It’s safe to say that if ever there was a sufficient excuse for avoiding the gym, a global pandemic would fit the bill. However, six months on and a concerning wheeze at the top of a flight of stairs and the inability to lift a stack of plates from a cupboard tells you that your resting period has overstayed its welcome. The gyms have found a way to safely re-open and the perfect excuse is no longer valid. Having entered a new gym equipped with spaghetti arms and an obvious lack of strength, I can confirm that the first few days of returning to the gym after a lengthy break is an unpleasant experience and one that needs a significant amount of mental preparation.
In an ideal situation, a member of staff will show you around, explain the machines and introduce you to the otherwise uncharted territory of the weights section. Should this not be an option, (I can safely say that this has never been offered to me), I have a few tips for finding your feet.
I like to do a gym-scope by making a bee-line for the water station. The water-bottle fill is a prime opportunity to do a casual yet tactical glance around the gym to find the stretching area. Once located, the subtle scope can be further continued from here. This is where I would recommend a bit of stretch-multi-tasking. I personally like to aimlessly touch my toes while I discreetly observe how the machines are used. As you finish your “stretching”, it’s time to decide what machine appears the least dangerous.
Once you have chosen a machine to stride confidently towards, it’s important to continue to pretend at a high-level that you know what you’re doing. Should you give off so much as a hint of uncertainty, the gym-rats will smell it. I recently decided to venture over to the leg-press for the first time. I was apprehensive as I’ve seen the standard ‘leg-press gone wrong’ youtube videos – snippets of unfortunate people who overestimated the amount of weight their legs could handle. Upon arriving at my machine, a wife beater that read ‘Mon-day Tues-day Chest-day’ appeared in front of me and asked if I had many “reps” left. Despite the fact that I had, in fact, every last one of my reps left, my response was “just finished, go ahead” and a brisk retreat to the water station. I stand by my decision to abort the leg-press rather than have my form critiqued by an audience of one impatient gym-rat. However, had I acted as though I too enjoy a protein shake and chest-day, my exercise probably wouldn’t have been so rudely interrupted.
Having mentioned the ‘leg-press gone wrong’ videos, I feel it’s necessary to emphasise the importance of playing it safe. Yes, it’s great to push yourself, but have you ever experienced the sickening fear of squatting too much weight and genuinely believing you’re not coming back up? It is for this reason that I avoid the squat rack completely and use the smith machine instead. The smith machine is basically an assisted squat rack that makes toppling over almost impossible. Assistance is key. I would also recommend against presuming to know how a machine works. We’ve all seen the youtube compilations of people doing questionable things with gym equipment. If you’re not certain, chances are you’re doing it wrong. Another top tip is to pretend to take a phone break in between ‘reps’ while panic-googling “what is a cable row”.
Those three pointers conclude my guide on how to beat, or at least conceal, your imposter syndrome when joining a new gym. Once you’ve mastered these steps, you’ll be throwing around the word ‘reps’ and drinking your protein in no time, perhaps leave the “Chest-day” tank top at home though.