This article was originally published on December 4, 2015.
For years, gyms intimidated me. They struck me as destinations for type-As with money. Just walking by them triggered feelings of regrettable laziness. Plus, I carried a lifetime of shame about the curvy shape of my body, not to mention a layer of embarrassment about my inability to accept it. Gyms seemed like a Hunger Games
of judgment for all of this, and the odds were never in my favor.
But in January of 2015, several months into a winter that was too snowy for walking outdoors, my main form of exercise, I had a revelation. I read a fat friend’s blog
about training for an Ironman (because she enjoyed the challenge, not because she wanted to lose weight), and I realized that I could exercise for reasons other than changing the shape of my body. I wanted to sleep better, hit the top of the subway stairs without getting winded, and generally feel less sedentary. Maybe judging myself didn’t have to be the starting point for exercise.
I explained all this to a friend [Ed. note: Full disclosure, said friend may or may not be Refinery29’s wellness director
], also divulging that I feared there were secret rules about the gym that I didn’t know about. I also mentioned that I wasn't sure what one actually does
in a gym. She replied, “You need a gym doula,” and offered her services.
We went to a nearby gym on a weekday afternoon, when it wouldn’t be crowded. I was sweating from nerves before we started, and as we walked in the door, I desperately wanted to cry. My friend, bless her, pretended I wasn’t acting like an anxious dog during a severe thunderstorm. Instead, starting in the locker room, she walked me through the whole gym. Then she took me through a few exercises and pointed out the etiquette rules I feared I’d never grasp. Incredibly, I didn’t pass out. I didn’t cry. Coming back alone seemed scary, but doable.
I’ve now logged nearly 12 months of regular gym time, and I’ve visited gyms in a half-dozen cities. Here are the key things I’ve learned about overcoming gym intimidation (gymtimidation?) — no pricey personal-training sessions required.