Things I Think at the Gym

The first time I set foot in a gym – voluntarily anyway – was in June of 2000. I was 23 years old, and had never done any regular fitness activities or sports in my life. I felt awkward and out of place, spent loads of energy worrying about how I looked and how everyone else looked, and enjoyed my gym time approximately not at all.

After several years, a lot of figure fluctuations, and the launch of this blog, I began to relax a bit. I was less worried and more contemplative. I did a lot of thinking about body image and fitness, self-scrutiny and confidence as I observed my fellow gym-goers. But I still did a lot of comparison. More than I’d like to admit, in fact. And a fair amount of judging, too, especially about how workout clothing fit and who was wearing full makeup and how much abdomen was showing. I had calmed some of my self-criticism, but seemingly amped up the cattiness.

And now? Well, I still loathe the gym. I vastly prefer to be walking or biking or doing virtually anything exercise-y besides holing up in a moist, crowded building with a hundred of my neighbors. (And I swap in those activities as often as I can.) But MAN have my gym-based thought processes changed. I’ll admit to the occasional huff when I catch myself in the mirror, but everyone else? I literally look at them and think, “Yep, you’re awesome. You too. And you.”

Know why? Because very few people love the gym. Loads of people feel like they just don’t have time to work out. Ours is a rushed, anxious culture that seeks relaxation in sedentary activities. There are so many things that prevent most people from even getting to the gym, much less putting in a good workout, that I consider every single living being in my gym to be an absolute superstar. I’m elated that they’re there – the deeply tanned, the muscle-bound, the skinny, the fully-made-up, the fat, the old, the wee, the loud talkers, the equipment hogs, every last one of them makes me proud. I have actually come quite close to approaching perfect strangers to tell them how amazing they are. Luckily, I’ve stopped myself short with the realization that I’d come off as a total loon.

And I realize this sounds mighty rah-rah-goody-two-shoes, but it’s the honest truth. I have pledged to go to the gym four times per week, and EVERY TIME I waffle about going. It is a time suck, I am massively busy, and I hate it. OK, I don’t hate it, but I do not enjoy it and can easily think of a dozen activities I’d rather engage. I know that most humans feel the same way. (Emphasis on “most.”) And the ones who put all of that aside and haul ass to the gym anyway? Superstars. Every last one of them.

Of course, the gym won’t work for many people. In fact, exercise isn’t an option for some. Illness, injury, recovery, and countless other barriers can make strength training and cardio virtually impossible. And, naturally, caring for yourself in the best way possible takes precedence over forcing yourself to hit the gym.

But for those who are able yet reluctant, my hat’s off to you. If you are exercising, you are fabulous. If you are making time to lift weights, do cardio, stretch, run, sweat, you are brilliant. No matter how much you weigh now, or how much you wish you weighed, or how strong you are, or how strong you wish you were, if you are carving out time in your jam-packed life for fitness – be it inside a gym or outside – you rock. Because it is so easy to push aside the importance of movement, and it is so hard to stay motivated in the face of exhaustion and frustration and life. And if you’re moving, exercising, lifting, or grooving, you’re showing your body some truly fantastic love.

Image courtesy hotelcasavelas2. I only WISH that photo showed my actual gym.

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37 Responses to “Things I Think at the Gym”

  1. Anonymous

    I usually have a good reason not to go to the gym. I admire the credibility of the reason, and if it’s a really good reason I short list it for my forthcoming book, “1000 Good Reasons to Not Go To the Gym”. Then I go to the gym.

  2. Ashe @ Ash in Fashion

    “I’m elated that they’re there – the deeply tanned, the muscle-bound, the skinny, the fully-made-up, the fat, the old, the wee, the loud talkers, the equipment hogs, every last one of them makes me proud. I have actually come quite close to approaching perfect strangers to tell them how amazing they are. Luckily, I’ve stopped myself short with the realization that I’d come off as a total loon.”

    So totally this. I’m elated that my gym is people who want– or need to be there. It feels very non-judgmental, is very NOT crowded, and the people there are there to work out. I’ve gotten tip from buff gay men, smiled at thin girls on the elliptical next to me, and damned the girl built like me– who is going for the elliptical I wanted. But I’m always happy to see people of all sorts of body types, SUPER focused on working out and putting that love in to their body.

  3. JS

    Thank you so much for writing this. I started going to the gym for the first time ever earlier this year and am slowly beginning to enjoy it… there are days I would rather not go but then I try to remind myself of the buzz I get from completing a workout. I am only managing to go twice a week, but that works for me for the time being. I am slowly seeing results which is rewarding in its own way. It is difficult though to be faced with so many people with (by my perception) “better” bodies and to be afraid of people judging you in return, so I will try to remember all you have written so that I try not to make comparisons or fear being judged myself.

  4. Aimee

    High five to you for this! I’m going to print it out and stick it on my fridge every time I try to talk myself out of the gym.

  5. Anat

    Funny, I absolutely adore being at the gym. I think it’s because I don’t really do the “gym” stuff, I go to classes that I love, and I enjoy every minute of it. In fact it’s something I look forward to doing at the end of the day. For me, the key has been to find classes that I truly love with instructors who motivate me, and classes that have added benefit – not just “the grind”, but dance, movement, coordination, music… something that catches my attention and brings me joy.

    • Sal

      Anat, that is so, so smart. And I think many people have the same philosophy. I’ve tried classes myself and they just don’t thrill me, since I like to be solitary and out of doors. But they’re so perfect for so many people, and for just the reasons you state!

      • GingerR

        I think you get a lot more mental benefit if your routine does include some classes. Even if you think your a klutz and that you can’t ever be on the right foot or in time with the music.

        Moving on cue, to something besides the inside of your own head is consuming, and that makes it mentally relaxing.

        Fitness is more than pumping your heart up, it’s also strengthing the connections between your brain and your muscles.Concentrating on doing something with your right arm while making your left foot do something else leaves you little time to worry about how you look and causes you to move in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.

        • Sal

          Glad that works for you, Ginger, but it doesn’t for me. I get my own form of relaxation from biking and walking and it does me a world of good. Classes don’t suit everyone!

  6. Jen on the Edge

    I hate going to the gym because it’s so boring. I much prefer to exercise outside (running, walking, cycling) no matter the weather. In fact, I actually like walking in the snow and running in the rain.

    I had knee surgery last year, with follow up physical therapy and a temporary gym membership to help me ease back into exercise. I hated going to the gym and would procrastinate every time I had scheduled myself to go. I am in awe of those folks who do make it to the gym because it’s not something I could do long term.

    And no, I don’t worry about what I look like when I’m exercising, nor do I pay attention to what others look like. To me, anyone who’s exercising is awesome.

  7. VAMarcy

    Thanks for the encouragement to keep on keeping on! I haven’t the faintest idea what people think of me at the gym, but for the ‘regulars’, we recognize each other and just getting to the gym several times a week is praiseworthy! One thing I keep in mind is that I don’t know where the gym-goers are coming from physically (have they lost weight already? on medication that makes them gain weight easily? chronic illness that makes just walking on a treadmill painful? etc.) so I don’t assume or judge. They’re there moving their bodies and doing what they can for health. That’s a worthy accomplishment all by itself!

  8. Bobbie

    Your gym dedication shows in your photos. You look fit and strong and have excellent posture.
    I belong to a gym solely so I can attend bodypump classes, which I enjoy immensely.

  9. Jenni

    I too would drag my feet about exercising and going to the gym. I have also always been unhappy with my weight, I’m just not at the weight I want to be. Finally this past year I have found something I love. Cycling and yoga! I had pretty much just made peace with weighing what I did. But now that I have found exercise I love, I’m losing weight without even trying! I am all for doing what you love when it comes to exercise, if you don’t enjoy it, find something else.

  10. Stacy

    What a great post. I have slacked off on my exercise and really need to get back to it. I don’t go to a gym, but we have an exercise room in our basement. That means my excuses are even less than worthy than others! I just have to walk downstairs!

    I actually find that my chronic back pain is better when I exercise, as I am getting movement and the stretching of the muscles. My sports induced asthma doesn’t get any better, but at least I feel stronger. I also have a good excuse to stay at my weight, and thus…need to exercise. When I was preggo with my little ones and had gained 40 lbs, my knees were in so much pain it hurt to just walk. I know that if I let myself go, that is my future. Even gaining 20 lbs my knees hurt then, too. So….I actually have more viable reasons to exercise than to not exercise. And why aren’t I again??? 😉

    • Maria

      I also have exercise-induced asthma, which pretty much keeps me away from high-cardio exercises like running. Even outdoor exercises like biking and walking are dangerous for me if the pollen count is high! I really enjoy stretching and improving flexibility, which is why yoga and Pilates classes are tops in my book. While I don’t go to a gym, the studio is such a great, supportive place where I can get a great workout, work on technique, and also calm my mind. Plus, no inhaler needed. 🙂

      • Stacy

        I really want to try yoga, too. There is a studio close to my work…I just need to check out their schedule. Yeah, my inhaler sits on my elliptical machine. I can’t say that I push myself overly hard when working out at cardio, but I figure everything that I do helps!

  11. Terri

    The idea of going to the gym intimidates me, so I’ve been working out at home for years. My husband, OTOH, looks forward to his gym visits.

  12. Linda

    I appreciate your honesty about the fact that you will very possibly NOT grow to love it or feel great once you get there. I quit going to a gym that I actually liked fine as a place to hang out with familiar-looking strangers and watch the ball game. It was very comfy and non-judgy and all that. It’s just that I hate to exercise. I walk a lot, but if an activity feels taxing and tiring, I hate it. I have never felt a single endorphin. I have no idea what people are talking about there. So … yeah.

    • dustwindbun

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one. Every time I hear people say how much they enjoy exercise, or how it makes them feel better, I’m torn between self-mocking laughter and puzzlement. As someone with fatigue problems, I see exercise as merely a (potentially painful) waste of the energy I need to do other things in my day-to-day life, so I don’t do it. (Those who are about to point out how exercising will help me get over the fatigue etc, don’t bother – I used to try to exercise, and the only thing it did for me was leave me exhausted no matter what I did, hurting, nauseous, and unable to take care of myself. And that was after walking on the treadmill for a few minutes and doing a few stretches. I used to be a minor athlete, but I never felt good doing that either.)

      And I hear that endorphin thing – I actually wonder if my brain chemistry is off, because endorphins are related to opiates, and those don’t affect me either (Vicodin and codeine for pain, before anyone worries).

  13. Anna

    I’m not quite the gym rat I used to be when I first started going, but I still love going three or four times a week. But for regular gym stuff like weights and cardio machines- I don’t tend to like classes there for some reason.

    I’m noticing a lot of people prefer outdoor exercise, which I think is totally great! I go on walks outside when the weather is good, but we are entering Texas Summer down here, so it’s getting far too hot and buggy for me to continue.
    Walking outside and using an elliptical are totally different experiences for me, though, so I don’t know that I prefer one over the other. When I go for walks outside it’s more of a reflective, walking meditation type thing. But when I’m in the gym my energy tends to be a little more aggressive, plus I don’t have to pay as much attention to my surroundings, so I’ll turn on some epic movie (or videogame) score and pretend I’m running across Middle Earth fighting orcs or escaping zombies in some burnt out apocalyptic future. And then I just tear it up, it’s great.
    (And if I’m doing weights, I pretend I’m working out with Starbuck and Helo from Battlestar Galactica. It is impossible not to bring it when you are working out with Starbuck and Helo)

  14. Angela

    I am mixed about the gym too. I love, love to walk and have completed several half marathons. But I got fed up of that and joined a gym which is incredibly hard, even after 4 months. Plus my husband travels a lot leaving me without the kids, their sports, school, my job etc…so I have fallen off the gym too. My body was responding to strength training but I don’t love it. I still feel like I might pass out every time I go….need to do something

  15. Grace

    I love this post.

    I thought I hated the gym, and now, having been unable to go for nine months due to this complicated pregnancy, I miss it SO much. I can’t wait to get back to my routine.

  16. Frenchie

    I go to the gym three times a week without fail: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I do cardio and weights. I also garden (almost half an acre) and I stand all day at my full-time job (I teach–hey, that counts as activity!). My doctor doesn’t think gardening is exercise–ha! I disagree.

    Part of my motivation in going to the gym is how I feel: empowered, strong, alive. I swear my posture is better when I’m walking home from the gym. My cheeks are rosy. My energy level soars. When I get home, I often start singing “I feel good” by James Brown (no, I’m not kidding).

    It’s ironic that on the days I don’t “feel” like going to the gym, I drag myself there anyway, and the result is always an “awesome” workout. Go figure! (pun intended)

  17. Wendy

    I love working out at the gym. I think it’s because it’s the only chance I get to focus on one thing without being interrupted. I don’t always feel motivated to go but I always enjoy it when I’m there. I’m lucky enough to have a low-priced membership at an excellent gym, so I don’t feel guilty if I don’t go for a while. My gym has a pleasant panoramic view of fields and trees, and I enjoy listening to my favourite music on my ipod. I think those things help.

  18. CW

    I LOVE the gym. I only make it twice a week, but I get really cranky if I can’t go. I go to my local YMCA, not a big fancy professional gym, so I think the atmosphere is much more relaxed and non-judgemental. I love my gym time because:
    1) This is my only child free time in my waking life. My kids love the childcare center, so everyone’s happy.
    2) I’m not shy, but I am an introvert. I NEED time with my thoughts. Walking laps on the track, using a stationary bicycle, or other mindless repetitive activity is the perfect time for thinking.
    3) I never push myself until I get sore and sweaty (I’m lazy like that), so my time there is actually quite relaxing.
    4) Quite a lot of elderly people seem to patronize this particular gym. They are always polite and unobtrusive, and I find a bit of casual people-watching intriguing. I often get to thinking about what my life may be like at that age, and that train of thought seems to bring my current day-to-day existence into perspective.

  19. Mollie

    I exercised and participated in sports for almost 15 years without ever really enjoying it. I kept it up because I felt better afterwards and it keeps me sane. But it was usually a chore. Then in the last few years I really started to enjoy moving my body. I think the biggest factor in the change was shedding the identity of “not an athlete” that I had been dragging around. Once I stopped telling myself that I was inherently bad at sports I realized that could both improve and enjoy myself. That allowed me to take another big step this year–now I only exercise when I want to, and most days, actually I do want to.

  20. Susan

    AWESOME post!! I struggle w/ going because it’s not convenient. But it’s a great gym, the people are friendly (around noon, the same group of 60-70ish men are there) and the price is right.

    I lost 100 lbs in 2 years on elliptical/reducing carbs. I’ve gained back about 30 (wasn’t working out) but I refuse to give up. I’ve set my goal – 3x a wk. And I’m doing it! Even if I’m not losing, I feel myself getting stronger every day. I feel good about that.

    It’s a victory the minute I get in the car and go!

  21. Jenn

    Thanks so much for this! It really made be feel good about my workouts. I don’t got to the gym though, I never have. I do work out at home 3-4 days a week, usually running or exercise videos. I also ride my bike to work every day. It’s easy to take for granted the good things we do for ourselves, and I’m so grateful for the reminder!

  22. Laurel

    Sal you’re awesome. I want to go to the gym with YOU! You have a great attitude.

    I don’t love gyms. I like being strong. These two things fight with eachother. I have set up strength equipment in my basement that hit a lot of the areas I need. But no squat rack and bench press at home. Those bad boys send me back to the gym. Sometimes seeing what other humans are capable of is inspiring. That is one benefit of going to a gym.

  23. Michelle

    Great post! I enjoy doing kettlebell at home, though I’ve found that book–I think it’s called “5 minutes in the morning”, by Jorge Cruise, actually increased my strength despite the exercises seeming too simple/brief back when I used that.

    The elliptical machine we have is great, though I can stomach running now that my husband has bought into the idea of intervals. Psychologically speaking, intervals are easier for me than just plain running ever was. Instead of “Oh, no, we’ve got to run X miles!?”, we’re now running for 34 minutes (however far that takes us), and I’ve got two minutes of “pushing it” followed by one minute of a “steady pace”, repeat, repeat. Plus five minutes of warm-up and cool-down.

    RE: classes
    I just started attending classes at a gym ’cause I got a great deal on them with a Groupon. I may join after the Groupon runs out because I like the classes and gym membership is inexpensive. I love yoga and pilates. I’m not so into step, because I can’t follow the routine. I was never good at dancing. I’ve also noticed that all classes are not the same–I get individual attention and assistance with my form in pilates and yoga. Whereas in the step class, I feel more like we’re cattle. I get it, that to some degree, there’s no *time* to help newbies figure out what’s going on.

    • Anat

      Step classes can be rough at the begining. They definitely require some training before you can do the full routine. Some gyms have beginner step classes which take you through the basic step elements slowly and build up to the more complex routines. If your gym doesn’t offer it, just stand at the back (but make sure to have a good view of the teacher), and accept that it will take you at least 3-4 times of feeling like a fool before you start getting the hang of it. It’s not for everyone, but if you get hooked, it will give you so many benefits – besides being an aerobic exercise, you are developing your mind in learning, following and remembering the routine.

      I can understand why it looks like cattle – teaching a step class is incredibly complex for the teacher, so usually they are giving all their attention to teaching the combination, and seeing the class is in step with them. You won’t get much attention – it is indeed very different from yoga and pilates. Good luck!

  24. LaChina

    Thank you thank you thank you. I pay my gym membership fees every month because I know it’s important, but fail to get my not so skinny and that’s ok self to the gym. You’ve inspired me yet again.

  25. hellotampon

    I just started going to the gym a couple months ago after finding one that’s actually affordable. I thought I would hate it, but I don’t. I actually get sort of cranky when I can’t go.

    It’s at the local community center. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s only $10 a month. If you want to take classes, it’s $35 for 6 weeks and the regular gym membership is included. Compared to other gyms around here, that’s an amazing price. My only problem is that the hours are more limited than other gyms. They’re not open on Saturday and Sunday and they close early on Fridays. The rest of the time, they close at 730 which is fine with me because I probably wouldn’t go after that time anyway. But I heard that they close early every day during the summer, which kinda sucks.

  26. blackdogramona

    I used to a belong to a women’s only, I guess it would be considered upscale, gym, when I lived near Cambridge, MA and I went at least 2 nights after work and always on Saturdays for 15 years. I did classes – step, strength, sometimes yoga, and even though I was tired and grumpy after work and never wanted to go, I always felt great afterwards. Saturdays were the best because it was MY time – I would leave the house grubby, do a few errands and then do a class, maybe have time for the sauna, shower and take my time with makeup and hair and leave feeling good and ready for the weekend!
    Over the past 5 years, I have put together a home gym with elliptical, bike, step, weights and a lot of DVDS – I put on my workout clothes as soon as I get out of bed and head on in there. It’s working out fine and takes so much less time- but sometimes I miss the energy of the gym and the sense of community. And funny that I think that, because I never made friends there, but would see the same women there over the years, just to say hi to, and I felt a kinship.

  27. Kym

    I first set foot inside a gym on my 40th birthday. I loved it! I went 6 times a week for most of my first four years. I even went the day after having a rather curious mole removed from the center of my back; I couldn’t move very well or fast, but I walked slowly around the track for about 30 minutes (my husband thought I was crazy). I’m convinced that I healed much quicker than I would have “resting” on the couch as recommended by my doc.

    The past year has been different. Not sure why, but I’ve had no motivation. It feels like a good week if I’ve made it four times. I’m trying to remedy that by reminding myself that I’ll never regret going, but ALWAYS regret not going (read that on Pinterest). Works every time.

  28. Maria

    Thank you so much for your post! I’ve bookmarked it to read every time I want to come up with a gym excuse. I’ve used every excuse in the book: my hair is too clean; my hair is too dirty; I’m tired; It will make me too tired to do the other things I need to do.

    I honestly dislike all exercise, inside or outside! I do like the shared gym spirit that we are all sweating and suffering together, though. (Except for those strange-to-me-people who actually love working out!)

    It really is powerful to remember that just working out makes me, in your inspiring words, “a superstar.” Thank you again for that idea! I need all the self esteem I can get!