I joined a gym for the first time at the tender age of four score minus 21.
“Okay!” I told myself, “I did it.” “Wait a minute,” said another voice from the same head, “you have to come back and use it.” I had thought I could get credit for good intentions, like when people buy an exercise bike, fully intending to ride themselves into shape, but wind up using it as a clothes hanger. “No,” said my inner masochist.
With my membership card firmly attached to my cat key ring, I walked in meekly for my first-ever appointment with a trainer. The young man, barely out of diapers, politely showed me around and explained the various, nefarious machines. He wrote out a schedule for my exercise routine. Wearing my self-consciousness like an albatross necklace, I tried to remind myself that everyone was too busy working on their abs to pay attention to me. I looked around for reassurance that there were others who might also be arrested for wearing spandex. Then, because I’m a walker and was particularly interested in the treadmill, the trainer introduced me to it. After showing me how to program it for speed, heart rate and weight loss, he left us to get acquainted.
I begin to tread. I did my usual 45 minutes, at a more even pace than I’d be able to keep on my own. Hmmm, not bad. Then it was on to the machines, which for the life of me I couldn’t remember how to use or adjust. At a towering 5’2” I had a particular need to know how to move the seats. Was my drawing a blank caused by senility or a faulty memory? I can’t recall.
On my next visit, I did what any easily intimidated person would do — I avoided the confusing machines and stuck with the treadmill. I couldn’t figure out how to plug in optimum heart rate but managed to program the time I wanted and the rate of speed. It took me a few visits and a lot of peeking at people around me before I figured out where to hold on and that I really didn’t need to.
I was glad to see all the TV screens hanging above the treadmills and ellipticals — a nice distraction — but I couldn’t quite read the dialogue as it appeared on the screen. When I mentioned this to a friend she gently suggested that I could buy ear buds and probably just plug them in to the treadmill. Who knew? One trip to CVS later and I had both sight and sound.
A few weeks into my regimen I made an appointment with another trainer. Miraculously, she was close to my age. We focused on a few machines and she wrote out how many times I should do everything as well as the settings that were best for me
It’s been over a month now and I go a few days a week. I still can’t help paying close attention to what other people are wearing. Everyone looks so fashionably Lycraed. On the other hand, some forms which might give one a fit are wearing form-fitting clothes. Mostly I wear capris from the “active” section of T.J.Maxx. But as I treaded to the reality show “You’re Wearing That?” the fashion enforcers made fun of the episode’s victim for wearing capris. Being fashion-challenged, I panicked. Once home I went straight to the Internet to make sure that someone on Planet Earth was still wearing capris. (My thighs make shorts nonnegotiable.) To my relief I discovered that men and women are wearing them in Paris. So it must be okay at the gym.
I still sneak peeks to see if I’m the slowest treader, but can’t really tell. I do my 45 and work up a real sweat, so I guess I’m doing ok. I still feel a bit awkward, but there is something about sweat running down my back that feels virtuous. Of course once I leave I feel self-conscious about my need for an immediate shower, which I much prefer to take at home. God forbid someone inhales while standing next to me.
No pain, no gain, will my discomfort ever wane?
— Ann Green
Ann Green is a freelance writer, tutor and self-described “crazy cat lady.” She gives a popular talk, “Religion and Humor: The Historical and the Hysterical,” to community groups in the Boston area.