A Week of Working Out

Athena ScalziLast week, my dad and I got Planet Fitness memberships. I have never been a member of a gym before, unless you count the YMCA, but I never actually worked out at the YMCA, I mostly just accompanied my grandma to go swimming sometimes.

Anyways, we got our memberships, and today marks one full week of going and working out together! So I wanted to write up my impressions on the gym so far and my experience with working out for the past week. Not necessarily like a review of Planet Fitness specifically, but just how it feels to go to a gym and be in that sort of environment in general. Because it’s pretty unfamiliar territory for me, and I’m willing to bet it’s a daunting place for many of you, as well.

I knew upon getting my membership that I wanted a professional to make me a workout plan. I wasn’t about to go in there and pretend like I knew what I was doing on those machines, and I definitely wasn’t going to just go grab some dumbbells and go right for it. The good news for me is that having a membership means that you can talk to their trainer and consult with them about your goals and they’ll put together a regimen for you to follow.

The way I thought the consultation would go and the way it actually went were pretty different. I was expecting to express my goals to her, and then she would just tell me what machines I should be using or if I should be doing more cardio than weights, yada yada. But it ended up being more than that. After I told her my goals, both long term and short term, she started by creating a five day regimen for me and wrote everything down in a packet.

Day 1, upper body. Day 2 and 4, core + cardio. Day 3, lower body. Day 5, total body workout.

Each page of the packet is a different day, and then all the machines/exercises I’m supposed to do are listed alongside how many reps and sets to do. Then, she took me around to every machine and not only showed me how to use them correctly, but helped me figure out what weight I should be doing on all of them, and wrote that weight down in the packet alongside the reps and whatnot.

She was immensely helpful, and I had previously been worried that I wasn’t going to know how to use the machines she recommended, so I was pleasantly surprised when she showed me how to do every single one. It made me less afraid that I’d look like a fool doing my exercises. I’m sure we’ve all seen photos of, and probably laughed at, people using gym equipment wrong, and I did not want to be one of those people.

So, that took care of a large chunk of my anxiety regarding exercising in front of others. It’s still pretty difficult, and I know it’s a big reason why a lot of people don’t go to the gym. They feel like everyone is looking at them, or they don’t want others to see them sweat, get red in the face, breathe hard, etc. I know that’s how I feel, at least. But honestly, this past week has proved that what they say is true, no one is looking at you. I never once felt like anyone was looking at me funny, or judging me, or doing more than just barely glancing my direction because human eyes are naturally attracted towards movement. Everyone is honestly just focused on themselves and their workouts.

I say all this as a person that looks around a lot. I don’t know why I look around so much. When I’m walking on the treadmill, I just glance all over the room constantly, and this has led me to see that literally no one is looking at me. People don’t care about you as much as you think they do.

All in all this first week, I was definitely nervous to be in a gym environment and afraid of being judged and all that, but that’s really not the case and I feel a lot better now.

Aside from the anxiety, how does the first week feel physically?

The answer is: not amazing.

Getting started can be demoralizing. When you realize just how out of breath you get from running, or the fact that you can’t even do one push-up, it can make you want to never try again. I can’t hold a plank or a wall sit for longer than ten seconds, I do the lowest weight possible on the shoulder press machine, I feel my heartbeat in my ears when I run for all of two minutes. It makes me feel bad about myself, and about my limitations.

But I won’t get better unless I try. I have to try to do a push-up if I ever want to be able to actually do one. I have to try to hold a plank for as long as I can, and try to complete all three sets of triceps curl. I can’t just sit around and hope that one day I will magically be able to go up the stairs in my own house without dying, I have to work to make that true. And while it sucks, waiting for that magic day sucks more.

So here’s to many more weeks of crunches and planks, many more weeks of bicep curls and leg press, and many more weeks of trying.


35 Comments on “A Week of Working Out”

  1. Yay for you, getting over the intimidation and insecurity of public exercise. What I found long ago when I started an exercise regime was that even if you start with the absolute minimum (walk three houses down because you can’t make it to the corner. Or one house) you will rapidly, within weeks, get much stronger, much better. I started swimming, and could make only one length of the pool before I rested. 2 months later I was swimming for a solid hour, no breaks. 5 minutes on the exercise bike turned into “until my butt got numb.”

    Good for you. Keep it up. Seeing results is the best encouragement.

  2. I hear you. I started going to the gym years ago and felt incredibly super awkward about it for ages. Discovered that I was mainly thinking about myself and that everyone else was mainly thinking about themselves. Whenever I felt like I overtly sucked at something, I’d redirect my thoughts with a cheery “well, it’s better than not doing this at all!” Because when I saw someone else moving really slowly or doing very little on the weights I’d never think anything more negative than “hey, good for them for exercising!” I admit I don’t love exercise, but I feel a LOT better when I do it regularly.

  3. I remember the first time I started using weights at the gym. They had a small room off the women’s locker room that was rarely used, so I didn’t have to do it in front of the body building guys.

    I tried out the tricep extensions and nothing happened. I thought I was using it wrong, and tried a few different directions/etc. Finally, I just took all the weights off.

    It moved exactly as I’d originally thought, I apparently just didn’t have triceps.

    I went from that to lifting heavy in about 3 years. (Although, now I’m out of shape and back to ‘maybe 10 pushups, with my knees down and 3 panting breaks).

    Go you!

  4. Dear Athena, So happy for your new adventure. I don’t even have to say, dump all the stereotypes and do it for your own physical/mental preservation and personal goals. You’re doing it all just right! Have a great time!

  5. The thing is, you’re not waiting, you’re doing. And there’s an old saying, the more you do, the more you can do.

  6. Athena, good vibes for you and your dad. As someone who has been where you are right now, the hardest part is what you are going through! In a few months you will see what you HAVE learned and how your body gets fitter. I have found now that if I don’t get to the gym at all, my body definitely misses it. I’m not doing anything major, but it makes a difference! Please do give us updates when you feel like sharing.

  7. I lost 120+ lbs several years ago and I did it by making the gym a regular part of my routine. (Yes also eating better, but for me eating better and working out are an infinite loop that feed on each other.) I also learned as part of this process that I actually care less about the weight at this point than I do about being strong and feeling good in my body. I’ve gained back some of the weight but I still feel so much healthier than I ever did in my life.

    I remember lots of people told me to find something I enjoy and it would be easier to do it and at one point I wrote this in an online journal:

    “I didn’t enjoy any exercise until I’d done it a while and felt competent and started to see results. And I’d tried everything. But when you’re fat and out of shape, it’s HARD to love exercise. When 5 minutes of exertion makes you sweat like crazy and then everything rubs and chafes? And your workout clothes don’t fit right. And you’re self conscious. And you have no stamina or coordination because your center of balance is screwed because you’re overweight? There ain’t a heck of a lot there to like or enjoy. ”

    But I promise you, you’ll make progress faster than you think you will. And before too long you’ll be doing those pushups and planks and leg presses and you’ll realize that you actually ARE enjoying it. Maybe not the actual exercise but the way you feel afterwards and the way you feel about yourself when you realize you can leg press your own body weight or knock out those pushups.

    So good for you for doing it. <3

  8. Good for you. Nope it ain’t easy. When I started a weight lifting plan, I kept a log of each workout, including exercise, number of reps and weight. I am really glad I did, as about a year later I was sitting there after a workout feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t making progress. Then I opened up the logbook to the very beginning and was amazed at how much more weight I was pushing. And I was not trying to max the weight per exercise.

    Be very strict with yourself on how you do each exercise, so that you do it properly. It is incredibly easy to injure yourself, especially as you get better, you may get complacent. Injuries either stop your workouts or limit them, which is not good, and worst of all injuries hurt.

    Generally it is easier to start with light or very light weights and gradually increase the weight. Too many people [especially men] try to overdo it for fast progress but get injured.

    Every six months or so, look back on the logbook and you will be surprised. Hang in there kid! In a year you will be able to chew nails and spit rust…

  9. A good personal trainer can be a huge help with this stuff. I don’t have a gym membership anymore but I still remember some of the tips I learned from a really good one at a gym near my old house. There’s nothing like getting suggestions that are made specifically for you!

    Working out around other people is a big deal! Congrats on taking those steps … regardless of where you end up, it probably took a lot of effort just to be willing to do what you’ve done so far, and that counts for a lot.

    I also look around a lot and don’t really know why!

  10. You’re in the heart of the Planet Fitness targeted demographic — people who aren’t/haven’t been gym rats but want to pursue an exercise program. It’s the gym for you!
    Generally when people exercise they quickly become focused on what they’re doing (and if they’re working it hard becoming what I call “completely focused on their own misery”) and don’t have the time and energy to pay attention to others with more than a passing non-judgmental glance along with a “good for you!”. It’s more of a “is the tri machine occupied or do I need to work around it while the man/woman in the seat finishes their sets”. There are exceptions, but they’re the “LOOK AT ME!” people who dress in a way to deliberately call attention to themselves, and not the general run of the mill population in baggy shorts and tee shirts or sweats.
    Please, please, please learn and follow basic gym etiquette — wipe your sweat and body oils off the machine or bench when you’re done, don’t procrastinate on a machine, dress in clothes that work for what you’re doing so you’re not constantly having to make adjustments, when you’re there actually work your body (I always shake my head at someone sitting on a recumbent bike with no resistance and pedaling very slowly while they read something on a tablet –why did they bother?), if you’re not sure how a machine works or proper form for free weights seek advice, don’t interrupt others to socialize unless you KNOW they don’t mind (I’ve unloaded on a number of people who decided that because I’m a late middle age white guy I must share their political and social views which they interrupted me to press on me — it might be my military background but I can cross the line between assertive and aggressive really fast when that happens). Don’t be “that person”.
    Congrats! You can’t be a gym rat unless you go to the gym, so make sure not to let your excuses (which we all have, especially at first) derail your trips there.

  11. Good for you! I’m glad to hear about the very thorough eval and plan that your trainer set up. Thank you for talking about your experience — hearing these from others helps me keep up with my own efforts.

  12. I liked going to the gym when I rented a workspace downtown, then I got into home YouTube workouts during lockdown, and I’ve been sticking to those longer than I’ve stuck to any kind of physical activity before. It’s good to remember your body shape or weight won’t necessarily change much, but how you feel DEFINITELY will if you stick to it. If you work a specific plan over a long time, it feels great, as others have said, to see your results improve, and to feel your endurance/lung capacity grow. And if you ever miss a chunk of time, there’s no shame in starting from the beginning and getting to see that growth again.

  13. Congratulations! I have never been to a gym for all the reasons you mentioned. When I was at my fittest, about 10 yrs ago, I never got that “runner’s high” everyone talks about. Exercising was a slog that I tried to distract myself from with music. I felt cheated. Good luck to you! If you and your dad ever arm wrestle, please tape it.

  14. Good for you and your dad. You reminded me of one of my nephews who is now a personal trainer. When he first went to the gym he couldn’t even lift the bar alone, no weights. Now, he looks like he’s in Thor’s circle of friends.

    Keep it up and as time passes you will be amazed at the strength you gain just by a slow and steady process of working out.

    Love that you are doing this with your dad!

  15. We just joined a gym, also. A bit on the pricey side, but they are totally focused on personal training so your coach is there with you all the time, every workout. And they do nutritional counseling, and ongoing evaluations of goals and progress. We’ve tried so many diet/exercise programs, but nothing has stuck. I think because there was so little accountability, it was easy to just not. Now, I will have an appointment with my trainer and that will help keep me going. Don’t want to be the no-show!! I hope it works for all of us.

  16. It’ll suck every time you go until one day you’ll realize it actually doesn’t suck so much. And then you’ll find yourself having favorite exercises, maybe! Anyway, proud of you for giving it a go!

  17. Last century, even before your parents were born, I had to take gym in college.
    On the first day, the instructor had us flabby, high school girls get down on the floor to do pushups. Of course, none of us could do a single one. But! The instructor had us pivot from our knees, not our toes, and just lower our torsos to the floor. We did not have to push back up; we could shove or twist any old way to get back to being on our hands and knees.
    We did this for a few minutes every class, and class was once a week.
    By the end of the term, I could do a from-the-toes, down-and-up pushup.
    So you are right; start small and keep going.

  18. Athena, Your gym review was excellent!
    Good on you for starting your fitness plan. I did the same in my 50’s and it was daunting for a girl to do weight training in front of all those guys. Now, in my 60’s, I’m still doing it, and keeping a workout journal to see my progress….and now I don’t care who’s sees me workout! I’ve traded running for power walking and yes, I look around a lot too!
    Have fun, enjoy the good muscle pain!😊

  19. Fellow PF’er here!

    I really enjoy their little 30 minute workout niche. And as someone else mentioned, they really focus on average folks trying to work out, rather than the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world.

    Keep it up!

  20. First, congratulations.

    Second, although I am 58 and have been active my entire life, I didn’t actually start working out at a gym until I was 40. So I’ll comment that the first three weeks suck. Seriously. After about that time, your body will adjust somewhat. One reason I’ve never quit since is because I never wanted to go back to how I felt those first 3 weeks.

    Chances are nobody’s really watching you, not in any oh-what-a-dork way.
    Working with a trainer can make a huge difference in terms of consistency and motivation. (Now I do CrossFit instead of working with a trainer, but CrossFit classes are taught by fully qualified CrossFit trainers).

    Good for you.

  21. Wonderful, I am happy for both you and your Dad.

    I am also glad that you have a good trainer to guide you through it.

    Core work is critical in the early stages, and it is good that you are trying some, a few years ago it was all about legs and arms, with a little back thrown in.

    Good to see it is more holistic.

    Take your time and keep technique as your first goal. Do that and things will start to come around. I’m 66 now, started working out at 17 and learned the cost pf big muscles ( they cost a lot of oxygen and give back huge lactic acid returns, Don’t look for anything extreme, your body will tell you what it is and can be.

  22. That’s a well written, realistic, and encouraging story.

    Shame and self-consciousness derail many people’s efforts. It is great that you address both directly and effectively.

  23. The point right now is to build the habit of exercise; once you have the habit, it is easy to enjoy what you are doing. Keep it up! Following the trainer plan is great but don’t be afraid to build on it, or to ask for more feedback. I am more fit now at 48 than I was at 28, partially due to acknowledging where I was weak and accommodating for it (I need to wear padded insoles in my shoes or I wreck my knees and hips). I also reward myself by making playlists ONLY for working out, and putting my favorite songs on them so I’m motivated to show up.

  24. Good for you! I remember the first time(s) I went to the gym. I had a very similar experience to you, and was very anxious about going. Luckily, you’ll see a lot of progress very fast in the beginning. Keep going for a month, and it will feel much better than the first week did

  25. Good for you. I found that I had to make going to the gym a habit, like brushing your teeth. That took about a month. After that, I didn’t have to decide to go. I just went. It’s never the highlight of my day, but it improves my mood as much as my fitness

  26. I was always so bored by gym in school and I have never been tempted t go back. When I want to exercise I cycle, in the outdoors. The scenery changes, the weather changes and there is wildlife. OK, some days it’s just squirrels, but in a gym you don’t even get squirrels.

  27. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your wind and strength will improve if you keep at it. In February I started using our elliptical trainer 20-30 minutes a day, divided up into chunks. In about 3 weeks, I could hold a conversation while doing it! It impressed my wife greatly.

    And I have asthma and some lung damage from multiple pneumonias! I also lost 10 lbs and 3″ or so off my waist! The pounds stayed off, too.

    So there is hope.

  28. Good for you both! I joined my first gym when I was in my 20s. I have belonged to one (or did something like Jazzercise regularly) for most of my adult life. I still belong to one, in my 60s, and while I’ve never lost weight, it’s kept me pretty healthy overall and I’m convinced it’s a big factor in why I have not yet succumbed to the diabetes which is all over my family and has been for at least 4 generations. (23 and Me says I have the gene, too.)

    I’m glad it’s been a positive experience for you so far. These days, I think of it primarily as my physical therapy as the exercise bike and weight machines help keep my arthritis pain down to a reasonable level. Your dad’s not so young any more, so I’m glad he’s doing this with you.

  29. Good on for going. Motivation gets you there in the first place, but habit will keep you going back. You just need to go enough to get the habit.
    The body changes in reaction to something, so you’ve got to feel bad the first week for the body to react to get fitter/build strength/whatever your exercise was for. Give it a few weeks and you’ll notice incremental benefit.
    Finally I’d like to point out that there are two innocent non-judgemental reasons someone might be looking at you in the gym. Firstly if it’s busy and they want to use the kit after you, they’re watching for when you’re going to finish (happens in our gym a lot).
    Secondly, aren’t you and your Dad local celebrities? People could be wondering if they’ve seen your face before, but can’t place where (never happens in our gym).

  30. I enjoyed your impressions. I’m not a person who likes to do things with others, so I have a weight bench in my basement, and log sheets that I fill out, as mentioned above. Having been introduced to weight training in High School, I went back to it in my late 20s or early 30s, and at 72, I’m still at it. I like being strong. Since I work out alone I never do really heavy weights. But when a 47 lb. sack of dog food came recently (they were out of the 30) I had no trouble getting into the house and putting it in the pantry. It’s a good feeling, and it comes from just doing what you need to do regularly. You didn’t mention pounding music–do they do that there?

  31. Athena, you’ve inspired me. I’m a lot older than you are, but it’s recently become fairly apparent to me that I’m not going to keep getting older if I don’t do something. There’s a Planet Fitness much nearer to me than I knew, and I’m going to check it out.

    Good luck to both of us!

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