The new year is upon us, 2016 to be exact. As always, many folks have resolved that this is the year they will lose those unwanted pounds and get in top shape. How do I know? I’ve belonged to a gym for many years, and I see these folks every January. Today is January 1, and I saw them at the gym. Oh, they weren’t working out (after all, it’s a holiday). They were getting tours of the gym, meeting with trainers and signing contracts. Soon though, they will descend upon the gym like New Years Eve revelers.
I used to rail against the Resolvers, scoffing at their half-hearted efforts knowing that they would fall by the wayside within a few weeks. I’ve changed. I welcome them. Everyone should exercise. I am 53 and in quite good condition, especially compared to my peers. I feel good, both physically and mentally. Why should I begrudge that to others just because they get in my way for a few weeks?
Rather than resent the Resolvers, I want to help them. Understand that I am not an athletic trainer. I am not an athlete. I do, however, go the gym quite often–6 or 7 days week. If I’m on the road, I find hotels with gyms. If I can’t find one, I find a local gym that will let me workout for a small fee. I’ve been to gyms all over the country, from New York City to Hawaii. I know the rules, both written and unwritten. If you’re a Resolver, please read on. It will save us all some grief.
If you haven’t worked out in a while, act like it. “In a while” also means “ever.” Most people in the gym have been there before. They have workout routines that reflect their experience. You, on the other hand, need a routine that reflects your years of sloth. That may sound harsh, but it’s true.
You’ll see people who look like you want to look, with trim waists and rippling muscles. It is tempting to watch what they do and copy it. Stop. These people are working out like trim-waisted, rippling-muscled people. You need to work out like a flabby, doughy person. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. Your ideal may be doing 30 pound curls. You might need to do 5 pound curls. Do them.
You also must squash your ego. This is especially true for men. We want to throw around weights like they’re pie pans. We can’t, of course. Don’t worry about how much you bench press. Sure, it’s a tad deflating to realize you can only bench 50 pounds. Hey, 50 pounds is better than nothing. People aren’t watching you. The people who can really lift are concerned only with themselves. They don’t care what you lift. Note how often they look in the mirror. Trust me–they (we?) aren’t trying to catch a glimpse of you.
A good way to learn reasonableness is with a trainer. Trainers vary in skill. Some aren’t very good, but all of them know how to get a new person started on an exercise regimen. Maybe you have a friend who works out regularly. He or she can help you. Start slow. Workout warriors weren’t born that way. Neither were you.
LEARN BEFORE THE BURN
Gyms are full of equipment. A lot of it is strange looking and not easily understood. This doesn’t stop the novice from climbing aboard and fumbling about. Usually, there will be an illustration on the equipment demonstrating proper use. If that doesn’t work, ask a gym employee. Again, a trainer can help.
If you don’t use a trainer, educate yourself on how to exercise. Weightlifting, in particular, requires certain routines for maximum results. You might work different muscles on different days. Rest is important. Strength training is different than toning or even muscle building. You have to know the differences.
Several years ago, I made the acquaintance of a former NFL player who also spent some time in prison. He described what he called a “jailhouse workout.” By that, he meant lifting with no program–a few curls, a few reps on the bench, a few random leg exercises. He said prisoners don’t have enough equipment or time to do it right. Hey, if you’re jail, do what you can. Otherwise, get a plan.
If you’re grossly overweight, you really must learn first. I know–it’s not good to say that people are overweight or “fat.” Come on, we know that’s the case. Losing weight is a process, not an event. You have to attack it a pound at a time. Becoming a crunch beast won’t help much if your six pack is buried under a foot of fat. Talk to a doctor. Get a trainer. Just get to work.
Your new gym will have an array of rules about attire, use of equipment and sundry courtesies. These are all good, but most gym etiquette is just common sense. Here are the big rules:
Clean Up: If you use free weights, re-rack them. It’s simple. Put them back where you got them. They’ll be on racks in ascending order from lowest to highest weight. An idiot can do it, but you’ll be surprised at how many idiots don’t. If you can help it, don’t be an idiot.
Seriously, Clean Up: No one wants to use equipment drenched in your sweat. There’s just no debate here. Wipe down the equipment.
Look But Within Reason: I direct this to my fellow men. Most gyms today are co-ed. Every gym has attractive women wearing attire not normally seen in public. It’s pretty cool. You can look. To some extent, it’s expected perhaps even welcome. Don’t go full-on perv. If you follow a woman around so that you can maintain a good view, it will be noticed. Much as it might surprise you, they aren’t looking back at you.
Silence Is Golden: I’ve been going to the same gym for years. I’ve gotten to know some of the regulars. We’ll occasionally talk, but it’s always brief. Regulars are there to work out, not chat. You should do the same. Most gym regulars are glad to share pointers or answer questions, but we aren’t there to socialize.
Cover It Up: By “it,” I mean everything. No one is comfortable around naked people, even in a gym locker room. There’s no need to be naked for any extended period. Don’t strike up a conversation while you’re naked. Don’t get naked and then start rooting around in your locker. There should be absolutely no bending over. Don’t get naked and stand and watch TV. It’s just weird, and people hate it. Those who parade about naked are also men who shouldn’t do so anywhere. They are usually old guys with a variety of obvious physical flaws which are wholly unappealing.
Of course, I speak only of the men’s locker. Like all men, I imagine the women’s locker room populated by super models who wear skimpy towels when they aren’t showering together. An objective look at most women in the gym reveals that they may have the same unsightly issues as the men.
Dress The Part: Even being clothed can be done wrong. Jeans, khakis, work boots and other fashion failures must be avoided. Look the part. A t-shirt and shorts will work. Sweat pants are perfect. A middle-aged man in a wrestling singlet is not welome anywhere. Bicycle shorts, short-shorts and skin-tight apparrel must all be evaluated with an eye toward aesthetics. What is athletic–even alluring–on one person is vile and revolting on another. In these politically correct times, I realize that it is frowned upon to say that any one person is more attractive than another. Some people look better than others. Get a full-length mirror and judge for yourself.
STICK WITH IT
I believe that no one stays with exercise if he or she doesn’t like it. Experiment with different routines. Maybe you prefer cardio work to weights. That’s okay. Better to do cardio alone, than nothing at all.
Nothing ends an exercise program as quickly as an injury. Injuries are different than some pain. If you haven’t worked out in years, you’re going to have some aches and pains. When you get to my age-53 at this writing–you’re going to have some aches. If you over do it–lifting too much weight, for example–you will get injured. An injury will shut you down. That’s the quickest path to quitting. Even if you get injured, there’ll be other exercises you can do. Do those.
So, there you have it. I welcome you to my world. Now, get out of the way, and let me work out. Good luck.