Survival of the Unfittest

Or how to cope with being lapped by a 70-year old grandma in spandex


So, the 70-year old woman on the track had literally just out-walked me while I was running. The step-aerobics instructor whose class I used to attend on Tuesdays saw my pathetic excuse of a squat and politely attempted to show me how to do it properly, in her skin-tight, neon pink, second ski — I mean Yoga pants — making the healthiest form of ass torture look effortless. In Zumba, I was 10 steps behind and I just knew I looked like a damn fool, while everyone else seemed to be in some sort of music video. And the final straw was finding myself being out-lapped by the 111-year old dinosaur-creature that swims next to me in the communal pool.

Basically, it was my first week back to the gym after a long absence due to finals, work, and overall laziness. The glorious summer experience was coming to a close, school was about to begin in a week, and I had the sudden realization that all of the talk about getting fit before the summer, or even during the summer, was just a load of balderdash.

But I am not a quitter! Oh, no. Summer may be gone, but the gym is still there, waiting for me to walk into its pleasantly temperature controlled depths. There’s just one problem. It suddenly dawned on me, as I sat in the locker room feeling overwhelmingly inadequate, that every other person in the gym was in better shape than I was.

It was a tough pill to swallow. No seriously, it felt like dry-swallowing the horse-sized vitamins my mother forced down my throat, because, “They’re good for you!”

Then I realized something. I had felt this way before. In fact, I’d felt this way multiple times. For the past four years, I had made a routine of going back to the gym, getting healthier, then eventually falling off the wagon, only to start all over again.

You see, I’m a recovering fat kid. You may not understand what that means, but the gist of it is, it’s not easy for me to deny one of the things I cherish most in this world: food. So this feeling of inadequacy and discontent, was something I recognized. I also realized, that getting back to gym and recommitting myself to that lifestyle was one of the hardest parts.

Getting back to the gym is never easy, I told myself. If I could just make it past those first few weeks back at my gym, I promised myself that I would get back to at least the level of overweight I was before summer barbeques started calling my name. Until then, I’ve come up with several things that I have told myself this past week, which I think might help others like me, cope with their first weeks as well.

1. Don’t Be So Easily Discouraged By the Other People at the Gym.

Remember, only last week, you were a serious couch potato. Your body isn’t used to your recent gym behavior. It’s used to the welcoming embrace of your couch. So be nice to yourself, and start slow. Ease into it.

Let 70-year old, Millie out-walk you on the track. She’s been speed walking at that pace for the last 15 years, alone, so she enjoys your company because none of her friends can keep up with her (Big surprise!)

Overall, just try to give yourself a little credit. You just got here.

2.) Wear Whatever the Hell You Want

If you feel like going all out in your latest fitness kick, and feel that this “new you” deserves a “new gym wardrobe,” by all means, buy the cute gym outfits with matching shoes. If you think that’s silly because you realize that gym clothes are made for people who are already fit so that they can show off, and have now vowed to wear only your rattiest sweatpants, that is also fine. Here’s the deal, you’re there to workout, not walk a runway. If you would also like to look well dressed, despite being there to torture yourself in various positions, that’s all on you.

No one else at the gym has the right to criticize what you decide to wear. Gym clothes, simply put, are just the clothes you wear to the gym. That being said, there is one thing that you should not wear at the gym if you plan on actually working out. Makeup.

Seriously? I don’t even know why this is a thing. First of all, makeup covers your pores as a part of its function, add in a ton of sweat (which you should be proud of, and grateful for at the gym!) and you’re going to find yourself with some serious acne troubles. Plus, while the mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, etc. really does bring out your eyes, they’re designed to cover your eye lid not run into your eyeball, which they will do when copious amounts of sweat runs down your forehead. Not to mention that while looking hot upon entering the gym floor does, admittedly, have genuine appeal, the disaster that is your face when you walk out, should be enough to keep you from going “glam” at the gym.

So honestly, put on your cute gym clothes, or ratty-ass sweats, and leave your makeup on only long enough to take a gym selfie, before breaking out the makeup wipes. I promise, no one outside the gym will be the wiser.

3. You’re Hurting Yourself, Of Course You’re Going to Feel Pain!

I don’t know why people think going to the gym is as easy as showing up. (Maybe, its because that’s the stupid mantra fit people have been shoving down everyone’s throat!) Simply put, there is no such thing as an “easy” workout, or a “painless” routine. There are “easier” workouts, and “less painful” routines, but they will cause you pain.

That’s the deal. You push your body to its limits, essentially torture yourself, to achieve whatever fitness goal you have. Which is probably why the whole fitness industry has been lying to everyone. Pain is essential to your workout. Quite honestly, if it’s easy, you are either doing it wrong or should move up to the next level.

So yes, your workout will definitely leave you feeling like your whole body is about to go on strike. There are days when you adamantly believe that there is a definite possibility that this is what death feels like. Just push past it. Your going to continue doing it, and hopefully you’ll build a tolerance.

4. Breathe

No, seriously. Take deep breaths. No matter what you are doing, your gym experience will be made better with this simple step. It will take some getting used to, and can often feel horribly painful when you first begin, but controlling your breathing is an excellent way to help your body endure the torture you have decided to put it through. Breathing can help you to continue running, or working out, for longer periods and without all of the nasty after effects like nausea, loss of breath (obviously), and sore muscles.

Little known fact, some of the lactic acid, responsible for the pain you feel after working out a specific muscle, is due to a lack of oxygen in that very muscle. Further, when you burn fat, it doesn’t turn into heat or energy, it turns into carbon dioxide.

How do humans rid themselves of carbon dioxide, and take in more oxygen, you may ask? By freaking breathing. So do it. Stop looking like a dying Beluga Whale gasping for air at the end of your swim, run, or workout. Its embarrassing, and frankly, it’s doing little to help your current discomfort.

Tip: Taking deep breaths for a period of up to five minutes during a warm-up walk, or swim, will help prepare your body for whatever you are about to subject it to. Also when working with weights or doing stretches, breathe in when contracting a muscle, and out when returning back to your starting position.

5. Recognize Distractions as What They Are

Often in the form of fellow gym-goers, there are several types of “distractors” that can potentially deter you from going to the gym altogether, or cause you to lose focus during your workout. Don’t let them destroy all the effort you put into just getting your fat ass to the gym! Use their presence to your advantage!

While there are many different distractions, I’d like to focus on the main two that could potentially cause the most damage.

Distraction Number One: Creepy Gym Dudes
Often seen with vacant expressions, these common gym creatures have been somehow mislead into believing that it is attractive to treat women like pieces of meat, prizes, or animals, and are constantly drooling, whistling, or gawking at them. Clearly suffering from an overdose in protein supplements and electrolytes, these creatures in tight cut-off tees, and/or bright neon apparel, are fairly harmless, but unfortunately unavoidable, as the gym is their natural habitat. They are EVERYWHERE. In the communal sauna, sweating next to you with their lecherous grin as they give you the once over 20 times, in the pool as you swim laps, watching you underwater from their side of the pool, or running deliberately slow behind you on the track.

Tip: When feeling puckish, whistling back, salivating, and/or awkward eye contact seems to make the Creepy Gym Dude very uncomfortable.

Distraction Number Two: Amazingly Beautiful, Mystical Gym Gods (and sometimes Goddesses, if were being completely honest here)
These beautiful gifts from the heavens, are rare but memorable. I have one that has been frequenting my gym at the same times as I, and on the rare occasions when the both of us occupy the same space, I cannot help but feel a tad overheated.

While clearly at the peak of fitness, these dastardly gorgeous folk, continue to come to the gym to show the rest of us that real beauty does exist outside of Hollywood and Photoshop, and also, as they will tell you, to keep their body in shape. (Pfft, right, and peacocks fan out their feathers for their health as well.)

Tips: Do not panic. Do not forget to breathe. Do not drool. Or whistle. Or make eye contact for too long. Direct eye contact with a Gym God can be intoxicating. And MOST importantly, DO NOT become a Creepy Gym Dude as a reaction to a Gym God!

6. Tie Your Shoes Properly Before Any and All Gym Activity

Funny story, you know that urban myth of the gym-goer that flew off the treadmill into the sea of other sweaty gym-goers, while everyone in the entire building watched? Not actually an urban myth so much as it’s one of my life experiences.

A newbie to the whole gym experience, I hopped on a treadmill, and pushed myself to run as quickly as my chubby, little legs would allow. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it is a hard habit to keep. Again easing into it is usually the best idea for long term results.

Nevertheless, there I was, feeling like Turbo the snail, or Sonic the Hedgehog, or some other world class speedster that isn’t a cartoon character, when suddenly something seemed to jerk my left foot back down awkwardly. It happened within seconds. My right foot had stepped on the lace of my left shoe, causing me to lose my balance. Unfortunately, desperately trying to avoid making a scene, I did the only thing I could think of. I grabbed hold of the side rails that encase you, and attempted to calmly press the giant red button labeled, “STOP”, while my legs flailed ridiculously behind me. Of course, because this incident was happening to me, or because of it being an old machine, the stop button did absolutely nothing to slow down the rubber demon belt that was now burning away the first layer of skin on my knees. With a loud curse, I let go.

I had assumed I’d end up falling back a couple feet at most. So of course I ended up flying a good 10 feet backwards, landing oh-so-gracefully, in front of a group of big, sweaty, Gym Gods (as my luck would have it.)

So… long-and-drawn-out moral of the story, tie your shoes, or this will be you. Preferably tie the laces inside the shoe so that even if they do come untied, it’s still on the inside, and does nothing but annoy you. Also, avoid treadmills altogether.

7. Make Several Kick Ass Playlists With a Variety of Songs You Will Enjoy

I’ve found that having an array of different playlists at your disposal can magically make the terrible time you are forced to spend at the gym somewhat bearable. Music blasting your eardrums, while awful for your future hearing, can transform you from the designated couch potato lot you’ve drawn in life into an all new, somewhat fit, gym potato!

And while, I do have my favorite playlist that seems to make the other 10 a tad irrelevant, I recognize that I have days where I have grown tired of listening to the same ol’ songs. So have multiple, and diverse playlists because you never know what might work the best to motivate you through this difficult time in your life.

For ideas, and whatnot, here’s an article, published by Bustle, on the science behind a good playlist which includes most, if not all, of the songs on my “Motivation Nation” playlist.

Whether it’s head-banging, ear-piercing, loud rock music or the fast-paced, curse-ridden, disrespectful rap of Eminem and 50 Cent, the right song can motivate you to get started, or push through to the end of that last mile.

8. Prepare Yourself Ahead of Time for Possible Locker Room Trauma

You may think you’ve seen it all, but honestly until you’ve experienced a gym locker room, to quote Bachman Turner Overdrive, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

After a workout one fated day, I walked into the locker room, feeling battered and exhausted from an intense workout with a trainer. I was practically stumbling my way past various women in several different stages of undress. Which, honestly isn’t all that terrible. It’s definitely not pleasant, but it’s not terrible. Weaving my way through, I headed towards the locker room sauna.

With my headphones still in my ears, the playlist having been switched to “Smooth Criminals,” a compilation of various soothing crooners, I quickly chose a seat in the upper corner, and settled in for a relaxing 10 minute rest.

I was in the middle of listening to Sting lamenting over his hooker girlfriend still being a hooker, when an older woman walked in naked as the day she was born so very, very, very long ago.

Again, nakedness, not something I freak out over. Wrinkly nakedness, a bit uncomfortable, but I am all but too aware that until some magical human discovers a way to prevent it, someday that sagging sack of skin will be me. No, what made me beyond uncomfortable, was that the woman would soon proceed to place her right foot onto the bottom step directly below me, widen her stance, whip out a razor, from only god knows where, and begin to mow the lawn of her…bush wrinkle.

Due to stubbornness or pure shock, I remained in my unfortunate position at the top of the sauna stairs, trying to find comfort in the irony of Rod Stuart’s “It Had to Be You” coming on as she continued her lady-scaping, while wondering why on Earth she couldn’t have trimmed her hedges in the private showers provided just down the hall.

Seriously, prepare yourself for what you will see in the locker room. But more importantly, if you ever do come across this sort of thing, recognize that this kind of stuff really isn’t as horrible as it might seem at that moment, and nothing, not even the pure shock and disgust that you might feel warrants you to embarrass another person, so try to remain calm and keep your judgements on the inside.

9. If You Don’t Know What You Are Doing, Ask For Help…And Make a Friend

This one is probably the most valuable piece of advice that I have given in this entire article. While approaching a complete stranger, who is obviously bigger, better, faster, and stronger than you, can be incredibly intimidating, it’s probably the best move you can make towards achieving your fitness goals.

Key piece of information, those people who are obviously bigger, better, faster, and stronger than you, got that way by doing something, or many things, correctly. If you too, would like to look like them, or achieve the same level of fitness, you are more likely to do that, knowing what they know.

While we all show up to the gym thinking that we know everything we need to know about fitness, or will have no problem figuring it all out, the truth is, most of us are absolutely clueless on how to best achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. Magazines, televisions, and the Kardashians can only teach us so much, and often times the crap they feed to the public is just that…crap.

If you are fortunate enough to already have a friend who can teach you the ins-and outs of fitness, then by all means, utilize the gift you’ve been given. But for the rest of you, with friends like mine, that have ridiculously incredible metabolisms so they have absolutely no idea how you got so fat, nor how to help you get rid of it, make a new friend at the gym. Ask them to show you how to use the machine you’ve been too nervous to try, or how to do the stretch you watched them do earlier. While awkward at first, it may be the best exercise you do all day.

Also…being alone, especially at the gym, sucks.