Here’s What Happened When I Joined a “Cool” Gym

Jen Millard February 28, 2020
Joining a Cool Gym

One of the most traumatic things about moving to a new city has been finding a place to work out.

I know, I know, first world problems but I really loved my old gym. There, the other members were all women (including many of a certain age, like myself). We showed up to exercise, connect and motivate each other in a positive, non-judgmental way. No one cared if you were wearing head-to-toe Lululemon or basketball shorts and an oversized t-shirt from the 1990s. Basically, it was like the neighbourhood watch of gyms. If you were being bullied by bigger, sexier gyms you could find safe haven with us. We’d take you in and sit with you while you called your mom.

My old gym was a place I belonged. It was a place I walked into feeling good about myself. The regulars and the instructors were on a first-name basis and we welcomed new members like mother hens fussing over their chicks.

At my new place, I’ve got 20 years and 20 pounds on almost everyone else and no one makes eye contact, at least not with me. The music is loud, the lighting is low and I’m pretty sure people have sex in the back of hot yoga. Probably the front too. If it weren’t for the juice bar and the crunches I’d swear I had joined a nightclub. The instructors look like supermodels and the men like to work out without shirts. Because it’s too hot or the world deserves to see their abs, I do not know, but that is the norm. All hail the shirtless male who is TOO BUFF TO BE CONTAINED BY MERE COTTON.

At my new gym, most of the classes are done in a heated environment which means everyone is always covered in sweat. Dripping, actually. And while some might find this sexy, all I can think is ‘Ewww… GERMS!’ every time a sweaty body brushes up against me.

Cynically, I’m starting to think that heated exercise rooms are a scam to make you think you’re doing more than you really are. I mean, of course, I’m going to be dripping sweat after five kettlebell swings…. It’s 95 DEGREES IN HERE. While hot yoga is okay, hot bootcamp is a level of hell I didn’t know existed, though I now understand that sweating and grunting fits with the club’s overall vibe. But you know what doesn’t fit my overall vibe? Catching someone else’s sweat in my mouth. Lesson learned: nose-breathing only.

And yet… despite all of the above-mentioned horrors, a strange thing happened as I was lying on my back thrusting my hips in the air with 59 other people in a petri dish of grossness, also known as ‘Down and Dirty Bootcamp’.

I was six weeks into my membership and really questioning whether or not this was the right place for me. Yes, the class variety was terrific. Yes, the parking was free. Yes, the bakery down the block serves excellent cold brew. But a person can only feel that out of place for so long before she starts questioning her choices. She can only walk past so many size zeros preening in the mirror before she starts to feel – perhaps a tad unfairly – like a sausage escaping its casing every time she peels off her sweaty gear.

So there I was, hips up, butt squeezed, pulsing it out to gansta rap at 9:30 on a Saturday morning when all of a sudden I started to feel …okay. Not with the hip thrusting per se, (though I can imagine some scenarios where this skill might come in handy), but with the entire experience. I realized I actually liked the workouts and that the cloud of dread I carried with me was about feeling like I didn’t belong, like this wasn’t the right place for me because it was cool and sexy and filled with beautiful people who legitimately enjoy Kombucha.

To be clear: feeling like you don’t belong anywhere (except maybe prison, or on The Bachelorette) is total bullshit.

I’ve survived things that are way more difficult and way more uncomfortable than weighted squats in a room full of twenty-year-olds. And so it finally hit me that, if you let it, feeling utterly out of place can also represent a unique kind of freedom.

Not fitting in limits people’s expectations of us, which means we can focus on our own expectations instead. We can banish the noise and focus on getting what we want out of the experience, not on what everyone else is doing. Feeling out of place can be the permission slip we need to banish our inhibitions and just do our own thing.

As a woman over forty, I’m used to being invisible in places where younger, hotter women congregate, like while queuing for drinks at a bar or, say, on planet earth. I mention this not out of self-pity but because it’s usually true (unless you’re performing in the Super Bowl Halftime show). So I finally realized that no one was watching me, which meant there was no need to feel self-conscious and inhibited. I could thrust, gyrate, sweat, moan, and clutch my back to my heart’s content. You know that saying ‘ dance like no one’s watching’? It goes for working out too.

I’m mad at myself for ever feeling less-than in the first place but we’re all a work in progress, right? It’s what we do with our growth that matters, so from now on, I am going to prance around the gym like I own the place. I’m going to smile at strangers instead of burying my head in my phone or picking dog hair off my yoga mat. I’m going to make eye contact and help the newbies out. Need your TRX straps adjusted? I got you. Can’t find the towel rental station? Follow me.

Of course, I will still be the same person who face-planted into the handlebars during her first spin class, but no longer will I feel the need to apologize for crashing where the cool kids work out.


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