Tell me everything about going to the gym
June 1, 2004 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Okay here's a question. The other day I stepped on the bathroom scales and the number displayed was a tad on the high side, by about 15-20lbs, so my first thought was 'Yeesh, I should join a gym'. However on further reflection, having never set foot in a gym since my traumatizing school days joining one seems like quite a scary prospect. So my question is.. What's the deal with gyms? What's the ettiquette, what do you need, will all these fit gym types be chuckling at my pathetic flabby assed efforts, are the showers still those bloody communal type affairs I shudder to remember back in school?
posted by zeoslap to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Basic gym etiquette:
  1. Don't use the gym equipment as a lounge chair.
  2. Mop your sweat up off of the equipment.
  3. If you're using freeweights put them back after you're done.
  4. Don't make rude comments regardless of your physique or prowess. Everybody started someplace.
The above are what I think should be the cardinal tenets of gym usage.

What do you need? It depends on what you want to do. I'd recommend a decent pair of shoes that you use just for the gym and a few sets of gym clothes. Sweats or shorts are fine, most gyms that I've been to frown on tank tops.

Will you be laughed at? Probably not but it depends on the gym. I've been at a couple where people were made fun of, always behind the targets back. Most gyms have mostly out of shape customers. There are a few gyms that attract the people who're already in shape, just like I've been to gyms where I didn't see anybody who couldn't bench press 350 pounds.

Unless you're female the showers will be those bloody communal affairs.
posted by substrate at 6:48 AM on June 1, 2004

I would recommend taking an initial tour of any prospective gyms you are considering, and then upon choosing a gym, I'd recommend taking at least one session with a trainer, who can show you how to use certain equipment, and get you up to speed to familiarize you with the equipment.

Beyond that, you will pick up the rest as you go along.

Good luck!
posted by jazzkat11 at 6:54 AM on June 1, 2004

Unless you're female the showers will be those bloody communal affairs.

Not true at my gym.

Check out your local hospitals, many now have gyms connected or affiliated. You may pay a bit more, but at least in my case it's well worth it. A true mix of people, from those in very good shape to elderly folks trying to stay limber. Well maintained equipment, very clean facilities, and friendly staff.

One thing I recommend is to stay away from cotton shirts and shorts. Get some sort of synthetic wicking material, it makes a big difference. I've had good luck with EMS and New Balance products.
posted by anathema at 7:00 AM on June 1, 2004

If anathema's suggestion sounds good, I also recommend the local YMCA. When I used to go regularly I would take a lunctime yoga class and then sometimes follow up by using the pool. They had a sliding scale membership level, really nice people there interested in fitness over fashion and a very mixed assortment of people doing all levels of working out. Showers were communal but there were private ones if it was a huge deal. You might also want a little plastic shower caddy to hold toiletries: soap, scrubbie, razor, lotion, facecloth, etc. Showers have very little shelf space or any other useful space. At the Y most people wore flip-flops into the showers.
posted by jessamyn at 7:13 AM on June 1, 2004

One thing you didn't have to deal with in high school: the scumbag salesmen who won't give you a straight answer about how much it costs to join. In fact, the receptionists are trained to not give you a straight answer on this either. They'll tell you to wait for someone to come out and give you a tour, ask you about your goals, talk to you about price plans, etc.

I'm not saying this to discourage you, but you should know in advance that these guys make their money by preying on people like you. You go into the gym, you feel out of place and insecure, and they know just the right questions to ask you to keep you off-balance.

So my point is: when you're talking to those people, don't think about how you're out of shape. Think of them as used car salesmen. Take the stupid tour, get straight answers on your questions, don't give them your phone number or your place of employment, tell them you'll think about it, and leave without putting down any money. And before you do put down money, make sure it's crystal clear to you how long you're committing to pay for, and what the procedure is for getting out of the arrangement. They will deliberately obscure this information, and play on your guilt and insecurity so that you feel like a flake for asking.

Please don't let the things I'm saying here discourage you, but they're true, so you should know about them if you really haven't been to a gym as an adult.

As far as the actual interaction with the other people working out. I've gotten into (and then back out of) shape via the gym and other methods several times. Several times, in different cities and different gyms, I've totally changed my body from the day I joined to my last day there. And really, I found none of them were like high school gym at all. Trying to deal with insecurity in a healthy way is the reason why most of the guys are there to begin with. There are exceptions, sure, but I've found there is a tremendous sense of cameraderie. The guys who know what they're doing will generally be glad to spot you or tell you if you're doing an exercise wrong.

By the way, at Crunch (in Los Angeles, anyway) everybody gets their own shower stall. And half of them have one wall of opaque glass through which people of both sexes can see your silhouette as they enter the gym. Then again, actual supermodels work out there, so the whole experience is fairly surreal. (I am not promoting Crunch, although if you live where it's offered, and money is not an issue, it's nice.)

By the way, I'm new to the upper west side in NYC, and looking for a gym to join. Anyone reading this thread who wants to give me a heads-up about the good deals is my new hero. Low prices are the priority.
posted by bingo at 7:18 AM on June 1, 2004

I second the recommendation for the YMCA. I had the same fears, very afraid I would show up at the gym and everyone would point and laugh at the scrawny dude with the man boobs. Wrong. Almost everyone is in the same boat as me and nobody really notices anyone else. The only people worth laughing at are the posers, and they stick out like a sore thumb.

Showers are communal, unfortunately. Worse for me since my brother goes to the same gym. Talk about weird. Get some shoes for the showers. In just a few months I've grown a nice fungus between my toes.

The only thing negative I'll say about the Y is the lack of equipment. I've often had to wait around for the machines to clear up. It all depends on when you go, I guess.
posted by bondcliff at 7:21 AM on June 1, 2004

Definitely tour all the places you are considering. My wife and I have been members of a gym for about four years now, and it's a great fit for us -- completely devoid of the problems you fear. Families work out there together, older folks, people of all sizes and body types.

But I wouldn't know this if I hadn't toured the other gyms in town, many of which are total meat markets or full of steroid-gobbling muscleheads.

I'm sure there's one of the former in your town. Just gotta look for it.
posted by jeffmshaw at 7:28 AM on June 1, 2004

I second jessamyn's recommendation. If the Y in your town is a good one, it's generally going to be the least like the gym-snob places you (very wisely) want to avoid.
posted by boomchicka at 7:34 AM on June 1, 2004

My solution was an executive gym. It's in a downtown high rise and caters to the bank executives in it.

It's great because it is usually quiet, has dedicated members who are all shapes and sizes, and in terms of facilities, think "executive washroom", yes individual showers with massage and steam if you want them.

It's worth the $10 more a month not to face the meat market that some gyms (Bally's, 24hr Fitness) are.
posted by karmaville at 7:41 AM on June 1, 2004

I wouldn't worry too much about being judged by the other people in the gym, even the heavily muscled and toned ones. They got that way by concentrating on their own efforts, not by giving a shit about others.

One other rule of etiquette - unless you have witnessed with your own eyes that a piece of equipment has been vacant for some time, always ask the person closest to what you want to use if they are using it or know if anybody else is using it. This simple little act of grace is much appreciated by most people. And yes, wipe your sweat, and please, please put your weights away when you're done. I belong to 24 Hour fitness, which I hate with the white-hot heat of a thousand suns, because not even their own goddamned employees follow their house rules.

Lastly...I greatly enjoy my workouts more if I've brought my own music player.
posted by vito90 at 7:52 AM on June 1, 2004

I avoided the infamous gym salesman problem by joining the University of California gym in San Francisco. On the downside, I think fewer people talk to each other here because it's sterile and full of medical students.
posted by inksyndicate at 7:56 AM on June 1, 2004

Be careful about signing a contract. Bally's is infamous.

I used to be self-conscious about it too, but as other people have said, everyone's at a different stage. Some people have been working out for years, others are just starting. I think most people realize that.

And there's nothing wrong with sterile medical students. Nyah.
posted by gramcracker at 8:01 AM on June 1, 2004

Bingo -- I used to belong to Body Strength gym, which is on 106th between Broadway and Amsterdam. I loved it; it was just the right size (small enough to be cheap and friendly, but big enough to have good equipment), had nice people, yoga classes, and a reasonable locker room. It was also cheap -- way cheaper than New York Sports Clubs. I recommend it highly. (At the time they had a pretty large signup discount too -- you should ask them if they have any special offers).

Which brings me around to my advice: before you join a gym, ask yourself a couple questions. First, are you going to go to only one gym, say, near your house, or do you want to join a chain of gyms so that you can work out near your home and near your office? You'll almost always pay more to join a chain, but there are definitely benefits to workout convenience. At the same time, I've found smaller gyms to be friendlier and more fun.

Second, are you going to take classes? Are you after weights, or a more holistic fitness approach? You might want a bohemian gym, where they have yoga, pilates, nutritionists, and so on. On the other hand you might want a really basic gym -- in which case the Y is great, or at least the Y in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

Personally I've found that i want a small, bohemian gym near my apartment--but I've found this out only after paying to join other gyms, like the New York Sports Clubs, that offered benefits I didn't really need. So it pays to do a little soul searching beforehand.
posted by josh at 8:22 AM on June 1, 2004

If all you're looking to do is shed a few pounds, just reduce your calorie intake and try to be a little more active. Exercise is certainly a good thing, but it won't do much to help you slim down unless you're really rigorous about it. For example:

Calories burned in one hour of swimming: 400
Calories consumed in peanut butter sandwich: 275
figures courtesy of the Hacker's Diet.

Just a couple PB's (we're not talking about J at all) and you've undone a full hour of swimming.

It's better, then, to simply watch what you're eating - plan meals and keep track of those calories. Which isn't to say that one shouldn't exercise, only that exercise isn't always the most important aspect of a weight loss plan.
posted by aladfar at 8:26 AM on June 1, 2004

What's with all this angst about common showers? Are they somehow worse than swimming pool showers? Y'all walking about with a big strapping hardon after the workout? Offended by the masses of manboobs in there? Afraid of being towel-whipped by the jocks?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:36 AM on June 1, 2004

to add-

  • don't make eye contact so much in a gym. lots of weird people you know nothing about.

  • go at least 3 times a week.

  • do different things to be stay interested.

  • posted by four panels at 8:39 AM on June 1, 2004

    I've worked out at a lot of different gyms, some of which were very 'elitist'. If you're looking for a reasonably priced place without the attitude, you might want to see what your local community centre has to offer. As for etiquette, here's some advice (and that haven't already been covered), IMHO:
    • DO NOT workout right in front of the dumbell rack
    • DO NOT talk on your cell phone in the workout area. If you feel you have to answer it, fine. Just take your conversation elsewhere.
    • DO NOT leave your piece of equipment for 10 minutes and expect to come back to it. If you want to circuit train, use the circuit training area.
    • Gyms are for working out, not socializing
    • Don't be afraid to ask for a spot.

    posted by trillion at 9:08 AM on June 1, 2004

    If you're a girl, you might be happier at an all female gym. For the most part, I really prefer working out at a female gym...but I'm probably going back to the YMCA, because my gym has totally oversold itself and now you can wait for a long time to get equipment...and I don't have time to build 50 minutes of waiting for equipment into my routine.

    I really, really liked the Y. I wish I hadn't cancelled my membership there just to go to a gym that was 15 minutes closer (and all ladies). At the Y, I had excellent equipment, great class schedules, helpful staff, an overabundance of available machines and trainers...and a pool. I miss the Y, but I'm locked into the Lady of America contract until November, so I'm stuck paying for it, even if I can't ever get access to machines or classes because they've sold too many memberships for the size of the gym.
    posted by dejah420 at 9:21 AM on June 1, 2004

    Bally's also explicitly forbids family memberships to alternative families. You can't get a family discount unless you are legally married, and they say so in their literature. They can bite my outta shape behind.
    posted by archimago at 9:22 AM on June 1, 2004

    I was going to ask a similar question. Anyone have experience with 24 Hour Fitness? Looks like the "Super Duper Gym" near me has every amenity except a sushi chef. And it's cheaper then the local "Prairie Life" gym that's full of high school jocks.
    posted by geoff. at 9:38 AM on June 1, 2004

    The salesguy at 24hr Fitness in L.A. described a contract to me that was markedly different from the typed contract he was asking me to sign. When I asked him to put the differences in writing, he (of course) refused. And the written contract even explicitly said that any terms discussed verbally but not in the written contract were not valid. What a horrible bunch of people. It makes me angry all over again just remembering it.

    Thanks josh, I'll look into that gym you recommended. That's just a few blocks from where I live, but I've never seen it because I usually don't go in that direction.
    posted by bingo at 9:39 AM on June 1, 2004

    For those in Ontario, Canada looking into fitness plans or currently in onw...

    You can break your membership agreement if you move somewhere the gym you are a member of doesn't have a facility. They WILL NOT tell you this.

    My gym ettiquette rules

    #1. Go there to work out.
    #2. Ignore the Arnolds - they live there
    #3. Be quick - don't camp on a machine - let people use it between sets if you need more rest
    #4. If you are strong enough to put big plates on a machine take them off when you are done. You can lift 45lb plates but some others can't.
    #5. Leave the grunting to Monica Seles
    posted by srboisvert at 9:49 AM on June 1, 2004

    I'll third (or fourth, or whatever) the 24Hr. Fitness problems. Their salesmen reek of the same scent of desperation that you can feel on any used car lot. I could practically envision the "seminars" the youthful idiot I dealt with had been to, teaching him how to worm his way into the minds of people with poor self-image.

    When I balked at this behavior, they sent out his boss to give me a "customer experience survey", which was the equivalent of the car salesman bringing out the manager to apply the REALLY high pressure. I told them two things: one, get bent. Two, if they'd have just shown me the facility, answered my few questions, and STFU, they'd have had a deal based on price alone. Instead they had to jerk me around for my entire lunch hour, and I was very, very pissed off.

    Find the place where they just let their product speak for itself. Generally, you'll find less obsessive, more mature people working out there as well. It worked for me, even though I'm paying a bit more.
    posted by dragstroke at 10:08 AM on June 1, 2004

    Response by poster: Thanks for all the pointers, especially the odiousness of 24Hr, they are the closest but are now off the list, we get a corp rate for Club One in San Francisco so may give those guys a shot but to be honest I'm thinking I'll just dust off the old mountain bike and scoot around the Oakland hills while munching salads :)
    posted by zeoslap at 10:16 AM on June 1, 2004

    Actually, I would suggest trying to set up some regular regiment like biking or walking or running before joining a gym. Chances are, if you have a hard time holding to that schedule, you are going to have a harder time actually going to the gym to work out.

    If it is general fitness and weight loss you are looking for, hiking/biking/running/walking will do just as well as going to the gym. If you are looking to tone or bulk up, then you might benefit from joining a gym.

    Also, start doing things like taking the stairs and parking the furthest from the door, rather than circling for the closest parking spot. Regular activity will do better than burst of activity a couple times a week at a gym.
    posted by jonah at 11:06 AM on June 1, 2004

    Late to the conversation, but I would like to second the comment upthread about workout centers affiliated with hospitals. I go to one called Healthplex and it is awesome. Lots of amenities, plus the emphasis is on health not meetmart. Exercise physiologists are on hand to answer questions, and they also have periodic bodyfat measurements for those who are trying to lose fat-the scales don't always tell the tale.

    I actually find it much easier to go there than try to exercise at home, as there is a sociability factor -if I miss a day my gym buddies want to know where I went! I also really like taking classes as I work harder than I would on my own. "Spin" classes are the bomb!
    posted by konolia at 11:21 AM on June 1, 2004

    I would like to second aladfar's mention of the Hacker's Diet. It's not a "diet" in the sense of Atkins or South Beach, it's simply a document that approaches the subject of diet and exercise as a straightforward engineering issue. The guide to planning meals couldn't be simpler and the chapter on exercise is based on the Canadian Air Force workout regimen and requires no equipment at all.

    After a lifetime of being chubby and flabby, I downloaded the PDF version of the Hacker's Diet 4 months ago and have lost 25lbs. It's not magic, but it is extremely straightforward, logical, and idiot-proof. If you are a left-brained person of any sort, I can't recommend it enough.
    posted by 4easypayments at 11:41 AM on June 1, 2004

    Some things as the past GM of a gym (with some decent integrity - no salespeople whatsoever.)

    First, make sure you have someone show you how to use the equipment.

    Be wiling to drive an extra 5 minutes for a gym with some level of supervision.

    Go look at 6:30pm (or 7) on a monday night. Are the treadmills full? When will you be going?

    Is it clean? Look, you can shower at home. If the place stinks in the summer, you'll be aware of it.

    Finally, there are a couple "breaking" points. Points where you have a life crisis and forget to make it part of your routine.

    Two weeks, four weeks, six weeks and two months. If you can make it there regularly for three months, you'll have made it a habit.

    Above all else, take it too easy at first. Make it easy to commit to the long term.

    If you look at this as long term maintenance for your body, you'll find that 30 years from now you benefit from it too.
    posted by filmgeek at 12:14 PM on June 1, 2004

    I'll second filmgeek on the breaking points. The converse of this is; don't be tempted to join on a one or two year membership on the basis that this will force you to keep going throughout that period. It won't but you'll be paying for it anyway. Get your motivation from somewhere else and accept that you might just hate it and won't stick with it ever - but I hope you do. I started going to a gym regularly about 6 months ago and have kept it up. The kicker for me was the convenience, I live 400metres from the place, I, and others I've spoken to find its a damn sight easier to keep motivating yourself if it doesn't mean a big round trip on top of the time you'll be there. Good luck!
    posted by biffa at 1:13 PM on June 1, 2004

    One other piece of gym-related advice: buy a heart-rate monitor. It makes working out a lot easier; by watching your heart rate during your workouts, you neither over- nor under-work yourself, and you can keep a regular schedule and watch your aerobic performance improve. It's definitely worth the money if you're doing an exercise like running or biking, where it can be hard to tell from day to day if you're working harder or less hard. With an HRM you know, "my workout goal is to keep my heart rate between 140 and 145 for an hour," rather than "my goal is to run for an hour, however far that may be." Then you find that you're going further and further distances with the same heart rate, which is awesome.

    I have a Polar S130 monitor and I love it. It's made working out a lot more fun and a lot more measurable.
    posted by josh at 1:19 PM on June 1, 2004

    zeoslap: if you're in berkeley, I can recommend the Y there (downtown berkeley). The machines aren't the best, but they have a pool and the contracts are month to month. It is usually fairly crowded, but I had no trouble getting through my set on time by being flexible about what exercises i did. I think the Berkeley RFS might be an option but it's expensive and you might possibly have to be alumni to join. Also it's fucking packed, especially for the first month of classes when everyone's all like "whoa! this school has a gym!". When it gets really bad they do a one-in, one-out line for the weight room. (although they did start charging an additional fee for access to it, so this might not be the case).

    Club One *looks* really nice. I never went to check it out because it seemed *real* expensive. There's also a Y in the tenderloin right by UN Plaza that looks ok (generally the Y's tend to have older equipment, but their plans are usually month-to-month which is a huge benefit). Crunch is now either owned by the Bally's there or has some weird deal with them, and Gorilla Fitness is also owned by Bally's.

    When I lived in Berkeley, I went to the downtown Y (i went by 24 hr fitness downtown and had the same experience as others -- high pressure sales techniques from some dude who was more out of shape than i was and was trying to tell me about fitness. I refuse to ever give them my business again.)

    When I lived in San Francisco, I was a member of Bally's. Now, I know Bally's is a contract-monster, and while their salesmen weren't as big of assholes as the ones at 24 hr, they definitely were trying to pressure me into signing. I got a two or three year contract, at what I thought was a fair price, considering they had a pool and several locations (also they were closest to my apartment, which was key. If it takes you a long time to get to the gym, you're not going to go.) For what it's worth, I really liked their gyms. They were fairly laid back, big, and had very nice equipment and a great assortment of it. Also, the music didn't suck that badly (this is a super important factor. For an entire year I had a fucking Seal song stuck in my head because my old gym only played adult contemporary -- which is NOT FUCKING WORKOUT MUSIC, PEOPLE!).

    However, when it came time to move, the contract pretty strict. Had there been a Bally's fitness within 50 miles of my new address I would've had to finish up my contract. Fortunately there wasn't, and although the paperwork that was required to cancel it kinda sucked, it wasn't terrible.

    If I was in SF, I'd probably do Bally's again, just because they have nice gyms. Club One might work out really well for you. I've heard good things about it. Stay far away from 24 hours, and if you're not sure whether or not you'll actually be going to the gym don't sign up with anything requiring a contract until you've established that you'll at least be using it three times a week. Start small, with the Y or something. Bally's is not really some sort of body-builder's paradise, but there's pretty big guys there and most folks are in shape. Most of the Y's I've been to are pretty laid back, especially the downtown berkeley one (except for that downtown berkeley attracts bunches of high schoolers, which are my least favorite type of people to work out with. Ageist, I know, but high school jocks haven't learned that no-one really gives a damn what they're benching yet). the berkeley YMCA kinda sucks for cardio, as in there's a line and there's not a lot of fans in the room (which always bugged the hell out of me. I sweat, damn it!) I went and checked out the Gold's Gym in san francisco and cannot recommend it unless you're into cruising for sex. When there's fucking SIGNS all over the locker room saying that "SEXUAL ACTIVITY IN THE LOCKER ROOM OR SHOWERS IS NOT PERMITTED AND MAY BE GROUNDS FOR REVOCATION OF MEMBERSHIP" you know there's a fucking problem.

    As far as gym ettiquette, the only thing i think that's been missed is:

    never ever ever correct anyone's form.

    it's rude, and you might be wrong about it yourself.

    if you've never worked out before, you'll want at least one session with a personal trainer in order to get some advice on the exercises. Also consider buying a book. most gyms will provide an intial session with a personal trainer for free (because they're trying to get you to buy additional sessions with them). For clothes I'd recommend a t-shirt/tank top (never heard of anyone frowning upon tanks in a gym, but i suppose it's possible), shorts, and a good pair of shoes -- running, if you're going to be on the treadmill, otherwise cross trainers.

    all the gyms i've been a member of (about four-ish, now) have had communal showers. It's not really a big deal. Wear sandals if you're susceptible to fungi. I usually just didn't care, though, and never really had a problem.

    i guess that's plenty rambling for the moment. good luck.
    posted by fishfucker at 5:56 PM on June 1, 2004

    In my area, there are a number of gyms that are contractually for 30 yr olds and over... this sort of arrangement (if you're interested) may be available where you are.
    posted by silusGROK at 8:04 PM on June 1, 2004

    I went to the gym for over a year, lifted weights, built muscle, didn't lose a pound. Started a cholesterol-avoidance regimen, kept going to the gym, but did more cardio: dropped 20 pounds and 4 inches off the waist.

    One thing about chain operations: the atmosphere can vary between different gyms in the same chain. If you don't like one for some reason, you can generally go to another across town.
    posted by gimonca at 8:27 PM on June 1, 2004

    And in my few years of middle-aged working out, I've never heard anyone making rude comments about anyone else. When I first started, I thought I'd look like a total goof, but I found out most people are too caught up in their own workout to pay attention to what you're doing. The only way you're likely to draw any attention at all is if you're rather obviously about to hurt yourself in some way (and a couple of personal trainer sessions at the beginning will help you avoid that).
    posted by gimonca at 8:36 PM on June 1, 2004

    five fresh fish: What's with all this angst about common showers?

    I feel uncomfortable when strangers can see my genitals. That's all.
    posted by chrismear at 3:35 AM on June 2, 2004

    Are your genitalia so remarkable that strangers are going to gawk at them?
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:57 AM on June 2, 2004

    Gyms are too expensive. Some free weights and/or home machines are reasonably priced and might be a better investment. Every exercise in my Arnold work-out book can be done at home with free-weights, and unless you're professionally competing I see no reason you should need 6000 different fancy machines to refine some obscure muscles your doctor probably doesn't know exists. Work-out at home in your underwear with NPR on (instead of the the hits from the 80s station) and use your own nice and private shower. Don't make healthy living more of an ordeal than it needs to be - keep it simple.
    posted by dgaicun at 10:33 PM on June 2, 2004

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