The very thought of walking into a gym can send some gay men into a tailspin. Rivers of sweat. Accelerated heart rate. Increased blood pressure. PTSD. Whether it was being bullied in school, always being the last one chosen for a team, or being clumsy in sports, many gay guys have an absolute aversion to the alpha environment of a gym.
Still, time has taken its toll on your body. Your jeans don’t quite fit the way they used to. Your ass appears to have dropped overnight. And your six-pack has morphed into a kegger. You want to tighten shit up but the idea of walking into a gym triggers all those old fears: “Everyone has a perfect body but me. Everyone will stare at me. I don’t know one piece of equipment from another and I don’t know how to use it anyway. I know I’ll embarrass myself and wind up going viral as a gym fail.” But the truth is, everyone has a first day at the gym and most people have at least some trepidation about how all that medieval looking equipment is used.
Here are some tips for conquering your gym phobia and for making the gym your bitch:
RESEARCH: Do a couple of Google searches on exercise, weight training, and gym beginners. Watch some YouTube videos on proper use of equipment. Maybe when you arrive, start on a piece of cardio equipment to get the lay of the land and decide which pieces of equipment you’ll use. If you’re unsure about something, ask the staff or another member. If some meathead throws you shade, he’s a dick. Keep going.
DON’T COMPARE YOUR BODY TO SOMEONE ELSE: Easier said than done, I know. But you started your exercise program to achieve a personal best. Keep the focus on you and on your workout. Better still, use someone’s physique as motivation to get one more rep!
AVOID PEAK HOURS: Find out when the gym is most and least crowded. For most gyms that’s 5-8am and 5-8pm. If you’re taking a class, hang out in the back row for awhile. It’s okay to be timid. Just show up.
TRY A NEW PIECE OF EQUIPMENT: Familiarize yourself with the gym equipment by trying out a new machine every visit. Continue your research and learn about dumbbell and free weight exercises. Give one of them a shot.
SAFETY: The surest way to look stupid is by trying to handle weights that are too heavy for you. You’re here to exercise your body not your ego. Start light. Better to finish a set and think “I can go heavier next time” than to injure yourself with a 50 pound dumbbell.
ETIQUETTE: Get familiar with basic gym etiquette. Re-rack your weights, wipe your sweat off the equipment, and don’t spit in the drinking fountain. And don’t camp out on equipment between sets. Allow others to work in.
HIRE A PERSONAL TRAINER: As self serving as this advice might sound, it really is the best solution for the terrified, uninitiated gym novice. There’s nothing like having a benevolent “big brother” walk you through your first few workouts. Your trainer will explain the proper use of the gym equipment and ensure you’re performing the exercises correctly. Trainers tailor a fitness program to your specific goals (weight loss, increased flexibility, 17 inch biceps!) and will be sensitive to your specific needs (age, gender, injuries, stamina). They also offer motivation and accountability. You are much more likely to show up to the gym when you are scheduled to work with a trainer and once there, more likely to maximize your workout. You may decide to stay with a trainer for awhile, or just long enough to get you started. Either way, it’s the best advice for making a smart, fearless, safety conscious start at the gym.
Try these two moves to spice up your Chest and Bicep routine!
Cable Chest Fly: Unlike presses, the chest fly s a “pulling” move, not a push. It pulls your chest wide. Select your starting weight and step forward holding the cable handles. Lean into the exercise and imagine you’re hugging a big tree. With elbows slightly bent, reach around and touch the heels of your hand together. Perform 3 sets of 15.
Bicep Swing: This is two for one move. Select a LIGHT dumbbell. (No kidding, go light at first. These get heavy quickly.) Raise the dumbbell up like a traditional bicep curl, then lower it across your body like the hands of a clock. Raise it back to the top and lower it forward. That’s one rep! Up, across, back, and down. Perform 3 sets of 15 on each arm.
Philip Hitchcock is an independent, Certified Personal Trainer specializing in “Fitness after 40,” Resistance Training and Weight Loss. He maintains his own client base and is also the exclusive trainer for the Four Seasons Hotel. Check out HitchcockFitness.com