Helena - Gym“So, wait, I just put the thing in the thing and they let me in the thing?” This is me asking my boyfriend how to walk into a gym with my brand spanking new membership card.

“Um, yes?”

I haven’t been inside an actual house of workout in perhaps a decade. That is hardly a humble brag. I’m 32 and it shows.

Case in point: Last week at a wedding back home in Los Angeles, the very first thing my best friends’ mom, a woman who’s known me since I was 12, said after not seeing me in about a year was, “So you’ve put on weight!” She actually meant it as a compliment. I downed my glass of champagne and replied with an impressively low-pitched, “Yes. Yes, I have.”

But again, this isn’t about my weight. I’ve managed to keep it somewhat tight these past few years, if not only slightly jiggly, by walking most places due to my lack of driver’s license and eating like a wild animal — i.e., meat, veggies and fruit — or like a French woman. But whatever muscle memory my body had been clinging to like a physical mnemonic has gone the way of Aunt Sally. Basically she’s been more than excused, she’s been escorted out the damn building.

So now? Gym. And also crippling anxiety.

“You leaving already? Did you even work out?” That from one of the impossibly fit trainers patrolling the row of treadmills as if the folks stuck on that hamster wheel had no choice.

When I walked into the building for the first time, the plan was to just get a feel for the place. Basically I was casing the joint, making sure I could see myself among its rock hard groupies. Besides being hit with some of the worst-smelling air this side of my own farts, I was also struck with how “in the know” everyone seemed.

That’s the thing that gets me most about the gym. The fact that everyone looks like they know what they’re doing. I sure as shit don’t.

As a lark I climbed on the elliptical machine I remember using once in a faraway land called my early 20s and was immediately annoyed with the disproportional shiny-button-to-instructions ratio. The thing was like a damn IKEA jungle gym but minus the helpful cave drawings. Instead of looking like a dummy (or worse a “January”), I just pretended to use it for a few seconds before hoping off.

Next up were the weight lifting machine thingies, which I just perused like an incompetent quality control inspector, never touching, just eyeballing. Then I hit the showers to see how gross they might be. A bevy of half-naked old ladies met me near the door and again I pretended to know what to do, that is stare blatantly, because boobs.

Resisting the urge to sit in the sauna for an hour and come back home all sweaty like I did something, I turned on my Niked heel to go. That’s when the trainer man caught and shamed me. “Did you even work out?”

“I’m just feeling the place out, you know. I’m not sure if I wanna go here or the other location,” I lied.

“Well, we’re way less crowded down here. There are always machines available,” he said as an advertisement, not realizing he’d probably sent me running (OK taxi-ing) to the packed gym just so I’d have a built-in excuse not to go. It’s sooo crowded!

But despite all my readymade alibis – I’m pretty fit! I look good for my age! Gyms stink! – eventually I’ll have to just shut up and do it. If not tomorrow, the next day.

What motivates you to work out besides living past 40 or whatever? I need some non-cheesy incentive to put my dog-walking sneakers to better use.



This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena on XOJane! 

  • C

    I just work out at home I run (usually on the treadmill, sometimes outside) and do a bunch of pushups and crunches. Gyms intimidate me. My first gym membership was for my 17th birthday, and I asked the girl working there to show me how to use a machine, and she told me I could look at the diagram. I just left and didn’t go back for years. I got a new membership when I was 26, and the only things I did there was stuff I could do at home, like play basketball, crunches, use the bike and elliptical or treadmill.

  • leyla

    Nobody knows how to use gym equipment at the beginning, just ask for help, you will get use to it after a while, the first days your body will be in a lot of pain but IT WON’T LAST FOREVER, remember that, making it to the gym should be your first goal, after being there you’ll find out something to do and also you’ll find yourself enjoying working out sooner that later.

  • http://gravatar.com/lovegiraffes onegirl

    Next time you go back, look for that trainer, and ASK HIM how to use the equipment. He may even give you a free training or something..Never hurts to ask. There are a lot of strange machines the gym, so find one no one is on, and maybe it’ll always be available when you go! Quicker workout=quicker to dinner! hee hee.

  • THe Comment

    Absolutely Not! The only people who really know what they are doing are trainers and their customers who have been instructed how to use the machine. You have to know what notch to adjust for your height. Some chicks have their legs one and a half feet apart when using the Smith Machine while I have to spread them like Eagles wings cause I’m tall and have bad knees. Proper form is soooo important. Makes a big difference and affects ur workout to the max.

    Working out @ the gym is not easy. You just don’t hop on a machine. You have to learn proper form and adjust it to what feels comfortable to you. Buy Oxygen, Fitness Hers, Muscle and Fitness. Not sure how to work a machine? Bodybulding.com has exercise videos as well and Muscle and Fitness. It is too much information out there for you to be intimidated by anyone.

    Once you educate yourself, you will laugh at all the posers. Cause you now know for yourself what if right and what is wrong.

  • mikey kun

    This article is so speaking to me, Gyms intimidate me to death. As a lanky overly skinny I look and feel like a lost puppy in there. I had a gym membership a few months ago and just quit because I feel like I didn’t feel like I belonged.

  • Overseas_Honeybee

    No I don’t believe everyone knows :) but don’t let that stop you. I surely didn’t when I started. However , if I’m paying good money for a membership then SOMEBODY in that piece is going to show me what to do. Alot of gyms have trainers or orientations to get you started. That’s one of the first things you can ask before signing a contract. The more I trained the more comfortable I became using the machines. Don’t let some rude fool stop you from breaking a sweat. If the gym is not your thing … then figure out what you like and have fun.

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    You should have a trainer workout a routine for you to get started and then tweek it every 6 weeks for muscle confusion. I just started a hardcore class that focuses on the core muscles twice a week to spice up my routine.

  • Crystal

    I’ve never liked gyms. Maybe it’s the people or being closed in. I prefer working out outside during the warmer months or in my home during the cooler months. I just recently completed the Insanity fitness program and have plans to start it again. Great results. Gyms always make me cringe for some reason.

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    If a trainer can’t adequately explain how to use the machines to you then find another gym. It’s in the best interest of the gym to have you know how to use the machines correctly. Not only does it give you, the customer, satisfaction, but it also reduces the risk of injury, which no gym wants to have.

    I don’t like gyms because I find them boring. So I’ve joined a local Crossfit as well as Aikido, a martial art which works well for me as a woman.

  • http://chennadoll.tumblr.com pinklipstick227

    I actually love going to the gym, but refuse to use communal showers. I don’t have the discipline to workout at home.

  • MimiLuvs

    I dislike working out in gyms. Working out in a gym for me is like having to use a toilet that is built in the middle of Grand Central Station, during the rush hours. So, I consider working out at home.

  • The Comment

    Honey anytime you pay money for something…..you belong. Get over yourself and hit the gym. Your heart will love you for it.

  • http://www.geekmommarants.com GeekMommaRants

    Most gyms I joined have an orientation session with the new member and the gym staff to ensure you know what you are doing. It is really easy to injure oneself if one does not know how to use gym equipment. The gym sees this as an insurance issue. The member should see this as a safety issue. Now, go and have fun!!

  • Kay

    I have a gym membership, though sometimes I work out at home. I guess what separates serious fitness people from the “Januaries,” ( that one made me laugh) is that many of them, including myself are motivated due to health reasons, not just weight. It becomes a lifestyle, and most people do tons of research on their own to reach specific goals.

    But I understand how you feel, I felt like that myself. Everyone seemed to in tune that I felt left out when I first started. I got a free consultation with a trainer, got in on a tour, and got to know about the machines and how to use them. It made me feel a lot more confident. Plus, most people are willing to help you, so don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. You may run into the occasional douche who thinks everyone should be like Billy Blanks, but most of the time people who work out are cool. The most important thing is to find a gym that works for you. I went to one gym and it was like walking onto a set of “90210.” Everyone was so fit and only scoping to get dates that I felt uncomfortable. If all else fails, you can get some equipment and work out in the comfort of your own home.

  • Gell0h0h

    Since I have started working out again, I just feel better in general. I used to have difficulty sleeping at night, but now I just clock out at the same time each day and I get about 7 to 8 hours each night now. And energy! I used to feel very sluggish and by 1 pm at work, I was crashing real bad. Now, I have so much energy, I do not know what to do with myself. My grandmother was recently diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure and just watching her have to take all these pills each hour – I do not want the same fate to fall on me.

  • http://www.fashionnettework.com Juanette

    I’m 41 and I work out three days a week. I have tried to stay relatively fit before but since joining the gym I feel so much better and I like to look at my butt in the mirror lol. I had a friend who was a personal trainer and he showed me how to use the machines so now I have a feel for what I’m doing but I’m no expert. It’s something that I do because I enjoy the benefit of being more energetic and I still gotta find a husband! #pow

  • FattieSoSlim

    “But whatever muscle memory my body had been clinging to like a physical mnemonic has gone the way of Aunt Sally. Basically she’s been more than excused, she’s been escorted out the damn building.”

    Dopest line I’ve read in a while.

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