by Deb Bennett
For much of my life, gyms were a place of mystery. A bit like the Scientology building I pass on my way to work, they were strange buildings full of confusing machines and earnest-looking people. Those entering wore a uniform of sorts and spoke a strange language peppered with ‘reps’, ‘pumps’ and ‘spinning’.
Then a rather odd thing happened: I became a convert.
A combination of factors and food led to my first venture into gym-land.
I had been working in a sedentary office job for a few years when I noticed the clothes I owned were shrinking and those I wanted to buy in my size were too small.
After a short period of blaming designers for unrealistic sizing and my washing machine for overheating, I began to consider my lifestyle. Morning and afternoon tea at least three times a week, office birthdays and after work drinks were all catching up.
I’m lucky enough to live in an area with lovely parks, so I began walking in earnest (as opposed to gently strolling) on weekends. But still my clothes were getting tighter.
I really saw the light after joining Weight Watchers. Those of you familiar with WW will know that you can save points for those really important occasions – weekends. I realised that with just a bit of exercise I could still drink my merry way through Saturday and Sunday and still lose weight.
First, which gym to join?
I decided to start gently, so joined the then-new Curves franchise. If you are a gym virgin, I can recommend Curves or Contours as a great way to get started in this strange new world for a few reasons:
- Staff will explain how to use each machine.
- Staff are always on hand to help if you get confused/are at risk of knocking yourself unconscious.
- It takes only half an hour out of your day.
- Each exercise takes one minute, so if you are short on stamina you will stick with it.
- You don’t need to join for an extended period, so you can try it out before making a commitment.
- The gyms are women only.
- You won’t really work up a sweat, so can pop into Curves before shopping/coffee/work.
All that stretching, pulling and pushing began to take effect after a few months, so when a pamphlet arrived advertising two weeks free trial at my local gym, I decided to give it a try.
I was nervous, felt incredibly self-conscious and a bit like a round peg in a square, skinny hole. But I rocked up for my initial appointment, allowed myself to be weighed and measured by a super-fit woman of around my age and away I went.
What initially began as a trial has now become one of my favourite places to be. After a long day of work, I actually look forward to doing some weights then hopping on the bike, daggy music blasting through my headphones and sweating my way through 20 kilometres.
Those who know me well will attest to my eclectic taste in television, and one of the major benefits of my gym is that I can simultaneously watch the ABC News, Home and Away and a Justin Bieber film clip – all with occasionally hilarious subtitles.
Another benefit is that, on your way to or from the gym, you can legitimately wear stretchy pants in public.
So, if you have decided to dip your toe into the world of gyms, here are a few tips from someone who has navigated this strange new world in my 40s:
- Try before you buy. Don’t get carried away with enthusiasm after watching the weight loss stories on The Biggest Loser and sign up for 12 months at your local gym. Most gyms will offer a trial period at a reduced rate or even for free. Don’t be afraid to ask about special offers.
- Bang for your buck. Clarify what is included in your membership fee. Most gyms run classes in anything from yoga to kick-boxing. Find out if any of these will cost you extra. Similarly, do they offer free child-care and 24 hour access?
- Look after your boobs and your feet. A sports bra and decent runners are essential. You don’t have to spend a fortune on gym clothes (I wear leggings and t-shirts from K-mart – they even have a good range of sports bras), but it is worth investing in a well-fitting pair of shoes.
- Prioritise gym time. We are all time-poor, but with just a bit of organisation it is possible to schedule exercise into your week. I don’t get home from work until after six o’clock most nights and try to go to the gym at least every second day. On gym nights we have an easy dinner – defrosted bolognaise or casserole – or I prepare dinner, leave the family eating and head off to the gym.