I'll confess it had been a long time since I had set foot in a gym, preferring to be outdoors for most exercise, but when the weather turns damp and cold and the sun barely shines for days on end, the lure of the gym to stay in shape while the weather is nasty, is just too much to resist.
Most people join a gym in January with the idea that it will somehow magically turn them from sacks of huffing fat into trim muscle bound aerobic wonders.
They gleefully look over class names like Kick some butt, Flab Rehab, Yogalates and Uphill Battle and think that the fun names will actually make the classes more enjoyable.
While there are some fun classes, just about any group class you take is going to place you in the position of having to keep up with what everyone else is doing even when it hurts to do so. There is no shame in toning down the workout, especially if you have ever been injured before and still have issues with old injuries that limit your skill range.
It is wise to go through the gym orientation, even if you think you know what's what and do not want to be viewed as a newbie. There is nothing that says newbie like sitting backward on the lat pull and trying to do bicep curls on the triceps machine or lying flat on your back on a seat that was meant for your abdomens to rest on.
I confess that when doing seated crunches on an upright machine, I did not adjust the bottom bar and thought my feet were supposed to go behind it not on top of it and nearly catapulted myself headfirst into the floor when I bent over and the bar swung up and over nearly taking out both knee caps in the process.
There is a reason why they make you sign that waiver that you will not hold them responsible if you are injured...
You can tell the real gym goers by their looks. The muscle builders all look like little kids when they walk because their muscles are so big they cannot hold their arms and legs in a natural position and have to hold them out to their sides and waddle from side to side to avoid friction burns from standard movement.
The yoga ladies are long and lean and like to bend backward and lift their legs behind their ears while standing in line at the water cooler to fill their bottles.
Cool people always have their own nalgene bottles. Muscle builders have their containers of white powder (muscle milk or whey powder, not cocaine) that they mix with water and ice and shake like maracas as they walk around trying to keep their balance without toppling over.
Knowing the lingo will help you fit in, as will knowing the unspoken rules. You will need to refer to your muscles by their one name nick names, like lats, quads, gluts, pecs and abs. Do not make a fool of yourself by referring to your biceps as your bi's or your 'ceps.
If you are a guy and you are taking a toning class, do not, under any circumstances pick up the one or two pound hand weights, nor should you go for the five pound weights if you are in a class that uses them for straight arm lifts as this is a good way to pull a muscle or rip your rotator cuffs right out their sockets. A three pound weight is a good manly weight without looking like a sissy or doing irreparable damage to your shoulders or your ego.
FIY, it is not cool to stand on the side of the treadmill railing while you turn the machine on and then hop on running, and in many cases is more dangerous than turning the machine on and doing an ungraceful jerk forward as you anticipate being flung off the back of the treadmill.
You are under no obligation to keep the same pace as the person running or walking next to you and it is better to set the treadmill on a comfortable speed and keep it there rather than constantly beeping as you change from slow to fast to slow to incline to flat again.
When spraying off your machine to remove your sweat and oil after using it, do not direct the fine spray nozzle toward the person on the piece of equipment next to you, nor fling the sweat off your forehead onto them. This is just disgusting and will not win you points with the ladies anymore than grunting and moaning when lifting or lowering weights.
When listening to music on headphones make sure you can hear those around you. Do not turn the volume up so loud that people two machines over from you can hear or feel the beat, and for heaven's sake, do not start singing aloud. Just because you cannot hear your own voice over the noise does not mean the person working next to you wants to hear your rendition of 'Wild Thing'. Keep the noise to a minimum. This includes no long conversations on the cell phone or greeting friends thirty feet away and then trying to hold a conversation with them.
Just as you should respect people's right to their own music and quiet conversations you should also respect their air space by not wearing strong colognes, perfumes and even under arm deodorants which can cause some people to have an allergic reaction, especially when they have to breath more deeply to inhale air while working out.
It is better to smell slightly rank than to cover it up with perfume. If you really stink, come in dirty from work or are saturated in cigarette smoke, take a shower BEFORE you work out and put on clean clothes and low scent deodorants and you will make a lot of people happy who might otherwise have to move far away from you or cut their work out short to prevent from suffering headaches, runny noses or itchy eyes because of your chemical melt down in their presence.
When in the locker room or gym, keep your items near you at all times and like the overhead bins on airplanes, keep your big bags in the locker, not sprawled out on the floor or dressing room benches and tables.
Pay attention to your gymnasium rules. Some discourage nudity in the changing rooms and require a bathing suit to use the steam room or sauna. Few people are comfortable with seeing people walking around naked for extended periods of time and there is a definite ick factor in sitting in an area where a naked butt has just sprawled, so wear a towel and keep nudity to a minimum, not a full blown display session.
If you are a parent and bring little kids with you, do not take them in the opposite sex locker room or let them run around loose opening up the curtains on showers and changing rooms and yelling "peek-a-boo". Few people find this amusing. If they have to use the restroom, use the outer restrooms in the hall, not the ones in the locker room.
As a visitor to a gym you are bound to learn some lessons the hard way, but the greater effort you make to fit in and follow the rules, the better you will get along with everyone and remember it is okay to laugh when you fall off the BOSU ball, but not okay to call it a bozo or boss-u ball.
If you really hate working out at the gym, take heart there are only three more months of really cold weather and then you should be up and running with a head start on all your other friends who gave up exercising because it was just too cold to get outdoors.
Lastly, do not treat the gym employees like your personal servants. Ask them for help, don't order them about or blame them for every little problem that goes on and expect them to know who is teaching what class at what time when a copy of the schedule and instructors is available on the bulletin board and on-line. You may think you are the only one asking them, but chances are, if they are a little snippy, it is because they have been asked that same question 250 times already and are now resorting to glaring at you and pointing a finger to the exercise schedule posted three inches away from your face that you pass by everyday and fail to notice.
Above all, do not try to take in too many classes or push yourself too far. Keep a chart of where you were when you started and where you are now and even if you are only interested in keeping your running muscles in shape for spring, it never hurts to do some different exercises that challenge you and help build core muscles and encourage balance and posture even when you aren't trying to stay upright on one leg while bending your other up to your chin while waiting to get a drink of water from the water cooler.