I am not a particularly fit person. I’ve got love handles and an ever-so-slight hint of man-boob if I lean forward. So what am I going to do about it? I suppose that I could eat a calorie-controlled diet. Or I could just eat smaller portions of the terrible things that I do eat. No, I won’t stick to that. Maybe I could simply eat less cheese… Now we’re just talking crazy.
I decided instead that I would start going to the gym. This isn’t the first time that I’ve made that decision. On a few different occasions I have enrolled at gyms all over the city. A few visits later, I’m desperate for an escape route and my membership just mysteriously lapses. Now the situation is slightly different. I have a number of friends who are avid gym-goers and who are in great shape. I can get advice and ideas on what to do to get the most out of it. Seemed like a great idea as it will help me to stay on target. I signed up and went along for my first session a few days ago. To say it was an eye-opener would be an understatement.
I arrived at around 7pm on a weekday. I knew immediately that this was a mistake by the queue that snaked from the check-in counter to the entrance. So this was the post-work-workout crowd that I’d heard so much about. I figured that the gym was new and big enough to accommodate us all easily enough and to an extent that was true. The person at the check-in desk looked at me blankly when I quickly explained that it was my first visit. She didn’t care. She’d probably heard hundreds of people make the same statement that week and I was just another newbie. Fair enough.
I quickly changed (the changing room was spacious and fresh-smelling; an obvious giveaway that the place was still new) and made my way into the gym proper. At that moment, my heart sank. The place was full of people, but not like I expected. The place had been open for a matter of days. I assumed there would be a lot of people just like me; using a new facility as a fresh start to make a positive change. Instead, the place was filled with incredibly fit and athletic people. The treadmills were being run by trim folks in technical clothing, training for their next 10k or marathon. The weight machines were all in use by people with muscles bulging to escape their vest tops. I looked around the room and saw about a hundred people, the breakdown of which was as follows:
10%: Too thin to be working out (worryingly so), but really pushing it anyway.
10%: Abnormally large and muscular men who need to step away from the creatine and protein powder.
60%: Great shape, probably maintained by regular gym sessions. These are the ‘beautiful people’ of stories.
19%: People who are average builds, kind of like me, in varying levels of fitness and red-facedness.
1%: Really big people who are trying to make a serious change.
I walked in and I didn’t know what I was doing but everyone else seemed to totally get it. It’s hard to focus in that kind of environment. Desperate not to look like a complete newbie (despite the fact that I totally am) meant that I just kind of figured it out as I went along. I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t look around. I was terrified that someone would spot me and exclaim “he doesn’t know how to lift!” and I would be chased into the street. That initial shock lasted throughout my first visit which I ended a little prematurely as I just didn’t know what to do next. Visit number two would prove to be far better, but at that moment in the changing rooms, I didn’t know if there would be a second visit.
As I walked out into the evening air (workout stink still heavy upon me) I took a moment to consider those with other body types. I’m not exactly under consideration for the cast list of Magic Mike 3 (which I’m assuming someone will green light soon enough) but my build is relatively average. Yet the worry and anxiety I felt as I stepped into that Hall of Muscles must have been insignificant next to that of those with larger body types. People on chat shows and the covers of tabloids question why bigger people don’t ‘put the effort in’ and get to a gym to improve their quality of life. That anxiety, worry and embarrassment must be exponentially greater for those who live with self-esteem issues. I’m average and yet I genuinely considered not going back. Imagine walking into that lions’ den without any confidence in yourself. Could you see yourself voluntarily putting yourself through that?
But then I realised something important that I initially overlooked. Other people in a gym don’t care about you. They’re there fighting their own personal battles. They don’t care if you have love handles. They don’t care if you have man-boobs. They care about bettering themselves and that is all that any person should worry about in a place such as that.
It is on that very important fact, self-improvement, which I shall be focussing today during my third visit. This morning and every visit after that. At least until I get the call for Magic Mike 3.