A newbie’s guide to surviving a busy gym

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By David Rothwell

There are plenty of opinion pieces which provide inside access on how to build muscle, get fit, you know, do all the things that you’re supposed to do at the gym. This guide is tailored to those of us who, (to start off with), are just looking to survive, for those of us who are naturally error and embarrassment-prone, and who question regularly question our own rationality and judgement. Those of us who would consider it a success to go to a new gym without burning the place down.

With self-consciousness, comes a degree of self-importance. For some of us, it takes a while to fully come to the realization that nobody is looking at us. We know it’s true, yet, in the moment, we are naturally inclined to conclude otherwise.

This is an absurd guide which you can use to either shake your head at in despair, or follow temporarily, then discard, once you’ve made the step of not focusing on what other people may or may not be thinking…

Unusual pitfalls and nonsensical solutions

Problem: Not knowing what to do with yourself when you’re on the mats

After floating around aimlessly for the previous ten minutes, you may have been lucky enough to find a free space on one of the mats. Now that you’ve made it, you may not be sure exactly what to do with yourself. It’s mentally exhausting trying to find a free space, so it’s understandable if press-ups and sit-ups are too strenuous at this moment in time. One thing that I can recommend not doing in this situation is seeking inspiration from somebody else’s personal trainer and copying their moves. They’re paying for this session, your stealing of their moves will not be received well.

Solution: Improvised unorthodox stretches

If you’re wanting to look busy on the mats, I’d highly recommend improvising some unorthodox yoga stretches. Nothing too sophisticated though, I can’t imagine that it’s very zen to see somebody appear as if their undergoing some sort of exorcism. These ‘stretches’ will buy you some time to find another free spot.

­­­­Problem: Making awkward eye contact with another person through a mirror

If you’re a daydreamer, tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve zoned out for a couple of minutes, your eyes come back into focus and you realise that they have been locked onto somebody else without even realising… and they’ve picked up on it.  It goes without saying that it’s even more awkward when it happens to be somebody in the middle of a workout. In a gym, this tends to occur through a mirror, but the effect is still the same. There is no way of it ending well by you telling a stranger that you weren’t staring, so I’d try something else.

Solution: Look in their direction again (hear me out)!

It may seem counterintuitive, but to really reinforce that you weren’t staring at this person, you need to look in their direction again. Start by looking beyond their shoulder, lifting your neck up slightly as though you’re trying to look over them, then proceed to tilt your head as though you’re trying to look round them and scan the room like you’re trying to find some elusive item. This will hopefully create the impression that there is something peculiar happening behind them; oh wait, it’s gone now. Continue your workout, and it goes without saying not to look at this person again.

Problem: Wanting to scan the room for a free space, without wandering from machine to machine and without looking like you’re reprising the role of David Wooderson in Dazed & Confused.
Solution: Fill that empty water bottle up and act like you’re reading up on flyers

The obvious thing to do would be to bring an empty water bottle and fill it up, while scouting the available areas, familiarise yourself with the layout. Just make sure that you don’t play it cool by leaning or resting your elbows anywhere. I would suggest pretending to read up on the flyers, while casually having a glance to see if there are any spaces.

(Warning: make sure that you don’t spend too long focusing on one ad, some of those may belong to a personal trainer. You may be approached, and proposed an offer by a silver-tongued devil. These people are masters in persuasion, the likely result being that you are now signed up for some gruelling personal training. Some people, eh?)

Problem: Realising mid-workout that this shit is too heavy

If we’re being brutally honest, some of us would much rather injure our own body than our own dignity. It only takes a few seconds to come to the realization that just maybe we’ve overestimated our own strength, yet our ego dictates that we must continue. It’s all well and good to embrace the inner Schwarzenegger within us, just not when it leaves us almost incapacitated for the following week-  I’d reiterate the obvious statement that nobody is watching you at the gym, you could start clapping to yourself and all you’d get is a two second stare. If only we could think logically in the moment, eh?

There is another way to make a smooth transition into selecting the correct weight size after realizing that you’ve selected too heavy an option.

Solution: Pretend the seat adjustment is wrong

You can accomplish this by first pulling a confused look, concluding that the seat adjustment is wrong, then ‘adjusting seat’ a couple of times, once this is accomplished you can then casually slot the pin into the right weight category…

Problem: Trying to use a machine which you have no idea how it works

Sometimes there isn’t time to be thorough, you’ve just got to throw yourself into the deep-end by choosing what’s available. Now that you’ve got to use this weird piece of alien technology, it would make sense to read up on it, it’s just that some of us may prefer to read in private.

Solution: Pretend to contemplate the weight size

If you’re on a machine which you don’t know the ins and outs of, I’d suggest pretending to consider the weight size, while casually reading up on the instructions. Thank God for peripheral vision.

Problem: Sweaty arse mark

Unavoidable, really.

Solution: Embrace it

Stick your chest out and tell yourself that it’s a sign of a really good workout, and not five minutes of gentle aerobic exercise. Also, sweep that baby dry, don’t be that guy…

Problem: Giving into discomfort and getting caught adjusting a wedgie
Solution: Start adjusting the rest of your clothing, you’re just covering all bases, your general arse area happens to be one of them

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