Welcome to the Gym


It’s the New Year, which means a lot of new people will be at the gym.

For the initiated, this might mean your precious spot on the treadmill will be taken by someone going at a speed 2.0. For the gym newbie, this is a somewhat intimidating but a big, wonderful step toward wellness.

Instead of begrudging each other this New Year, let’s resolve to welcome more people to wellness. This, I believe, is one of the keys to combating obesity. Fitness needs to be a place that is welcoming to one and all.

The people who fat shame often ridicule those trying to get fit or making any attempt at getting well. Even active wear company Lululemon has been guilty of fat shaming their customers.  There are countless videos made of people trying to work out, this one was a joke, but I can’t help but think this is what people think of me every time I, as someone who weights nearly 300 pounds,  exercise. 

How do you react when you see a plus-size person working out?

I’m no stranger from being judged – from Spinning classes to the hiking trails. On my third (yes, third) hike up Mount Kilimanjaro, after months of training, even walking a half marathon, the porters bet against me. 

Many of us struggle over what shoes to buy or outfit to wear.  There are mirrors, and loads of people far more buff than us. The equipment may seem intimidating, and we’re not sure it will hold. But the most intimdating thing is what others think of us.

I know someone who was laughed at a decade ago by some weight lifters and hasn’t had the courage to return to a workout place. 

So this year, welcome others to walk the walk, and welcome more members at the gym. This means more people are embracing fitness. And for those who are just starting out, keep showing up. For some, fitness is not something as natural as brushing your teeth or breathing. For others, to come to this point, to join a gym, is something that has taken weeks, if not months to conjure up the courage to do so.

The odds are against the newbies.  According to IHRSA, only about 18 percent of people who join gyms will used them regularly.  About 80 percent of New Year’s members will drop by the second week of February.  

Understand this, for some of us who struggle with weight, not going to the gym has been an act of self-punishment. A feeling that we’re not worthy of wellness. This moment, of stepping into place with the constant whir of treadmills or thump of bass in Spinning class, is the first time we felt we could start taking care of ourselves. The slightest glance internalized punished for taking so long in the first place. And then it’s all over.

Exercise is more than about just dropping pounds. It’s not just about dropping pounds but combating illnesses from arthritis to diabetes.  . Plus, of course, it translates to better sleep and mood, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.

Fitness is a fragile thing. That’s why it’s so easy to give up and drop it all together. Perhaps people just don’t like to see others succeed.  So how can we do that?

For the newbie:

  • Set up time for a tour, so you can familiarize yourself with the equipment. Or just ask one of the staff members at the gym, they’re there to help you be safe and get strong.

  • Arrive early for a class, knowing that it may be packed in these busy first months of the year, and you can have a few minutes with the instructor to go over any concerns or special needs you may have.

  • Clean equipment for the next user.

  • Many gyms have rules about when you can use cardio equipment, and for how long. Take a moment to familiarize yourself about how to sign up so you don’t get bumped off the moment you hop on the elliptical trainer.

  • Wear comfortable clothing – there are plenty of plus-size activewear companies these days.

For the experienced:

  • Careful about gawking, something that happens all too often in obese people’s lives

  • Be friendly and offer a welcome nod or hello to someone new.

  • Try not to bitch about someone joining the gym, or slough off. If your goal is fitness, remember emotional health is just as important as physical health.

  • Make room for them, nudge your yoga mat over or show someone where there is a spot for them.

  • Gently share the rules if someone hops on something they shouldn’t and how they should go about it.

  • Smile. More people are experiencing the joy of fitness.

  • Know that starting out, fitness benchmarks are different, moving up from a speed of 1.5 to 2.0 on the treadmill can be as monumental as conquering Mount Everest.

This is not fit versus the unfit. This is an opportunity to create wellness. Instead of chuckling at someone who can’t seem to get their Zumba on, or who drops weights, nod in knowing they’re joining their club. They want something you have. They want to get it right.

They may steal you treadmill at the exact time as you’ve been on that treadmill for the past decade. They may back up the shower line in the locker room. But they are there.

                A simple nod and welcome smile will show, “I know you can do this.”  That’s wellness.

Kara Richardson Whitely is a writer, motivational speaker about body acceptance, plus-size fitness and more.  She’s been published in Self, Runner’s World, Every Day with Rachael Ray. Her next book, Gorge, the story about her third Kilimanjaro hike as a plus-size adventurer, is due out in April 2015 available for pre-order. 

Kara WhitelyComment