winds was fun yesterday. Who needs a weight set when you can power-lift furniture? : )

  5. collapse expand

    Very entertaining, and so true. You left out, however, Consider getting a personal trainer. When I decided to finally join a fitness center for the first time after ten years of being sedentary (and I had been that runner in a previous life!), I found that hiring the personal trainer not only resulted in the best use of my time, but it also resulted in him to establishing a thoughtful series of exercises for me, and my not having to keep track of weights, reps and sets. I also get to avoid those uncomfortable interactions with neighbors and colleagues in various states of fitness and work out clothes.

  6. collapse expand

    This is great. May I add a few suggestions?

    Forget shorts! Very, very few of us look fab in them; go for capri or longer length leggings (Nike makes great ones, as does Title IX catalog) so you’re comfy and not self-conscious.

    Skip the gym and head for the pool or the racquetball court or take a dance class or go for a walk. Gyms are gross, period.

    If you can find a cool new sport that’s done indoors — like fencing — it’s a great way to get and stay motivated as you learn new skills and make new friends and lose weight and get toned.

  7. collapse expand

    Utzie: True, dude. I do tricep dips on my window ledge.

    Matt: YES! A very valid point. I admit, I do check in with a trainer every so often for a refresher, and some motivation to get my ass to the weights…And for those who are less familiar with gyms, a trainer can be a hugely beneficial investment.

  8. collapse expand

    Wow, you’re absolutely right! Along with people visibly struggling with their resolution to quit smoking, those who decide to get in shape in January really bother me. I just feel bad seeing them awkwardly and unhappily going about their lives like peasants in a run down Slovakian village, when all they really want to do is eat pie and light up.

    Cool Tip: You might want to be careful with the use of the term “gym slut”. I’ve heard it used in a David Barton’s Gym kind of way.

  9. collapse expand

    Funny piece. Yes, here comes another influx of people who will be standing in my gym’s only squat rack doing bicep curls and forearm exercises. The management staff will encourage these folks to keep curling so the big scary guys dont start grunting and working hard. Of course at 155lbs Im not really one those scary guys, but they will discourage any kind of Olympic lift anyway, pointing to their cable machines and smith racks. I need a new gym

  10. collapse expand

    This article is exactly what goes through my head EVERY January!! I love that you put it out there for all of us to read…

  11. collapse expand

    Great read. I especially love the Muscle Milk part. Aside from the fact that there’s no proof that any of that stuff does anything, you’re not Schwarzennager, you don’t need it. I would also add, please people invest in a couple pairs of spandex shorts to wear under your gym shorts. I really don’t need to see your flabby pasty ass while you awkwardly attempt to do bicycles or leg raises on your back. Keep up the great work.

  12. collapse expand

    Okay, there is January, which is bad. But then there are Family Sundays, which are far worse!

  13. collapse expand

    OR….. you are all invited to move to San Francisco, where the weather is OK enough almost every day of the year to jog down to the Par Course fitness trail (there are actually several in different parks) and work out in the out-of-doors, interrupted only (in my elderly case) occasionally by hunky guys telling you you’re doing just great and encouraging you onward. I gave up gyms for all the above reasons, failed yoga, have to say the par course is in a fresh-air class of its own.

  14. collapse expand

    I rarely post comments on any articles, but after reading this article I felt compelled to post. This article is absolutely fabulous. I cannot agree more on every part and every point, right down to the muscle milk and coffee. I look forward to spring and summer, not only for the out door runs and sunshine but also because by that time all of the people who have decided that their resolutions were too much to bare have finally left the gym for the rest of us to enjoy. Thank you, and happy exercising!

  15. collapse expand

    Carly: YOU are fabulous. Thank you — and remember, only a few months until shorts-and-t-shirt outdoor workouts return.

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