Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Helpful Guide to Maximizing Your Gym Experience

Fitness in today’s modern world is a complicated venture. Before you sign up for that expensive gym membership, you should be properly prepared to maximize your experience. Entering the fitness environment can be scary at first, as you try to acclimatize to a world of strange and curious health behaviors. But by following a few simple rules, your gym experience won’t just be a financial drain. It can be a mental, physical, and spiritual drain as well.

1. Choose a gym that suits your needs

For the last 18 months, I have attended XCel Spa and Fitness in Bountiful. XCel is a premier fitness center in the Davis County area, unlike Excel Spa and Fitness, which is a prime gathering place for accountants.

XCel serves three primary purposes for my fitness needs: One, “XCel” is a clever way of saying “excel”, which suggests that by attending I will be achieving wonderful things. Two, “XCel” is spelled in a hip way, which makes me feel like a cool person for going there. Third, the gym is less than a block from my house, which means that after difficult workouts I can still drag myself home on my hands and knees.

2. Know your turf

Going to the gym is like going to junior high: you don’t want to get caught standing around looking like you don’t know what you’re doing. So get familiar with the lay of the land.

Free weight area: This area is usually stocked with dumbbells and other “free weights”. The term "free weights" doesn't have a monetary connotation. It means, “weights I could possibly drop and crush myself with”. You don’t see a lot of women in this area, at least any that will be women for long.

Machine area: Weight lifting in this area is much safer, as the weights themselves are usually lashed together with cords and belts to make sure that dumb rookies don’t kill themselves when they try to lift more than they should.

Cardio area: This is a vast aerobic wonderland, stocked with cycles, treadmills, televisions, and other machines designed to help your heart explode. Here you will see die-hard gym rats who run miles at a time on the treadmills, or you can see lazy people who sit on the reclining stationary bikes and pedal while watching Emeril. Sometimes these areas are even stocked with magazines, which allow you to show your peers that not only are you fitness-minded, but you really get into Newsweek, too.

Area where guys usually don't go area: Most fitness facilities will have this big room with mirrors and a hardwood floor set up next to the main weight floor. It looks like a ballet room, if modern ballet were to use a lot of industrial dance music. This is where gyms hold their aerobic classes. It’s also the room most of the guys in the free weight section stare at between their reps.

3. Vary your program

In order to avoid a workout rut, you have to be careful to shake up your routine every once in a while. Working an already-strong upper body may make you feel poofy, but if you don’t work out the bits that need work, you’re going to look like an idiot. The gym has machines designed to work out every area of your body, so try a varied program like the following:

Week 1:

1. 3 sets of 10 bench press
2. 3 sets of 10 power squat
3. 3 sets of 10 arm curl
4. Throw up

Week 2:

1. 3 sets of 10 bench press
2. 3 sets of 10 power squat
3. Throw up
4. 2 sets of 10 arm curl

Week 3:

1. 3 sets of 10 bench press
2. Throw up
3. Go home

Week 4:

1. Quit.

4. Watch out for squeaky machines

You never would have signed up for the gym if you didn’t care about your image. So don’t ruin it by being that one jerk that keeps using the machine that squeaks loudly whenever he does a rep. Just blend in, lemming-boy.

5. Time your visits

Extreme fitness nuts will show up early in the morning to get their workouts in before going to real jobs. Lonely people will work out at night because they don’t have social lives. Unemployed people work out during the day because they can’t get up before 10. Strange people pretty much stay at the gym around the clock, because the sun interferes with the chemicals they inject in their bodies before conducting pagan rites in the sauna areas. Plan your workout times accordingly.

6. Be courteous to the staff

There’s no need to feel lonely at the gym. Good facilities are well-staffed with excited trainers and anxious towel people ready to serve your every need. Just be sure to be polite when you tell the rookie female trainer that you would rather be crushed beneath a 400lb. barbell than let her spot your bench press.

7. Don’t get discouraged

If you’ve been out of the loop for a while, working out shoulder to shoulder with aspiring bodybuilders might be a bit discouraging. Don’t give in to those feelings. There is more to life than a 500lb. bench press. Besides, 75% of gym attendees start their workouts with a nice big shot of anabolic steroids in their behinds, and you don’t really want your biceps to be bigger than your head, do you?

8. Take in the sights

Once you get past the discouragement stage, going to the gym can become a 24/7 entertainment center. Check out the vain dude staring at himself in the mirror, the fellow screaming in the corner, or the girl who spent $200 on her outfit and $2000 on plastic surgery before coming to stand around and shoot the shiz with her friends over by the core machines. Don’t try to say hello, though; those iPod headphones are gym-speak for “get lost, skinny white boy”.

9. Take advantage of the extra facilities

Don’t get in a cardio rut. Or a weight lifting rut. You’re paying through the nose for this, so you may as well get your money’s worth. Besides free weights and machines, quality fitness centers will offer a broad range of aerobic classes and even luxury spots like saunas and tanning salons to cater to your every need. After sweating out those extra calories next to your new friend Ivan, you can go work out with big plastic balls that people leave lying around sometimes.

10. Practice locker room etiquette

Junior high gym class might have helped you to get comfortable dressing and showering with your peers, but it did nothing to prepare you for the day when you’d walk into a public locker room and find lots of naked old dudes wandering around looking for their shorts. Best just be on your way, sport.

11. Advertise your fitness

Once you have paid the price for your fitness, you shouldn’t be shy about proclaiming your buffness to the world at large. If you’ve got it, flaunt it, baby. You earned it.