Look great! Feel awful!
April 17, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

How Do I Gym? So, I got a few free months at a local gym and I'm making myself go three times a week but I'm having a few issues relating to concentration and mood.

So I don't have a ton of experience outside of HS of going to a gym and while I am able to do bodywork stuff and jumping jacks at home just fine, I'm finding the gym completely distracting and disorienting. Loud music drowns out my ipod nano, the TVs are blasting in all directions and it's always full of people crawling all over. Concentration has never been my strong suit and it's really, really hard to drown out all this stimuli. I've had better luck going at strange hours - like 9pm on a saturday or 2pm on a Tuesday - but I can't keep that up.

Second, related issue. I've been going for two weeks and every time I come out I just feel awful. Not just physically, but emotionally. I'll be chipper going in and then in a foul mood for the rest of the day - snippy, grouchy, and hard to rise out of it. I didn't feel this way when i was just walking or doing stuff at home. I am working out a lot harder at the Gym then at home, but shouldn't I just feel tired, not like I wanna punch strangers in the face? What the hell is wrong with me?
posted by The Whelk to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Loud music drowns out my ipod nano

Not sure about the rest, but this should be easily fixed with in-ear headphones.
posted by ripley_ at 11:57 AM on April 17, 2010

Have you tried squash? It's something that you can do at the gym that is in fact fun. I feel much happier after a good game of it.
posted by jpcooper at 12:02 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There's no squash court and ..sadly no pool cause this Manhattan and space is a premium. Pretty much weights, class rooms with yoga and bikes (no interest in doing a class) and cardio/weights/machine in a big pit area.
posted by The Whelk at 12:07 PM on April 17, 2010

i have the same issues with TV in public...i absolutely LOATHE how it just runs like a tap. it's like living in 'brave new world'. this really depends on the gym you go to...you might actually prefer working out at the Y.

As for your second question, have you heard of a little substance called 'testosterone'?
posted by sexyrobot at 12:07 PM on April 17, 2010

Yes, canalphones for the music issue (especially with foam tips -- they're basically earplugs).

As for the second issue, you are not alone... I used to have angry endorphins too. All I can say is that it happens, but seems to happen less often the more I exercise. When I first started running, I was sharp and growly for a good hour or two afterwards, but now I usually feel pretty good, and if I do feel grumpy, it subsides quickly.
posted by somanyamys at 12:09 PM on April 17, 2010

Sounds like you need a gym friend. Some one to commiserate and make fun of people with, if not actually you know, motivate each other to go and work hard. I find that time passes so much more quickly while I'm pumping away on the elliptical if I have someone next to me making sporadic commentary about whatever is on the tv. Especially helpful if they're at a slightly higher level than you, but not disgusting about it. The busiest gyms can be the most isolating and demoralizing if don't have a buddy system. But stick it out and good luck!
posted by Juicy Avenger at 12:15 PM on April 17, 2010

The kind of post-workout mood you're describing sounds like exactly what I get if my blood sugar's a little on the low side as a result of hard work at the gym. I have a glucometer to test this with, by the way, so I'm not just guessing that's the cause for me. That kind of "punch strangers in the face" irrational anger is exactly how it feels to me, too. Maybe try having something sugary before and after your workout, and see if that helps you?
posted by FishBike at 12:19 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

What are you going to the gym for? If you like doing bodyweight exercises at home, there's nothing wrong with continuing to do that. If you're going to the gym to increase the intensity of your workouts, you can actually accomplish the same thing at home by changing the exercises you do.

It sounds like that gym has an atmosphere that makes you tense.

If there's not a specific piece of exclusive equipment you're going to that gym to use, I'd either work out at home or go to a community center, park district, or YMCA gym. Those gyms don't blast music and are generally less crowded. They're not free, but the gym you're going to now won't be in a few months, either.
posted by ignignokt at 12:32 PM on April 17, 2010

I'm just jumping in to say you're not the only one who experiences this. A couple bigger gyms I've been to had a discomforting competitive, hurried vibe that I just couldn't settle into. Since I'm a beginner, I had some anxieties related to making sure I'm doing everything correctly, while not taking up too much time on any given machine. The only way I've been able to function in these places is to just adopt the prevailing, hurried attitude. I'll skip the iPod and just listen to the crap they've got on. If I take an, "I'm only here for fitness--I'm not here to enjoy myself while getting fit" attitude, I can suffer through it. I haven't lasted long at these places, however.

Whatever it is, it sounds like this might not be the particular gym for you. You might do well to give other gyms a shot after your month is up. Personally, I've had better, but still limited, success at places like the YMCA or smaller colleges, where I'll enroll in a semester-long fitness class to gain access to the facilities. At least here in AZ--no idea how it might be in NYC--they're more low-key than the big chains. The last little community college had pretty nice facilities compared to how un-busy it was.

If you can get any kind of discount introductory rate on personal training, or even some kind of fitness orientation/consultation during your free month, why don't you try that? That might get you better plugged-in and comfortable with that facility and staff to the point where you might stick with that gym. At the very least, I bet it might at least make you more comfortable with a gym dynamic, in general.
posted by The Potate at 12:37 PM on April 17, 2010

You're only going to this gym because it's free, right? If the only sessions there that work for you are at those off times when it's less loud and frantic, either take advantage of those sessions and do other things you actually like to get fit during the rest of the week, or drop it entirely and try another gym or a non-gym workout.
posted by maudlin at 12:43 PM on April 17, 2010

You could buy a TV-B-Gone and shut off the hideous yammering idiot boxes. It's only a little subversive.
posted by adipocere at 12:45 PM on April 17, 2010

You may be feeling aggressive if you're spending a long time in the gym. The most successful routines are ones that work you hard, but usually won't take longer than an hour at the very most. Dump the cardio - it does very little for you, it's boring, it takes FOREVER and it can even be damaging.

For strength training, I would strongly recommend Stronglifts. The site has all the information you need, including Excel files for tracking progress if you're into it. It's a great program.

If you're into general fitness, then CrossFit is for you. If you're unclear about the exercises, their FAQ answers most questions. If the exercises look difficult, go to the CrossFit Brand X forum to find scaled versions of the WOD (Workout of the Day).

As for noise isolation, I personally don't listen to music at the gym but I highly recommend Shure's SE models as earphones (find them cheaper elsewhere).
posted by loveyourfellowman at 12:46 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hate the Manhattan gym experience. It puts me in a foul mood, too. Repetitive exercise is a drag and gym exercise is The Worst. People, lines, unflattering lighting, b.o., awkward eye contact, feelings of inadequacy. The only things I hate more than being at the gym are feeling sorry for myself, being tired, out of shape, shitty looking, and depressed about my appearance. So that's what I try to concentrate on when I'm there. I much prefer riding my bike around the city, walking everywhere (my roommate and I have walked from the UWS to the LES for a meetups), doing my Bollywood dancing workout video, and having dance parties with my roommate.

P.S. I've had a gym membership for a year and a half and I've used it twice.
posted by HotPatatta at 12:49 PM on April 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

To combat the crowdedness issue, can you go before work? Early mornings have been a low-traffic time at every gym I've belonged to.
posted by something something at 12:53 PM on April 17, 2010

One way might be to do shorter, more intense workouts so you spend less time in an environment that is grar-making.

Three days a week you could go on a big press/big pull routine. Do dead lifts (pull) and standing one-arm overhead presses (push). Go for more challenging weights and fewer reps. This will allow you to get an solid, full-body workout in less time, which means less time amongst the time wasters on the machines.

Oh yeah, stay off the machines at all costs. Stay on your feet at all times and move heavy things through space with your body strength.

If you want to read up more on pull/press, I recommend Pavel's Power to the People. I've gotten great results out of Pavel's kettlebell instruction.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:59 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to go the gym, try doing some Burpees at home (or at the gym, in addition to whatever else you do). Mike Rowe demonstrates.
posted by hellojed at 1:29 PM on April 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the Manhattan gym experience is a bit much until you get used to it, which you will. Do they also have a free meet with a trainer? Learning how to use the equipment and what workout I should be doing really helped me feel confident and ignore the noise. I recommend it, fwiw.

I've also found that if I ask at the front desk, they'll tell you what days/times they are busiest and I work hard to avoid those times.

I'm not sure what to say about the grumpies - some people are more night workers out and some are more morning - if you notice one is better for you, maybe work with that? Also, my experience is that if you workout harder you get more of the endorphins which feel awesome, so maybe push it a bit more.
posted by cestmoi15 at 1:32 PM on April 17, 2010

You might find a couple of the suggestions people made helpful in my past question. Some of the gyms here in Brooklyn are no better.
posted by cmgonzalez at 1:49 PM on April 17, 2010

Those expensive-type gyms put me in a bad mood, too. Nthing the YMCA-type gyms. They're often much smaller, and the equipment is older and there seems to always be one treadmill that's out of order and so on, but they're much cheaper, and you're in the company of average joes just trying to get a little healthier.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:50 PM on April 17, 2010

Gyms are awful. My solutions when I had a membership were:

- Noise-canceling headphones
- The rowing machine. It combined strength & cardio, so I could just go in and do it the whole time, and had the added benefit of being pretty isolated (not at eye level, so I didn't have to look anyone in the eye or at the tv).
- Classes, which provided a much quieter and friendlier atmosphere than the main area.
posted by susanvance at 2:27 PM on April 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Find a different gym. Seriously, chain gyms are especially bad. Gold's is a nightmare. Not every gym blasts music so that you can't hear your own damn music. Gold's blasts televisions on different channels!


It's the pits.

Anyway, gyms have different cultures and I think you need to shop around more. Some have much calmer surroundings, and the people who go there sought those calmer surroundings, so you wind up with a more compatible people as well.

Leaving the gym is a good feeling for me. When I was forced to go to Gold's (or Golds'-whatever) due to logistical problems it was hellacious.

Find a mellow place to go where you can disappear into your head.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:20 PM on April 17, 2010

Since your gym is free, how about you spring for a personal trainer at your gym? It would certainly force you to focus, and you'd probably feel better about your workouts if you knew they were better, more efficient, and tailored specifically to your needs.
posted by hermitosis at 3:40 PM on April 17, 2010

Not just physically, but emotionally. I'll be chipper going in and then in a foul mood for the rest of the day - snippy, grouchy, and hard to rise out of it. I didn't feel this way when i was just walking or doing stuff at home. I am working out a lot harder at the Gym then at home, but shouldn't I just feel tired, not like I wanna punch strangers in the face? What the hell is wrong with me?

Just so you know you're not crazy, most of my experiences with gyms were in high school and before, too, and were just awful. I've also had a few bad experiences at gyms as an adult (my mother dragged me to a spinning class once where an instructor yelled at me for falling behind), so going to them is pretty much a nightmare for me--they trigger my anxiety in a way that pretty much absolutely nothing else in my life does anymore.

(I manage to exercise outside gym environments, happily, so I don't care enough to get myself over this.)

So, if your New Jersey high school gym teachers were as bad as mine were, it might be a psychological issue rather than a physical or chemical one. I'm pretty positive it is for me, at least.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:59 PM on April 17, 2010

Just a warning: if the gym you're talking about is Crunch, their trainers are absolutely awful and clueless, and may put you off the experience more than anything else will (I told my trainer that I had had an ED and wouldn't count calories and really liked yoga, and she told me if I didn't count calories I would never lose weight, that I had to stop doing classes and start doing more cardio machines, and that I should eat at most 1300 calories a day, all of which is terrible advice). Their classes rock, though.

And I second the low blood sugar thing - maybe pack a banana or protein bar so you can have a snack as soon as you finish working out.
posted by alicetiara at 6:33 PM on April 17, 2010

Nthing the in-ear headphones...and something to read.
posted by brujita at 11:13 PM on April 17, 2010

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