The gym

I am not a gym rat. I have never had a gym membership. I’ve generally been sort of unsure how they work, except they seem to involve getting up early in the morning and having a wardrobe of specialized clothes for looking good while sweating.

Well, it turns out my new job has an onsite gym. That all my colleagues are regulars at. That costs a grand total of $25/month of which $150/year is reimbursable through my health plan. That has everything you might possibly need, including cable for day Red Sox game. On contemplation, this seemed pretty hard to forgo. So in early April I bit the bullet, wrote a check, and decided to try to figure it all out.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my junior high and high school gym teachers. At the time, I thought it was the height of unfairness that SCHOOL where I was supposed to be GOOD at stuff was making me do things that I didn’t know how to do and was bad at. I had to learn whole new skills like lifting weights, running, stretching, and even doing pushups. Despite my early despair, this education made doing sports seem plausible. And sports taught me how to be in shape and negotiate fitness, in addition to how to work hard at things I was terrible at in order to attain hard-won mediocrity. I went to state in basketball and track (through no merit of my own), and have varsity letters in things other than Knowledge Bowl and Pep Band. I haven’t done an organized sport since my sophomore year of high school, but I have confidence in my ability to do physical things that require sneakers and sports bras. This was not inevitable.

An adult gym seems very different. I mean, there’s the whole subtext of locker rooms. The thing about locker rooms is that you are naked in them. Not metaphorically. So there’s my boss’s boss’s boss, and there’s someone who works in the cafeteria and we’re all getting our clothes on for Zumba class. It’s very equalizing in an “I hope I don’t make a complete idiot of myself” kind of way. There are fitness friendships that spring up far across corporate divisions. And then there’s the issue of unspoken etiquette, which I’m sure I don’t know all about. Does one attempt to hide under the insufficient towels, or is one unafraid as one walks out of the shower? There are brushes on the counter in front of the mirror… do only idiots use them? Are they just for show? Or is it ok for me to use them? And these are my coworkers — people whose opinion is important — so it’s important I not commit huge faux pas.

I suspect I might be oversensitive, since the jr. high/high school locker rooms was the place where “gross” “freaky” and all the other terror-terms of my youth were defined — where being “normal” and “like everyone else” was the height of my desire. Perhaps the payroll coordinator is more forgiving of foibles than was the norm in 7th grade.

Also, among my areas of ignorance is hair dryers. I’ve just never used them, never mastered the art of them. I only own a hair dryer for putting up that plastic sheeting across the windows. A hair dryer is a must if you’re using a corporate gym, because really? Sopping wet hair does not say “professional”. So in addition to Force, Java, an entirely new business, and powerpoint for everything I have to master hair dryer skills? It seems too much!

The good news is that I’m really not in all that bad a shape. I did 25 minutes on an elliptical without trouble. I ran a mile and a half on the treadmill. (I do love those day games!) I’m up to 5 visits. I think this is going to work for me. But I find it like a strange new world with all these rules and customs I need to carefully wend my way through.

What about you? Are you comfortable doing vigorous exercise? Do you have a gym membership? Is it like a second home to you, or a foreign country?