Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

I visit three or four different gyms. I have a longstanding membership at one, a beautiful community pool with a terrific exercise room and good classes, which is right on my way to work. It is my beloved gym because I worked out there in a very accepting and encouraging environment while losing 100 lbs. If I’ve been gone awhile, I receive a great, kindly welcome when I return. A little chiding, but mostly good vibes.

Another gym I visit only during the winter. It’s my emergency back-up gym, in the apartment building near my office. It’s where I go if I haven’t made my morning session. The facilities at the college where my husband teaches are free to me, too. And then there’s the super groovy weight club, all high-tech and airy, full of good light, but too far away, where I have a punch card. And another gnarly, hard-rock, testosterone-driven, body-builder’s sort of club, that I just dare myself to visit once or twice a year, but only when I need very specific advice on working a particular muscle group. I’m sure to get a lot of opinions there. Some of them scary. I love a good YMCA, or a dance studio with adult classes. I just love to visit new gyms, old gyms, shop around.

Why the collection? Because I’m still facing down my fears. These places still scare me to pieces, turn my knees to Jello. Walking into a new one is a naked bungee jump over an army of frat boys to me. Silly? Sure, but there it is. I dare myself to try new ones. And I like a dare.

Well, and also I like to see what the towels are like, whether there’s a sauna, and who’s there.

See, every gym has a personality, a culture. Some gyms work for me, and others decidedly do not. Some would work forever, like my pool, others make for a good short lark, like the testosterone club.

But none of them have doors I can’t walk through. Not any more.

If you’ve never been inside one of these places, opening that first door can be a pretty frightening prospect. Don’t feel silly about it. Many people fear gyms. I respect that. Before I opened my first gym door, I imagined all sorts of horrors. I imagined a lot of Arnolds and Arnoldesses. I was mostly afraid of the she-hulks who lived in my nightmares, the bulky ladies rippling by me, sneering at my jellied limbs and middle. I expected a lot of pointing, eye-rolling and judging. Impatience, rudeness. Ah.. what else? Oh, giggling. I expected to be either openly ridiculed or snickered over behind locker doors.

But I learned, those are the people in the billboards. They don’t exist except in photoshoots. Well, and at some snotty gyms. Yes. There are those. But they’re easy to spot and avoid.

Here’s how I climbed up over my fears:

I talked my husband into walking through the doors of the gym with me when I was at my heaviest. Having a buddy with me for support gave me enough courage to ask for a tour. Right away I noticed the tour guide did not have sharp teeth. We were shown locker rooms, the weight room, the pool, the therapy pool. And what I saw there surprised me.

I saw very few perfect bodies. I saw mostly quite normal people, chatting amiably here and there, but primarily quite inwardly focused while they exercised. They read books and magazines, watched TV and listened to their CD players and radios while churning out miles on various aerobic machines. They looked like pastors and grocers and line workers and librarians and teachers and nurses, and that’s because that’s just who they were. They swam many inwardly focused laps. No pointing. No staring. They were too busy doing their own thing, efficiently, and quietly.

I went into the locker room. Here were women and children of all ages, shapes, sizes. Nobody looked scary. Nobody looked sideways. Nobody seemed to wonder what a fat woman like me was doing at the gym.

I went home and formulated a plan. I packed and repacked my gym bag. I shopped long and hard for a swimsuit, goggles. It took a good deal of courage to go back on my own, but I did, and then I very soon had a card. A membership card. The kind that clips right onto my keychain. It said I belonged to this gym.

Wow. What a feeling, to finger this card next to my keys each day. I laid low, learning the rhythm of the place for awhile, but slowly began to pal up with the regulars. The lady at the door knew me by name. It wasn’t long before I became aware of the various plights and successes of my fellow gym-rats’ children and grandchildren (yes. lots of grandmas in my lockeroom).

I came to see the place as a community, a great way to connect with other humans, a terrific way to reinforce the new me. I became a person who exercises, and I lived among others who did too. A new tribe. A clan of the sweaty.

I looked forward to seeing the morning crew. I began wearing a higher class of underwear out of respect. I began to shave my legs quite regularly, so as not to scare the children or offend the ladies. Aside from better grooming, I’m sure I became more organized, generally, because it’s hard to get going first thing in the morning, my gym time. It must be orchestrated. Clothes laid out the night before. It changed me for the better, is what I’m saying.

Well, if you haven’t been, but think gym workouts may provide you with the kind of exercise and structure you need right now, pore through your town’s directory, grab a friend, your spouse, your kids, head for the first community center or gym on the list, and ask for a tour. Tour several. Take notes, compare pros and cons.

Ask about ages of people who belong, and the age and experience of the people who work there. What sort of classes? What are the hours? Are their trainers to assist you in learning to use the equipment? Do they provide fitness assessments? Designer water? Towels? Is the facility open on holidays? What are weekend hours? How often is the pool water changed? Is there a child care area, and who oversees it, and how do they function if there’s a problem? How old do your children have to be to use the equipment? Test the showers for hot water. Look for Jacuzzis and saunas. How do people dress there? Is it all matched coordinates, or are torn t-shirts the rule? Which would you prefer? Study the bulletin boards. Hang in the locker rooms awhile as you pretend to rummage through your purse, and, well, eavesdrop. Go ahead. Observe a class. If you’re interested in one or two of these places, ask for day passes to try it out before buying a full membership.

Date before you marry. Plan for a long engagement. That is, choose carefully. It’s not unlike choosing a new family member or a new neighborhood. With any luck at all, you’re going to live with these people, in this place for a long time. You should like it. I hope you’re lucky enough to love it.

Gym jitters at Ask Alice

Gyms buying clues

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