After falling off the workout wagon over six months ago, I finally got the energy to climb back on and joined a gym. Lately I’ve noticed my mid-muffin spilling over a bit more than in the past, and my inner thighs commingling a bit more than they probably should.
The only gym within reasonable distance to where I recently moved was LA Fitness. The name alone was a turnoff, as I had no desire to work out next to anyone who looked like they were from LA. I couldn’t bear to set myself up for the disillusionment of languishing on a treadmill in my XL t-shirt and stretchy pants next to a botoxed, big-boobed, fake-tanned, 25-year-old blonde. I let out a sigh of relief when a rather large 60-something grandma wearing an “I ♥ Quilting” t-shirt came in with a “Bluffs Run Casino” bag. I felt much better about myself, and I don’t feel bad admitting it.
When I was in my 20s and 30s, going to the gym was more of a social outing. I carefully chose my workout apparel to camouflage the fatty parts and accentuate the flatter parts. Thirty years ago, sweaty, muscled-shirted men would line up behind me to stare at my high, round ass as I climbed the stair-master. At 30, I appreciated the attention. At 50, my high round ass has fallen into a globular mound of cellulite, and if I even thought anyone was directly behind me as I walked on the treadmill, I would move in fear of accidentally passing gas. As a woman gets past 50, the gym is less of a place to show off your body and occasionally hook up, and becomes a place to regularly experience embarrassment and humiliation. And that’s even before you walk into the locker room.
Once inside, I met with the gym’s sales associate, Jeff, who took me on a tour of the facilities. Like any good sales associate, he asked open-ended questions about my interests. “What type of aerobics classes do you like?” Jeff asked, as he walked me by the aerobics room. There I watched as over-zealous women stepped up, down, up, down on their step platforms as they pumped their arms wildly overhead to a too-loud Michael Jackson remix. “I don’t do aerobics,” I said, backing away from the door. “Okay. No problem,” Jeff said. “We’ve added lots of Zumba classes to our schedule too. Those are really popular,” Jeff added with an air of excitement in his voice. “I don’t do Zumba,” I said, temporarily flashing back to “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” with Richard Simmons.
Jeff then led me to the full-size pool where two slightly older, slightly obese women wearing rubber swim bonnets were doing painfully slow laps as they held tight to kickboards, which could barely hold their weight. “We have water aerobics classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings. It’s a great workout!” As Jeff explained the cardiovascular benefits of water aerobics, I backed out the door, shaking my head. “I don’t swim.”
I sensed I was killing Jeff’s well-rehearsed pitch, and took notice as he scribbled notes on his clipboard. “I guess you could say I’m an anti-social gym person,” I said with a half laugh. Jeff didn’t respond, just shook head as if he understood. “We have a “Ladies Only” workout space. I think you’ll like that.” Jeff led me into a small corner room with one treadmill, one recumbent bike, one elliptical machine, a few free weights, a balance ball, and the typical female equipment: chest press, leg press, and inner and outer thigh machines. My eyes lit up. I watched as two 50-something bulbous-butted women worked side-by-side on the inner and outer thigh machines in the solitary confines of the tiny, dimly lit room. “Yes. I like this,” I nodded. “This will do just fine.”
Jeff signed me up for the basic package, or the “no contract/no guarantee” membership. Jeff assailed me with the benefits of personal trainers, explaining how important it is to be held accountable, and offered me the “today only price” for a 10-visit trainer package, but I respectfully declined. “I don’t want to be held accountable,” I said. Jeff scribbled another note on his clipboard, I’m assuming to the effect of, “Difficult; exhibits anti-social behavior.” He pushed some papers in front me and I signed my bank account away.
That was two weeks ago, and I’ve been back twice since. They say just stepping through the door is the hardest part, but that’s not true. After you step in, scoping out the competition for who looks your age but in slightly worse shape is the hardest part, and sometimes it takes a while to find that someone who you can compare yourself to who makes you feel good enough about yourself to walk in the rest of the way and actually work out. And if all of us are holed up like me in the back corner ladies room, sometimes that takes some time.