My First Gym Memories

While better, my foot is still in pain, so this is Day 2 of trying not to put any pressure or weight on it. I did end up going to the gym last night, and doing some seated, upper-body weight lifting, and that felt good, and I may do that tonight as well. I’m aching to do some cardio, but I know I can’t. Still haven’t decided what to do about this Saturday’s big stair climb challenge. I’ve gone to bed the past two nights hoping that I’d wake up miraculously better, but so far, that hasn’t happened. The stair climb is now 3 days away, and I’m leaning towards postponing it, because even if I do wake up miraculously healed, after a few days off my feet, I don’t think I’d be ready for 163 nonstop stories. I want to be strong and prepared for this challenge, and not unsure if I’ll make it, and definitely not holding back because of fear of injury.

I got a really interesting question from a reader last week about gyms, and I thought I’d take a minute and answer it in this post. Here’s the question:

I’ve never been a member of a gym, for a host of reasons…all of which are mental hangups of one sort or another. I’m wondering if you had any misgivings or reluctance that you had to work through when you *first* started using a gym? And if you did, do you have any tips on getting over a mental block and taking that leap?

I was incredibly hesitant when I joined my first gym. I just went through my files, and found my first contract – I signed up for my first gym membership in July 2007,  a solid two and a half years before I began the weight loss journey that I’m currently on. I don’t know how much I weighed back then (I went for years without ever stepping on a scale), but I looked similar to the ‘Before’ pictures in the Photo Gallery.

Scratch that. You can see EXACTLY how I looked, because I found this picture, taken the exact same month I joined my gym:

The Slurpee is a nice touch. “Before” pictures with food always make me cringe just a little bit more.

At the time, I was full throttle into a walking program of my own design: I would walk for 45 minutes, 5 times a week, and I ended up going a couple of years without ever skipping a walk. Most of the walks were done immediately after work, which served the double purpose of getting some exerciseandclearing my head after long, stressful days at the office. I wasn’t pairing my exercise with any sort of healthy eating – I was eating tons of junk food, and although I wasn’t weighing myself, I’m fairly certain, looking back, that my weight loss was minimal, if any.

I started thinking about joining a gym during a summer hiatus (I was working at “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” at the time, and we had breaks during the summer while the show aired reruns). I was getting bored with my walks, and I was ready for a change. At the time, I was living less than a mile from a gym, and I would drive by it daily. My mind would fill with reasons not to investigate: Gyms aren’t for people like me, they’re for meathead jacked-up musclemen. You’re going to stand out like a sore thumb and everyone will point and stare, and possibly laugh. It’s a waste of money – you’ll join, go once or twice, and then never go back, and all that money goes down the drain.

Those thoughts cycled through my head, but after talking with some friends, I decided the least I could do was go and get a guest pass. Most gyms offer a guest pass (that are free and good for 3 days to a week, depending) so potential customers can try out the gym before committing to a membership. I was nervous when I first walked in and was greeted by a friendly staffer named Askia. I inquired about a guest pass. I’m sure I wasn’t physically shaking out of fear, but it sure felt that way. One of the first things Askia asked was what I was looking for out of a gym, and what my goals were. I thought about it, and responded: “Well, I’m like to switch up my exercise routine, and hopefully, lose some weight.” It seemed like a good thing to say, even though I’m not entirely sure of its truth, given the way I was eating back then.

Askia nodded his head, leaned forward in his chair, and a big smile spread across his face. “Well, what took you so long? We’ve been here waiting for you.”

And, just like that, most of my nerves went away. Askia made me feel welcome, and made me feel comfortable. He showed me around the gym, pointing out its features, and answering all my questions. I ended up forgoing the guest pass, and instead, I pulled out my wallet and walked out a member.

I remained nervous for the few weeks when I would arrive to exercise. I usually avoided eye contact with everyone, came in my workout clothes so I didn’t have to spend any time in the locker room, and stuck to the cardio machines with my headphones in. Slowly, I felt more at ease. I saw other bigger people working out beside me. I figured out that most people at the gym were pretty focused on what they’re doing, and don’t pay any mind to the other people in the room. There were plenty of the jacked-up musclemen I presumed would be there, but they weren’t intimidating. And, in addition to them, there were lots of people of other shapes and sizes, too.

By the end of my first month there, I wasn’t feeling self-conscious at all. The staff was starting to recognize me when I walked in, and I saw familiar faces on the machines around me nearly every visit. The only time I felt terribly awkward was on a few occasions when a certain older gentleman would walk by me when I was on the elliptical, and start applauding, loudly, while proclaiming things like “Yes, you can do it!” I know that was his way of being encouraging and supportive, but at the time, all I wanted to do was punch him in the face for drawing attention to me.

Not a single day has lapsed since that day in July 2007 where I haven’t had a gym membership. I’m grateful that I joined my first gym when I did – even though I wasn’t seriously trying (or ready) to lose weight, when that time came a couple years later, I knew the gym inside and out, and was able to jump in and really push myself without those fears of standing out and being laughed at. I don’t bring a camera into the gym very often (it’s not good gym etiquette), but the picture to the right is from the end of 2010. I’m not afraid to sweat at the gym!

I’m not afraid of anything at the gym.



6 Responses to My First Gym Memories

  1. Janet says:

    I am always encouraged by you David! Keep it up. 😉

  2. Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. I really appreciate it. 🙂 When you started, did the staff there show you how to use the equipment / weights? I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to use a stair machine for example or how to lift free weights properly.

    • David says:

      I figured out the cardio machines on my own, and you can, too. They all have a “Quickstart” button to get going, and then you fiddle with resistance and speed until you find a setting that’s to your liking. Once I got comfortable after a couple uses, I started playing around with some of the programs that those machines have – ones that are specifically for fat burning, or that mimic specific terrains, for example. They can be fun!
      As for weights, I stayed away from weight for a good solid 8 months, and didn’t venture into that half of the gym until some family members, for my birthday, bought me a couple sessions with a personal trainer. I learned a ton from him, and ended up buying more sessions on my own just to cement the techniques in place.
      A lot of gyms offer a free session with a trainer as a sign-up perk, so that’s something worth investigating as you’re gym shopping. Otherwise, I’m sure it varies, gym to gym and employee to employee, how helpful they’ll be. Buying a session or two with a trainer, if possible, is completely worth it – they can help identify exercises perfect for you and teach you how they’re done properly. If training is not possible, there are tons of websites/magazines out there can can teach you some basics. Don’t try to figure it out on your own – it’s easy to hurt yourself!

  3. Thanks David! 🙂

  4. Nurse Karen says:

    TxCowboyDancer: For home learning: I highly recommend The Bonnie Prudden Method of learning to exercise pain-free.She was a pioneer who blazed a trail for the importance of physical fitness & the first to report to President Eisenhower that our Nation’s citizens were becoming more susceptible to all manner of illness due to lack of movement. I was a very overweight RN, took classes to help my patients from Ms Prudden and ended up helping my own pain; Bonnie’s book showed me exactly how to do exercises to not only prevent pain but treat current problems, with clear photos illustrating proper form. Click on “Pain Erasure” book for price & link. She also made music albums & simple tools to exercise along with her routines. I have all of her DVD’s, and they are fun! I don’t usually plug stuff, and her methods helped me recover from several physically traumatic injuries. I agree with David: with the complexity and plethora of machinery in gyms today, it is easy to harm oneself from improper form, trying to do too much at one time, not understanding basic mechanics of the human body, for example, that muscle fibers need time to repair in between sessions, how proper diet affects one’s workouts, etc., so arming yourself with foreknowledge is a must. Pat yourself on the back for seeking advice and Get Moving ! It’s worth it –it’s Your Life!!

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