Guest post by Emily Massengill
A few weeks ago, Steph asked me to consider writing an article for Strong Figure about what it’s like being a newbie at the gym. I was excited by the opportunity to share my experience and have been thinking about what to say ever since she asked me.
It’s Just So Hard Being Me.
It’s difficult to describe what it is like being a newbie at the gym, or more accurately in my case, new to fitness in general. Some of you reading this have been athletes your whole lives, and even if you are an athlete who has fallen out of shape, I think that probably gives you an advantage returning to the gym after a long absence. I have never been an athlete of any kind, so consistent exercise and training were new to me when I started my journey a few months ago.
A Happy Couch Potato
As a kid I was pretty active and played outside a lot, but I was never really into traditional organized sports. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist, and generally never wanted to stick with anything if I couldn’t master it right away. Not being the most coordinated individual, this fear of hard work and of failure generally kept me away from sports and most physical activity. In gym class I was totally that kid whose goal was to avoid sweating as much as possible. I never really understood people who loved to be active–I’ve always preferred a more relaxed pace of life and could totally sit on the couch all day and be happy about that if I have a good book or TV show I’m into. For most of my life I have been able to maintain a healthy weight even though I would not say I’ve ever been a healthy person. My metabolism was such that I could generally eat what I wanted and not exercise without gaining too much weight. Occasionally throughout high school or college I might get into an exercise kick, but it was always short lived (as in one trip to the gym and then over because I was reminded that I hated exercising).
Getting Older Sucks!
After I graduated college and got married things started to change. In the last 5 years, I’ve gained nearly 60 pounds. That’s more than 10 pounds a year! For a long time I just ignored the fact that I was gaining weight. Once I couldn’t ignore it I made excuses. “I’m just curvy.” “I don’t want my weight to drive my life–I can’t stand weight obsessed people.” “I like myself the way I am.” “I don’t have time.” The list went on and on. I didn’t want to own that I was overweight, unhealthy, and had no one to blame but myself. It was this February that something finally changed. I don’t know what clicked, but I was finally able to be honest with myself and others about my weight. Not only that, but I was finally willing to actually set a goal for myself (lose 68 pounds) and commit to working until I achieve my goal.
Being the “Newb.”
All that brings us back to the topic at hand: being a newbie at the gym. What’s it like, you wonder? Well, I’ll tell you:
First of all, you can tell you are a newbie at the gym if you think everyone around you is INSANE. People running and lifting and doing burpees for fitness and for fun. Who the hell does that?! I mean, WHY?! These were the types of thoughts swirling around in my head the first few weeks. I knew why I had to work my ass off, but why were all these super buff people torturing themselves? Being a newbie at the gym makes you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb (even though I don’t think anyone really cares).
It’s being the chick in Zumba who is always dancing in the wrong direction. It’s walking into the weight room and having big dudes look at you like you are a strange new species of human they’ve never before witnessed in this environment. Then you confirm their suspicions when you release the machine too soon and the sound of the weight dropping echoes through the entire gym. It’s being the person in bodyCOMBAT who is gulping water after the warm up. It’s trying to do a jack knife and falling off that giant ball a million times. It’s almost having an anxiety attack in cycle class when you realize your feet are strapped in, and then wondering afterward if you still will be able to have children someday. If you’ve ever ridden one of those horrifically uncomfortable bikes you know what I mean.
And I Sort of Like It Now.
All that being said, I’ve really enjoyed my journey into the world of fitness. I’ve decided that in the long run it looks more stupid to be fat than to go to the gym and occasionally make a fool of myself. And it makes me feel brave and like a bit of a badass when I try new things, since I’ve spent so much of my life being afraid. It’s empowering to set goals an achieve them, and to find out that I am capable of so much more that I thought.
So Where Am I in My Journey?
I’ve been at this for 5 months or so and am a little over 20 pounds down with 40 more to go. I’ve done all sorts of things I never thought I would do, like running a 5K and waking up before 6 a.m. to go to the gym. I’m already thinking about what’s next when I meet my goal. Right now my plan is to sign up for ballet lessons once I have finished losing weight. I think dancers are beautiful and I’ve always wanted to be one so why not? An even bigger dream would become a certified bodyCombat instructor. That one is a little more scary because honestly I am not sure I have the coordination to talk and do anything else at the same time.
6 Lessons from a Jerk
In closing, here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned through this process:
1) Start with what you like. For me it was Zumba and walking. Once I got in the habit of just exercising regularly then I was able to branch out and mix up my routine.
2) Fitness looks different for every person. I will most likely never be a power lifter or eat only whole foods. Stressing about that fact doesn’t help me. I know what I need to do to meet my goals, and can be happy for others when they meet theirs.
3) Fit people are way more encouraging and accepting than I expected. Sorry guys. Turns out I was the jerk. Thanks for all the encouragement!
4) Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
5) Don’t compare. It doesn’t help anything and usually leads to being mean spirited and bitter.
6) Set goals for yourself. For me this has made a huge difference. Setting goals feels risky because it opens up the possibility of failing. But it also helps provide focus and it feels great when you actually meet a goal.