I have never been in shape, ever. Most of my childhood was spent either in front of a Nintendo Entertainment System or a bowl of Cookie Crisp cereal. I wasn’t a particularly fat kid, but let’s say I wore my fair share of “husky” boy’s jeans from Caldor. I loved watching sports, but I was beyond awful at playing them. My career little league batting average was an ego-scarring .000, but I held the record for getting walked and getting hit by pitch. That’s what my coach used to call having a “good eye,” but I call it freezing up in terror at the plate. I was pretty much set up to fail from birth because athleticism and exercise were never stressed in my house growing up. The only activity I saw my mom and dad engage in on a regular basis was fighting. Sure, watching your parents go through a divorce when you’re four years old is a trying experience, but burning bridges doesn’t burn a whole lot of calories.
Not much has changed for me in adulthood. Living in New York City does lend itself to being more active than the average American, but it’s a fool’s paradise. We brainwash ourselves into thinking that since we walk everywhere, we must be healthier. We may walk two miles a day going to work and back, but we make pit stops at Starbucks, Papaya Dog and street meat carts along the way. And we don’t actually run when “running an errand” — we’d spill our double cappuccino doing something like that. But just when I had resigned myself into accepting my fate as a beer-gutted, skinny-armed, weak-backed, city-dwelling sack of sedentary shit, I up and got engaged. Some men are freaked out by the prospect of vowing to love one person for the rest of their lives, but it was vowing to get into shape for my wedding that made me shudder — and the only cold feet I was worried about getting was from the inevitable stroke I’d suffer while working out. Despite my fears, I broke down and took advantage of a promotion that New York Sports Club was running and signed up last week, thus joining the hordes of clueless new gym members who longtime, dedicated members bemoan every January.
Pleased to meet you, New York. I’m that new asshole at your gym.
Let me start off by saying I’m sorry, fitness pros, and that I know what you must be feeling. The level of frustration you experience when someone like me can’t figure out how to work the elliptical must be the same level of frustration I feel when a tourist can’t figure out how to work the MetroCard machine. Add that on top of all the nutrition supplements, protein shakes and 5-hour Energy you gym rats pump into your bodies, and you must have enough synthesized rage inside of you to pick me up and snap my spine over that big machine with all the hangy things and levers that I don’t know how to use. But before you yell at me for not wiping my sweat off the ab press or drinking a milkshake on the stationary bike, please understand that gyms are fucking intimidating. An out-of-shape person going to the gym is like a scared white collar criminal entering the prison yard for the first time. People are lifting and grunting and running and spinning and I’m just trying to blend in and not get shanked or become anyone’s bitch in the showers.
There’s a lot that gyms and the people who frequent gyms can be doing to make things a little bit more welcoming, and thus, create a better experience for everyone. First, if you’re already in shape, you should only be allowed to use the gym every other week. If you’ve got washboard abs, every three weeks. This will give us flabby mortals an opportunity to attempt our version of “exercise” — doing one rep of jumping jacks, catching a glimpse of our fat bouncing in the mirror, and then crying — without anyone leering at us. Second, enough with these shouty personal trainers. Instead of demanding that I pedal faster or stretch wider or jump higher, how about throwing in a “please” every once in a while? You catch more flies with honey than you do with commands you shout at me over a Skrillex song that’s blasting on the stereo. Third, change the names of the fitness classes so they actually sound useful to me. I don’t need “30-Minute Core Blaster” or “Extreme Ab Shredding.” I need “Carrying Groceries Up 3 Flights of Stairs.” And lastly, let’s keep the bare asses down to a bare minimum in the locker room. Just because you’re comfortable walking around completely naked doesn’t mean the rest of the world is comfortable watching you. And please, please no conversations while in the buff. I have enough trouble getting complete sentences out when I’m with a naked woman, let alone a naked 50-year-old man doing butterfly leg stretches in the sauna.
So, yes, I am that new asshole at your gym, but I don’t need to be. Like the tourist staring blankly at the MetroCard machine, I’m going to need a little help fitting in. I’m sure I will eventually, especially if you’re willing to make some adjustments too. By this time next year, I’ll be one of you — just in time for both of us to hate on the next new crop of gym members. What assholes.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons