I’ve never been a gym person. I feel like it’s the equivalent of being on display, like an animal at the zoo. But people pay admission to see the animals at the zoo and marvel at their greatness. I pay money to go feel self-conscious and awkward.
I picked Planet Fitness, not because of their completely irrelevant amenities and disappointingly small class options, but because of the price and accessibility. I liked how they marketed themselves as a judgment-free zone. A place for beginners, even. A place you could just go and workout, without the “gym-timidiation”.
Yeah, it was more like Planet Awkward. I felt super self-conscious. Among all the gods and goddesses, who owned real gym bags, probably, I dared to walk–a mere mortal, in cheap leggings and a T-shirt. I didn’t know the rules of the gym or how to use most of the equipment. The front desk associate signed me up for a class on how to use all of it, but that wouldn’t be for two more days.
I felt like a fraud as soon as I pulled into the parking lot. I have always done at-home workouts. I was sure it would be obvious to everyone around me that I was an awkward, yoga-doing weirdo who didn’t belong. Maybe I should have stayed home, I thought. It was clear that this entire environment wasn’t for someone like me, who lives in her own head too much and cares too much what other people think.
I surveyed the scene. It was pretty busy. Without knowing how to build a workout routine, or even what half the machines did, I figured I could handle the treadmill or one of the bikes, at least. Yeah, those would be easy. First, I had to dump my stuff into a locker. They had a few lockers out on the main floor. That would be perfect, I thought. I quickly put my stuff in there, before freezing dead in my tracks and realizing I was wearing jeans. Shit. I had forgotten my leggings were underneath.
I regathered my stuff, trying to be casual about what I felt was an embarrassing mistake, and then found the women’s locker room. I waited to be laughed out of the gym. When that didn’t happen, I decided to try one of the “laid-back bikes”, as I called them, because I hadn’t yet hardcoded the word “recumbent” into my vocabulary.
My second mistake was not knowing I needed to keep my keycard on me at all times, because you use it to login to the machines. I tried for ages to see if I could find my barcode on my online account, thinking I could copy and paste it for the manual entry. No such option existed, nor could I use my online login details either. So I had to meekly slip off the bike and walk back to the locker room, feeling like the whole world was watching me. The bikes are in the front row, by the way, so that feeling was magnified.
After what felt like an eternity of figuring out the locker situation and retrieving the keycard to login, I was finally settled on the laid-back bike, ready to do some cardio. I thought it would be the most chill cardio equipment because you’re practically reclined. Only a few minutes in, my legs were burning though, and I wondered how lame I would be if I got off right then. I didn’t though. I kept at it. Partly motivated by the people around me, that I was absolutely SURE were timing me to see how long I stayed, I kept pushing, even though I had to ramp down the difficulty.
(Also, side note: this was originally written on 2/4/2020–my legs were RIDICULOUSLY sore the next day. I’m talking, like, I couldn’t walk around in the morning. I needed to stretch and take ibuprofen before being able to stand for any period of time without wanting to cry. So, “laid-back bike” it is NOT.)
I haven’t even mentioned yet how awkward it was to hold my phone since there was only one cupholder (used for my water bottle and keys). There was no convenient stand or tray on the dashboard, and I didn’t have pockets. It seemed so obvious to me to have one. I ended up holding my phone forever, before eventually just throwing it on the floor, annoyed at my lack of options.
To distract myself, I looked ahead at the weight equipment, trying not to stare. All the gorgeous, fit-looking people, who had clearly been born in the weight room, were killing it with their reps and circuits and bunjooles. I don’t know workout terms, man. They held a confidence I didn’t know. They seemed at home in the zoo.
It was at that perfect moment that I noticed signs on the back of every other weight machine in front of me. It said, “You Belong!”. The thumbs up logo was shrouded in the Planet Fitness purple and yellow. Despite it’s reassuring intentions, I felt anything but belonging. I looked over all the signs, how the phrase repeated down the line. “You belong!” “You belong!” “You belong!”
It felt like a slap in the face instead. They were trying so hard to convince me, but I just didn’t believe I belonged. I don’t exactly know why though. No one was doing anything to me or saying anything to me to make me feel uncomfortable. It was my own self-criticism that was ringing in my ears. All along, I had been my biggest critic. I was the only one speaking negatively about myself and scrutinizing what I did and how I looked. It’s a shame that I’m also the one who also has to motivate myself, finish my workouts, push myself to be disciplined, and do my best, too. In spite of myself, I have to succeed.
What is wrong with me?
I let this rhetorical question bounce around my head, while I kept pedaling. No matter how many reasons I come up with, I cannot come up with a solution. I never have, in the 16 years I can remember feeling like this. So the best I could do was just finish my workout…in spite of myself.
Next, I tried the treadmill. I didn’t aim for speed or difficulty. I just wanted to get my heart rate up and get out. If not with my dignity, then at least with somewhat of a decent cardio workout. There were so many people. I had tried to escape the front row of bikes to a less crowded area. Treadmills are very popular though, so it was not possible to escape. I picked one and hopped on, trying my best to pretend I knew what to do. It’s walking, I thought. You can walk.
When I was done, I awkwardly avoided eye contact as I scurried over to the cleaning spray bottle. As I cleaned the machine, then went to put the cleaning materials back, then walked back to get my stuff, feeling my anxiety intensify with each trip, I waited for someone to point out something obvious that I had done wrong or make a sarcastic quip about me. That moment never came. So I retreated to the locker room, after 15 minutes on the laid-back bike and 20 on the treadmill. I didn’t know how to feel, as I changed back to my regular clothes and gathered my things. Physically, I didn’t feel anything yet. But emotionally, I was just glad I survived something scary.
Yes, the gym is scary to me. I’m trying to face more fears and do more things. So this accomplished both. I needed something to push me to workout more, since at-home yoga routines weren’t cutting it. The lack of variety in my workout and the need for more consistent, old-fashioned cardio was also a significant factor. This was the push I needed. It’s felt more like a shove off a cliff, but it’s the first step. They’re always a little rockier.
It’s like being on that treadmill. I know how to walk. So why is it such a hard mental battle? One foot in front of the other. That’s how I’m going to succeed in a new workout regimen. I’ve made some big changes to my diet in the past few months. That didn’t happen overnight or without trial and error. It’s a lot to handle, and taking care of yourself properly feels like a part-time job. But I have survived by taking it one step at a time. One foot in front of the other.
I told a few friends about my first trip and how intimidated and self-conscious I felt. I truly was beginning to think the gym wasn’t for me. All four of them told me they were proud of me. It motivated me to not cancel my membership. The $22/month I’m spending is also motivating me. But I’ve decided it really is worth it to at least keep trying. Like so many things in life–it’s worth it to at least try.
I’m looking forward to the trying. I can see myself learning more about weight-lifting, getting into a routine, and feeling more at-ease as I go. We all start off not knowing. This is just my beginning. I can already tell that having a place to go to for my workout will be better than just doing yoga in the backroom. There’s something about getting ready and going to the gym to workout that makes it feel worthwhile. It’s inspiring knowing I can do more and be more, if I just get ready and go.
And again, that $22/month is really inspirational.