Why do gyms suck? The reason they exist, after all, is a good one: To get healthy. This is a lovely concept; we should all work on our health. But gyms ask us to do this in highly public places, where our personal bodies are literally on display, surrounded by a lot of other bodies getting healthy in a very public way.
So therein lies the clash: Gyms meld the ultra-personal with the super-public. And while, yes, we deal with the personal in public every day all the time, the gym promises a different level of exposure. There is nowhere to hide, there are mirrors everywhere, and the lighting is awful. Good luck not death-staring at that part of your body you don’t like while you move it, more and more frantically.
And then there’s the issue of actually working out, summoning the willpower to mount a stupid machine, and then exert yourself on it; grabbing little free weights, pumping them up and down, ideally in reps of two or three. And, hey, dude over there: You might be behind me but mirrors work and I see you looking while I pump these dumbbells behind my head. When can I leave?
But no matter how much gyms really do suck (a lot), we also need them—most of all during winter. You can be as optimistic as you like about buying cold-weather running clothes, but the first seven minutes of running outside in January are incredibly painful, and even if you do it once, you will likely not do it again. So, back to the gym.
All of this to say, as long as you’re going to go to the gym, try to enjoy it. (And not pay that much for it while you’re at it.) Here, then, are a few things that might make going to the gym a little less angst-filled, and an actually tolerable way to stay healthy—at least until April, when you can return to doing the most sane thing, and run outside.
1) If you must move your body in public, dress yourself in items you like. We feel better about everything we do when we like the clothes we wear. You won’t hate moving your body as much in public if you have gym clothes that feel good on, and make you look pretty ok. Yes, nice gym stuff is expensive—but you know what is more expensive? Not taking care of yourself, and going to the doctor.
2) Music. The difference between a gym experience with music and a gym experience without music is that one of them should not exist. Never go to the gym without music. Or at least without a podcast. Your soundtrack should not be other people’s grunting. Your soundtrack should be a song that makes you really happy and excited, or even sad. Anything other than the inherently unpleasant sounds of the gym. Plus you will run and pump so much harder and faster with the good stuff in your ears. It’s astounding.
3) Don’t make friends at the gym. This gets to my original point. Gyms are public places but you are there for yourself, and your body. Engaging with the enemy—your brave fellow gym goers—breaks down your final shreds of anonymity and privacy. Knowing people at your gym changes your experience of being there, and the way you do it. Soon you might find yourself avoiding those times you know certain people, who you don’t want to talk to, will be there. That stinks. There will always be exceptions and you’ll feel those out. But for the most part, just don’t do it. Your new mediocre friend is not worth the significantly decreased quality of your gym time.
4) Don’t grunt. Fine, sometimes, if you’re doing a great job and therefore working out really hard, you might have to breathe more loudly than normal and exhale audibly. That’s awesome, good work. But, then, why do some tennis players scream and others don’t? It’s because it’s not vital to the activity. So don’t be a standard grunter! People don’t like it. You know what else you shouldn’t do? Whoop and yell when you’re really feeling it. It sounds nuts, but people do this. I really, really dislike those people. Don’t be a person that other people avoid. Be a silent gym partner in crime.
5) Wipe your machine that your sweat fell all over. Come on, that is so gross. You have to wipe your machines! And your yoga mat, and your padded area where you do sit ups. People, come on. There is really nothing more to say here. Except: It is your job, not the gym cleaner’s job.
6) In the vein of not making friends, don’t make repeated eye-contact with anyone either. Once in a while, a really hot person walks into the gym, and you’re like, “Holy crap, that person is so hot.” And it’s really hard not to look at them a lot. But, have you heard of discretion? You can totally look at people once in a while without necessarily letting them know you’re looking at them. Maybe they’ll catch you once or twice. If they do, then you kind of have to give up on looking at them for the rest of the day. You just can’t be that creeper, if you don’t want others to be creeping on you, which you know feels gross and makes you want to leave immediately.
7) Don’t lift weights too close to others. Not much more to say here, either. It’s a matter of giving and receiving the delight that is personal space, in a place that otherwise lacks for it. You just don’t want to be a part of that other guy’s workout. That’s weird and unpleasant.
8) Don’t do the same thing over and over. Changing up your workout is not only better for your body, so that certain muscles that you’ve just really put through the ringer can recover, and get ready to be worked even harder next time; it’s also important for avoiding monotony in your routine, and thus increasing your chances of actually enjoying your time at the gym. Variety is the key to life, right? That said, giving yourself a schedule, which is to say, structure, is key. Nothing is less enticing than exercising without a goal, and if you set out a path for yourself while at the gym, you’re more likely to keep at it then you are if you find yourself directionless in a room with a bunch of machines in it.
9) Dream of the refreshing beverage or life-giving food you will indulge in afterward. Everyone knows that, even if you do all of the above things, the very best part of going to the gym is leaving the gym. Your body will already feel good because your blood is really pumping and your endorphins are nice and spiked, but it’ll feel even better if there are some nice little treats waiting for you afterward. I’m not saying you should inhale something heavy and greasy; in fact, please, don’t do that. But do ingest something refreshing that will be a double reward for the good work you’ve just done.
10) Try going for two weeks straight. If, at the end of that time, you do not like what is happening, maybe the gym is not for you. But if you don’t make it priority for at least a couple of weeks, you won’t get to experience the actual good stuff that can come from gym-going, namely, feeling fucking fantastic. So, even though we are all very busy, make time for the gym. Love yourself. And, maybe—just maybe—the gym will love you back.