by Marichel Vaught
The first time I joined a gym I was 21 years old. It was summer and my friends and I were bored and broke. The new local gym was offering a free month for all new members. So we took advantage of it and I worked out almost daily. Afterwards, we’d hang out at someone’s house smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Clearly, I wasn’t serious about fitness, but I wasn’t overweight. Then the 30 days ended and we were still broke and couldn’t afford the membership so that was that. Funny how we could still afford cigarettes and coffee though.
The second time I joined a gym was almost 10 years later, when some pounds found their way to my body. Every time I went seemed like peak time and so all of the machines were in use. Then, when a machine became free, it always happened to be next to the most fit person with abs so toned you can bounce a quarter off them. It was intimidating. I remember there was this one time when I was on the middle treadmill walking at an even pace, while those on either side of me were sprinting effortlessly. I felt like a sloth trying to cross the road. I could actually hear that song that goes “one of these things is not like the other.” After that, I got lazy. I’d still show up to the gym but I considered putting on my sports bra a workout. So, I basically hung out in the locker room reading magazines for the entire duration of my lunch hour. Hey, it still felt good to say “I was at the gym” when I returned to my office. That membership didn’t last long after that.
Fast forward another 10 years and I had just put on my favorite blouse but immediately felt uncomfortable because it was too tight and didn’t want to spend the whole day being uncomfortable. While taking it off, I got stuck. Stuck. In a shirt. With no one to help me, I considered pulling an Incredible Hulk and ripping my way out but I really liked that blouse and it would have been more humiliating if I didn’t have the strength to do it. So I somehow Harry Houdini’ed my way out, turned to my confused dog who wasn’t sure if she should alert neighbors to my predicament and said “I gotta join a gym.”
I thought about joining a gym all that day, which was bringing me to the brink of an anxiety attack. In theory, joining a gym would be wonderful. I’d get back to being healthy, wherever that was, and possibly fit into clothes I was easily slipping into just one year before. But then the image of the hardbodies haunted me. At 42, would I be surrounded by young hunks and Barbie dolls who’d look at me and think, “lady, why even bother?” I imagined disgusted looks darted my way as I stepped onto a treadmill or whispers behind my back while someone waited for me, the lost cause, to get off the weight machine they needed. Screw it. I signed up. I walked into Snap Fitness in Berlin, filled out the paperwork, got my quick orientation and key card, and immediately went to the Chinese buffet next door. Baby steps.
The next day, I returned to Snap during a non-peak time. I was nervous. Not too many people and there were plenty of machines available. Those who were there were busy doing their own thing. Those who looked up from their workout managed a friendly smile. Nobody looked me up and down and rolled their eyes. That’s a good start. I hightailed it to an elliptical machine which, after poking at some of the buttons, I couldn’t figure out how to start. An elder gentleman was on the next elliptical and I just sucked in my pride and said, “first day at the gym here. How do you start this thing?” He didn’t sigh annoyingly or pretend not to hear me. He gave me friendly step-by-step instructions on how to get it going. And after a little while, he asked me how it was feeling. I said, “Great!” with a smile, although on the inside I felt like I was dying and I’d only been on it for half a minute.
I’ve returned to Snap since then and am slowly getting to know how to use all of the equipment. People say “hello” and are courteous. No one looks at me as if they’re thinking “ew.” This morning, I participated in a circuit training class focusing on arms and upper body. I can already tell that my arms will be sore and will be moving like jelly tomorrow. Anita Hoy, who instructed the class and is one of the trainers at Snap said she has had more older people participating in her fitness classes. “The average age is about 60. The younger ones are in their 40s.” Hearing that put me more at ease.
Suzanne and Darcy, two women in their early 50s, have been members of the gym for about five years now. Both were also participating in the circuit training class as well. “I haven’t felt this great since high school!” said Suzanne. Darcy agreed. Both raved about the support they’ve received from instructors and each other and spoke to how they’ve met great people and made great friends. Frank, 62, stressed the importance of routine exercise especially once hitting the age of 40. “If you don’t work out once you hit 40, you’ll get sucked into the couch.” Fitness of course goes beyond the gym. Frank takes 100-mile hikes and bike rides during warmer months and Suzanne bikes and hits the trails on backpacking adventures. These people inspire me. I want to get to the point where I actually WANT to do more healthy activities, not feel like I HAVE to do them.
I reiterated my initial feeling of intimidation of joining a gym to Hoy. She intimated that school-age kids and high school students have fitness built into their day. Some college kids as well. But once you hit the workforce, or experience a life-changing event, like starting a family, the fitness regimen is no longer routine. This speaks to the number of older people becoming more active in the gym. At every doctor visit, I’m told that the older we get, the more weight we put on, even if our activity level remains the same.
Working out at Snap, and I’m convinced it is like this at most gyms nowadays, I notice an intergenerational population and an assortment of fitness levels. Though some may just want to lose weight while others want to build body mass the goal is ultimately the same, we all want to be healthy. If you can do it on your own, fantastic. If you are the sort who needs encouragement (like me) and a network to share progress with, the gym is the way to go.
I think I’ll always feel some intimidation whenever I walk into the gym. I am hoping this third time’s a charm and that I will continue with the gym experience. I think if I approach it as my road to becoming more healthy and adding more years to my life, and not as “I want the same exact body I had at 25” then I’ll be less discouraged. Actually, all I want is to no longer get stuck in shirts or sound like I’ve just summited Everest each time I climb a flight of stairs.