Monday, January 14, 2013

New to Fitness - A Primer

It's a new year and a new round of New Year's Resolutioners at the gym.

I've been fairly fortunate that my gym has not been inundated with people on their New Year's kick. Hopefully that's not a bad thing that means my gym is struggling to survive. Hopefully it's just because I workout at asscrack o'clock when nobody else wants to be there.

Those of us who are gym regulars cringe during this time of year because there are so many new people who don't know what they're doing or are unfamiliar with that particular gym or maybe just don't understand that not everyone else is new and that maybe they shouldn't try to correct the big dog. Or get in her way.

As a Gym Hippo*, I'd like to provide some tips and tricks for those of you who are new to the fitness experience. I wrote something awhile back that speaks to how the fitness world can work better for non-athletes and that post speaks to a lot of tools you can use to help achieve your goals, but this post is specific to you, the New Kid at the Gym.

1. Own What's Yours (You are not a mind reader.)

A couple of months ago, a blog post went viral that spoke to the experience of one fat woman at the gym ("Hello Fellow Gym Goers Look at my Fat Butt"). It is an experience that many of us can relate to and I don't want to invalidate it as a legitimate experience.


None of us are mind readers. As much as we feel like we may know what a person is thinking when they give us that look, we genuinely don't. Sure, maybe they're thinking horrible thoughts about you being at the gym. But probably they're thinking about how they shouldn't have stayed up so late last night, or how they're muscling through a killer headache to get their workout in. Or you happen to be on "their" treadmill and they're trying to stifle the urge to hipcheck you off of it.

Yes, there are people who go to the gym for the sole purpose of not ending up fat. In my experience, the vast majority of gym regulars are there for fitness: to become fitter, faster, stronger, better than they were yesterday. Not because they want to lose an amount of weight, or stay a certain size, or lose a certain number of inches.

That feeling you get when you see someone look at you and you're sure they're thinking awful things? That's the voice of your own self-doubt. That horrible voice in your head that tries to convince you that you are not Worth It.

And you should absolutely, positively shut that lying bitch up.

2. Get Professional Help

I know. You've barely talked yourself into being able to fit a gym membership into your budget, you for sure don't have the extra money for a personal trainer.

I get it.

I do.

Most gyms offer group classes for free (or a small fee). Take them.


Yes, you can.

Because nobody is going to judge you for taking a break when you need to, modifying a movement, or leaving the class early. Take the classes. Listen to your body. Don't be afraid to push yourself.

You can do more than you think you can.

3. Get Accountability

This will mean different things for different people.

Maybe you join a fitness challenge or get a gym buddy or blog your workouts. Make yourself goals that involve how many times you go to the gym, how long you work out for, take a certain number of classes in a week. Goals like "I will finish three fitness classes this week" are the goals that will get you progress. Not "I will lose 2 pounds this week".

4. Nutrition Counts

Even if you workout for an hour every day, that's only 4% of your day. You still have 23 more hours to fuck it up.

I love this video & think it's a great demonstration of what I'm getting at: "You can't out train a bad diet."

Working out is awesome, don't get me wrong, but you can't follow it up by eating the same crap you've probably been eating. You don't have to change everything overnight, and attempting that would set most people up for disaster. But what you can do is make numerous small changes that add up. Sure, I can give you a list, but there are so many examples online. My suggestion is to eat as close to real, whole foods as you can. Hell, just start by reading In Defense of Food. It's not a diet plan, it wasn't even written by a nutritionist or a diet expert. It was written by a journalist who did a shit-ton of research to bring you some amazing information you're not going to get from someone trying to sell you a meal plan.

5. Build a Community

Possibly the biggest tip I can give you.

When I first started, I wanted to do everything myself, by myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed and felt like I should be able to figure this out on my own. Doesn't everyone figure this shit out on their own?


They don't.

Building a community gives you not only more resources and help, it gives you a cheering squad when it gets tough, people who check in on you when you've been absent, and, most importantly, friends who support and encourage your new, fit lifestyle.

6. Don't Bite the Big Dog

You're new here. She's not. Part of learning how to workout in the gym is learning how to share space and equipment and how to share space with people who are working out in a way that you maybe don't agree with.

My pet peeve? Plate slammers. You know the ones that sit on the weight machines and make the plates slam on every rep? I'm pretty sure that means they're doing it wrong, and it kind of makes me want to smack them. But I'm not their personal trainer. I don't know their story. As much as I'd love to go tell them off, it's not my place and I sure the fuck do not have the training or experience to know for sure that what they're doing is dangerous**.

So I roll my eyes, turn my iPod up, and hope I can ignore them.

Because all I can control is me.

Saturdays at Body Tribe: Me vs. Tire
Photo courtesy of Chip at Body Tribe - Flipping tires is a ridiculous amount of fun.

Well, kids, that's all I've got for you today. Do you have some tips & tricks that you'd like to share with fitness newbs? Just fill in that fancy sharing box below!

*Gym Hippo: Because I'm not thin enough to be a Gym Rat

**The only time you should step in and offer a correction to someone is if you do happen to have the training and education to know that a person is doing something likely to cause physical harm. And, even then, be prepared to get told to stuff it.


Wine Dog said...

Yeah, but you've gotten to be pretty bad ass. I've seen the transformation. You're amazing actually.

(I soooo wanted to use the wrong form of your/you're)

dolphyngyrl said...

I may be kind of bad ass now, but it took me an inordinate amount of time to get here. Hopefully others don't need to take the winding, halfassed road that I did.

(I'm pretty sure you just like to make me twitch.)

dolphyngyrl said...

And thanks. :)

Susan said...

I told you being a butt crack of dawner would ward off the resolutioners!!! but great advice!