So, you’ve decided to make the transition from the couch to the gym at last. You’ve read the books, you’ve been shown around the place by a bright young thing and you’ve even had an initiation session with a trained professional.
But before you rush in where angels fear to tread, there are some unspoken rules you should know about. The trouble with unspoken rules, of course, is that nobody ever tells you what they are.
Get the right gear
Everyone will tell you to wear whatever you feel comfortable in.
Hah! Just wait until you feel like the proverbial sore thumb standing out between all those fabulously fashionable regulars.
Think of it this way: Captain Kirk and his intrepid team did not boldly go where no man has gone before dressed in baggy tracksuit pants and old Sanlam T-shirts. Which doesn’t mean that you should rustle up a silver jumpsuit, of course, but it is wise to buy a few comfy yet flattering gym outfits. With emphasis on the flattering bit. Remember, there are mirrors everywhere! You don’t want to join the ranks of the I’ll-start-going-to-the-gym-when-I-look-better brigade, now do you?
Also, don’t skimp on trainers. Your knees have many painful and sneaky ways to make you pay later in life.
Don’t wear too much make-up
Less is more ladies, less is more.
Starting slowly doesn’t mean you’re lazy
Okay, okay, sometimes it does. But not always. In the beginning you’ll probably enjoy vigorous cardiovascular exercise as much as you’d enjoy getting stabbed. So don’t overdo it. You’re either going to hurt yourself or you’ll be so traumatised that you’ll stuff your face with Cheese Curls the moment you get home. Trust me, we’ve all been there.(Do not, however, use this wise principle as an excuse to faff about. Intensity is essential. If running after the kids, working in the garden and walking the dog was enough, we’d all be looking like Jessica Alba.)
Read the instructions
Trust the experts. If the big red sign on the treadmill tells you to wait until the machine comes to a complete stop before you get off, for heaven’s sake, do it! Falling off a treadmill sounds funny in theory, but in practise it kind of sucks. Oh yes, should you ignore this piece of stellar advice, at least remember, when you do fall, to LET GO OF THE BAR. Otherwise you’ll lie there bumping and flopping like a freshly caught trout on the still moving belt. Not suave.
You think you remember everything from your initiation session. How difficult can it be right?
Ask yourself, when was the last time you actually remembered everything someone told you? So when in doubt, ask. You’ll feel like a right eejit when you realise you’ve been using the stretch frame as a towel rack for the last three weeks. All gyms have trainers who’ll be happy to help you out. Or who’ll at least pretend to be happy while they’re laughing at you behind your back.
Get the right stuff
You’ve probably noticed all the bright little towels dotted around the training floor. While there’s no denying that these are very handy placeholders (read: don’t move them. There’s a good chance the little towel you so merrily tossed aside belongs to the scary looking bodybuilder at the drinking fountain) this is still a secondary function.
They’re called sweat towels. So use them for sweat. Not just the sweat on your beet-red face, but also the sweat you’ve dripped on the equipment. Yes, it is eeuuw. That’s why no-one talks about it.
Take headphones so you can watch TV when you’re doing cardio. It helps. Most gyms have these nifty little screens, put there especially for your enjoyment. Cool, huh? If you have an MP3 player, load it with inspiring and upbeat songs. There’s a good reason why Eye of the Tiger rocked Mr Balboa to the top.
Just remember not to sing along. Unwittingly belting out your favourite tune while innocent bystanders gape at you might just turn out to be the most embarrassing moment of your life.
Obey the locker room rules
For Pete’s sake don’t shave, wax, pluck or wash in the steam room or sauna. Granted, there are signs everywhere that tells you this, so it’s not strictly an unspoken rule. The unspoken rule bit comes in at the part where, should you ignore these rules, you – and perhaps the children of your children – will be shunned everlastingly.
Know this and know it well: there is a secret society of gym members who will forever keep your fingerprints on file. So don’t do it. DON’T DO IT.
When all else fails, have fun!
Now this, admittedly, is easier said than done. If exercise was that much fun, you wouldn’t need this little motivational talk in the first place. (Let’s face it, nobody’s ever needed to be motivated to have a few beers at a braai, which is, incidentally, why you won’t find many articles titled “How to have fun at a braai”)
Anyway. Like it or not, exercise is, unfortunately, essential for a healthy life, so you might as well stop grumbling now and try to enjoy it. So grab the fun when it presents itself. Even if it does mean giggling when someone falls off that damn treadmill.