It's workout day number one, the day that your six-month contract fired up. It's after a long day of work but you still brought your best intentions, even though you can’t even find a parking spot. But you stay positive and just park way out. You just consider the long trek across the asphalt an extended warm up, even though the chilly bite of that New Year wind has made your face go numb.
As you walk into the front desk, you smile and wave to that really cute fitness salesman guy- the one that you swore was flirting with you because he was so friendly and nice- and he doesn't return the wave or smile but instead looks at you confused as if he doesn't remember you. That was disheartening but you push on. After all, you've spent enough money, you'll be damned if you don't use it. That's when you round the corner to the main floor and see a sea of sweaty, glistening bodies. The music, it beats and thumps like some strange type of German techno, and the cable weight stacks, all twenty of them go up and down, up and down, all with different speeds, clinking and clanking, reminiscent of some machine shop factory. You gulp and pass by a grouping of hot, skinny, twenty-somethings all in short, shorts, revealing their fat-free, youthful legs all chomping on gum and fingering their phones.
This initial experience for many people is a sensory overload, often making them just turn around and leave. I've seen it happen with my own eyes several times. People automatically assume they could never learn to be comfortable in such an environment, often forfeiting some of the great benefits big, modern gyms have to offer and causing the purchase of many home gyms, aka coat hangers.
So before you shut out big gyms completely, here are some things that you may consider before you start trying to figure out how to bust out of that contract.
Gym Attendance fluctuates
During the beginning of the year in most big gyms, you simply can't stir them with a stick. In fact, coming from someone who used to actually manage some of these big gyms, the facilities aren't actually equipped to handle the New Year’s rush. However, the gym industry knows people will quit, knows people will work out three times and never come back. In fact, they know this for such certainty they've actually built it into their business model. They contract as many people as they can for the New Year and then jam them in like sardines and pray that the fire Marshall won't show up for cardio that week. Soon enough it thins out and those contracts carry them through the rest of winter, spring, and the notoriously slow months of June and July. The busiest times are 5:30 to 7:00pm so if you don't like crowds and can get away with it, consider lunch time. Mornings are less crowded than evenings but don't be fooled, there are a surprising number of people in gyms in the wee hours of the morning.
Most all gyms offer a one-time, trainer session
This is where the trainer will take you through each machine and help familiarize you with the equipment. Machines come in all different brands and are all very unique. This would be money well spent and you should only have to do it once. Being able to work the machines and know where everything is will make you feel more confident. It'll make the gym begin to feel like your gym.
Most all big gyms offer group training
There is a reason most mega gyms have hundreds of group classes a week. Because people love them! After a long day of work, people don't want to have to think. They just want a sweat. If this is what you want, find a class that’s right for you and go for it. Most mega gyms offer everything from Zumba to even Cross-fit classes. It’s also psychological. I guarantee you, after going to the gym and breaking a few serious sweats in a spin class, or a kickboxing class or whatever, you will start to loosen up.
Most gym patrons are friendly and in their own zone.
Yes, you will every so often find jerks at a gym, but you are no more likely to run into a jerk at the gym as you are in the grocery store, or on the subway, or on the road. Also, most gym patrons aren't making fun of you or talking about you or thinking you don't know what you’re doing. No, they’re in their own zone. You’re just movement, just kind of a shadow as they’re trying to wrap their head around that next heavy set.
The truth is most gym people are very friendly, yes and I mean even the big body builders and the cardio bunnies. Most are happy to help a newbie figure out a machine or a piece of Cardio equipment or assist you with a spot. And most of all there's an unspoken bond that all regular gym patrons share. That attitude that we are all striving to improve ourselves. Yes! If you’re out of shape but breathing hard and gasping, don't be surprised if you get a nod of respect from some of the gyms more fit members. They respect you for being there, for trying, for adding to the energy.
No. Not everyone's in shape
Absolutely not. Yes, there are a higher number of fit people in a gym as compared to on the street, but if you’re a little out of shape, or a lot, you'll have plenty of company in people just like you trying to better their health.
With a little time, you'll soon be maneuvering that gym like a pro. You'll have that secret parking spot staked out (at the Costco next door which is just a grassy knoll hop to the gym entrance) and like everyone else that's also trying to tune out the god awful gym music, you'll have your ear buds in place and favorite tune playing and zone face on as you walk in the door. You'll have your treadmill in the corner staked out and breaking a great sweat in no time, warming up for that on the dot 5:45 Katie spin class that you love.
You see, gym intimidation or the fear of embarrassment is rooted in the unfamiliarity of the people and the environment, but with a little intel, the unfamiliar is very easy to conquer. These gyms are not really scary or intimidating places to be. In fact, many of these places spend millions to make sure they are not scary and intimidating. Sometimes the environment can initially be a shock if you’re not used to it, but if you stick with it, before long you'll find yourself wondering why you ever felt that way.
Despite the self-proclaimed negatives of the so-called (globo gyms) of the world, the truth is that these super gym chains are some of the safest, cleanest, most affordable and versatile ways for a person to get in shape.