1. The scariest trainer is usually not the best trainer.
This one is the easiest mistake to make, and the one most people keep right on making. You sign up for a gym membership because you feel soft and you sign up for classes or personal training sessions because you want someone to kick your ass into shape. The scariest trainer is the natural choice.
But stand up out of that guilt bath and take a moment to think about this decision without all the emotion behind it. (Yes, you can put on a towel.) Do you want to feel shamed and driven all the time, or do you want to feel like you know what the hell you’re doing?
A scary trainer has instant appeal. And like so many things with instant appeal — cotton candy, dating a pharmaceutical rep, the macarena — a scary trainer is something 99 percent of people will instantly drop. Yes, a few of you out there will genuinely benefit from someone who calls you Saggylats and humiliates you for taking a day off from training to attend your sister’s wedding. But most people will do better with a trainer who puts you on a path so you can see the progress you’ve made and have a clear idea of where you’re headed.
Yes, the terrifying German trainer at my old gym had a hardcore reputation and a ton of initial sign-ups. But after every single new jammed group class session, I’d see her students dwindle over the next eight weeks until she was chasing just three — or fewer! — terrified people around the classroom.
There is a difference between a good teacher and a shouty jerk with boundary issues. Pick the one that’s going to keep your butt coming back.
2. Hitting on someone is way trickier than you think.
Yes, some people come to the gym to get hit on. And the people who come to get hit on and the people who come to work out really aren’t mutually exclusive groups. I am not for a moment suggesting that it isn’t OK to strike up a conversation as long as you back off if there’s a definite lack of interest.
The problem with hitting on people at the gym is that everyone is in a surprisingly vulnerable state and with vastly distorted perceptions. To you, the woman who just freaking nailed that Crossfit WOD looks like a warrior goddess, a Valkyrie who should claim you and ride you straight to heaven. And she may indeed chat with you and cock her head to the side and crinkle her nose in the cutest way as the two of you flirt and banter. You’ve done quite well for yourself! And then you say you’ll see each other later and mentally mark each other down as a strong possibility and you head home feeling pretty great.
…And she heads to the locker room and realizes that Jesus Christ, she forgot and worked out with mascara on again and how the hell does her sweat manage to make that weird pattern under and around her boobs and oh, god, is her face really that wet and red, or is it maybe just the lighting? No, her face is actually that wet and red. Maybe moreso. And on top of it all, while she was flirting with you with her best, most sophisticated witty banter, she completely forgot that she was wearing that ancient, ratty Butthole Surfers T-shirt.
And that’s why she’s too embarrassed to ever speak to you again. Hell, you may not even see her again. It’s entirely possible that she never brought herself to leave the locker room again, or if she did, she ninjaed herself out a heating duct in the dead of night and either switched gyms or quietly moved to Pago Pago. (Unless you are already in Pago Pago.)
Hit on people either as they are arriving, looking like they meant to look, or as they are leaving, freshly showered. (Do not, regardless of your gender or orientation, hang out near the locker rooms in the hopes of intercepting someone just after the shower. We leave this in the hands of Fate, or at least a nearby drinking fountain.)
Your best bet, if you’re looking for true love and not just a day pass, is to exchange at least three friendly hello-nods before moving in. That way you’re comfortable around each other and not worried about first impressions. More important, you can be sure you’re not accidentally hitting on a stair machine person.
3. Whoever schedules the classes will inevitably develop a cruel sense of humor.
I used to take a yoga class that ended in a gentle meditation in a darkened room, designed to let our sweetest, most fragile selves out into the world. And some hilarious asshole scheduled TurboPower Monster Ab Crunch Blast right after our class every goddamned session. It was like turning PCP-addled grizzly bears loose on the Sugarplum Fairy tea party.
Yes, it’s horrible. But people who work in gyms put up with a lot of crap and don’t get much joy in return. Let them have this.
Oh, and speaking of yoga?
4. It’s time to shut the fuck up about yoga.
Nobody, literally nobody else on the planet cares about your reasons for doing yoga. And you know what? An equal number of people care about your reason for not doing yoga.
You started for the strength, flexibility, and sex-having benefits, but then you found your practice dragged you feet-first into an entirely new level of spirituality? Congratulations, you are now as much fun to listen to as Sarah Palin screeching about her personal relationship with Jesus. No, the lack of traditional Judeo-Christian trappings does not make your journey inherently more interesting. Shut the fuck up.
You don’t want to try it because you’re just not flexible? Terrific, you have just said a thing exactly as smart as someone who says they would never take a Spanish class because they’ve never known how to speak Spanish. Also? No one gives a rat. Shut the fuck up.
You used to like Vinyasa, but then you realized it was too much like those commercial Westernized Power Yoga classes and then you discovered that Bikram-style hot yoga is really the only true path and everyone else is just kidding themselves and also did you know that if you take a wheatgrass shot right before class the cleansing benefits are multiplied and now you don’t even need caffeine, you just start the day with 100 Sun Salutations right at dawn and did you know that coffee is basically poison?
Take a cue from Rabbit Pose: Roll it up, clamp it, and shut the fuck up.
It doesn’t matter what kind yoga you do or don’t practice. Unless you have enthusiastic consent from a listener who is asking you specific questions, your absolute highest purpose in this life is to shut the fuck up about yoga.
You want bonus points for being a good human at the gym and maybe getting that extra oomph that pushes you into Nirvana? Try shutting the fuck up about your relationship with protein too.
5. Looking good at the gym is a Zen koan.
Everyone looks good at the gym and no one looks good at the gym. It is an eternal truth.
But the eternal corollary is that if you go to the gym with the intention of looking good while you are at the gym, you will always look like an idiot. For one thing, if you’re too well put together, everyone knows you’re really there to get laid and couldn’t do a squat if someone loaned you an extra pair of knees. And no matter how quickly you do it and no matter how many TVs and tablets and smartphones and distracting weirdos there are in the room, absolutely everyone will look in your direction just in time to see you try to check out your own ass in the mirror.
All you can do is release your attachment to outcomes, focus on the work, and send a quiet prayer that whatever disgusting thing is certainly going on with you doesn’t involve boogers.
At least when someone hits on you seconds after you’ve achieved the title of Sweatiest Pits in the Known Universe, you’ll know they really mean it.
[Yoga picture via Shutterstock]