Finally, winter laziness got the best of me. It was time, I told myself last week, to head to the gym. It was time to stop making excuses.
That, of course, involved finding a gym to join—and the idea of having any group of people, super fit or super not, watching me try to hit the treadmill is somewhat terrifying, even for someone who is pretty average: neither exactly in nor exactly out of shape.
However, public shame is the only thing that motivates me, if this first week is any measure of success.
After signing up for a free trial at a local Connecticut community center, I was offered a tour of the facility—and offered a series of free sessions with a fitness attendant who would show me around the machines. I have a hard time saying no to anything, and so onto a schedule my name went. The following day I felt too guilty to back out, so I packed my things and headed to the gym.
Thinking I was just going to be shown where the machines were and how to use them, I headed up to the attendant’s desk.
Bad news for my somewhat delicate gym psyche: the attendant was both younger and much more fit than I am. What was to come was going to be slightly humiliating, I guessed. But I’d already begun to approach the counter. Even though there were only a few people in the facility, I began to feel the public shame. There was no turning back now. Good thing it would probably take around 15 minutes, I figured. Then I would be free.
I was handed a questionnaire asking about my fitness level and goals. So far so good: I can fill out forms with the best of them. My pen lifting ability is in the range of superior, my handwriting clear and excellent. I practically smiled to myself.
The smile was soon dashed, however, as the attendant quickly glanced over my questionnaire.
“Great,” he said. “Go do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio and then come back.”
“Um,” I said.
“Anywhere you want,” he said.
“So what are you going to do?” he asked.
What, indeed, was I going to do? Complain that I’d left my iPod at home? Tell him I wasn’t quite feeling it at that particular moment? Explain that I needed to go grab a water bottle in my car?
Enter the public shame.
I was actually going to have to do this.
“I think I’ll go run on the track,” I said, and headed out of that cardio and weight room as quickly as possible. There were fewer people on the track. As I diligently jogged my two miles—34 laps—of the track, I listened only to the tapping of my sneakers against the gym floor. This was new, I thought. Sustained movement is possible without an iPod.
And public shame was good to a certain degree, I conceded: I needed it to push me to start my routine, but I preferred not to be watched by too many eyes as I undertook it. I had another revelation on the track that day: when I approach gyms I’m awfully self-centered. I doubt anyone else was thinking about me and my sloppy half-run even a fraction as much as I was.
I returned inside, triumphant after the requisite 20 minutes had gone by. The fitness trainer looked both uninterested and unimpressed that I had done what he’d told me to do.
Thus ensued the 20 minutes of introduction to machines I’d been expecting: a few reps on one machine, a few on another, until I’d figured out how to adjust them and use them.
As I was getting ready to go—feeling slightly smug now that I’d survived it all—the attendant reminded me: “Don’t forget to sign up for your follow-up session as you leave.”
The required follow-up session.
As I guiltily headed to sign up, I realized this was far from over: it was only just beginning.
Well, I thought, at least this public shame and guilt has caused me to come to the gym, actually enter the facility, run on the track, and lift some weights.
It seemed to be working… at least for the first week.
Published this week by the Southbridge Evening News and other Stonebridge Press and Villager newspapers.