Gym-Rat Dopers: Advice Needed!

I have a plan. Well, I have the beginnings of a plan, and I need help with the details.

This Friday, the 18th, I’m having laparoscopic surgery to repair two hernias. I’ll give myself a few weeks, and I’m determined that on April 1st, my life will change forever. I am going to stop smoking, start eating wisely, and join a gym. I will become healthier, happier, and regain the fantastic body of my youth. I’m only 36 and 30 pounds overweight, so I don’t see this as undoable. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

The thing is, I’ve never been to a gym or exercised seriously. Up until recently, I was always very slim and firm, could eat all day and never do anything and my body looked fine. Those days are, apparently, over.

As regards a gym, what options are out there and which are best? I’d like to have a personal trainer the first few times, but I have no idea how much they cost and if you have to commit to so many visits with them. Should I do aerobics, weight training, kickboxing, yoga, pilates, running, all of the above? Are women-only fitness places a good idea or just very boring as I picture them? When an ad for a gym says something like “$19 down and $19 a month” is that the real price, or do you have to pay for 3 years all up front or something?

Any answers to any of these questions and/or other advice would be greatly appreciated.

I’ll tell you how it works at my gym, which is of course probably nothing like your gym, but here you go. In January and usually at least one other week a year, you can join with no “joining fee” or whatever they call it. Otherwise the fee is $100 (for which you get a gym bag and some stuff also). You get a free session with a trainer when you sign up; I think it’s about $40 an hour after that session. Instruction on how to use the equipment along with a good amount of general advice is totally free. There’s also a monthly fee (I pay less than almost anybody else because I started as a student in the old facility and I’m locked in at my old rate.) I pay monthly ($35), although you can pay annually or quarterly. There is no discount for paying annually or quarterly, some gyms may offer one. There is a contract - you’re in it for a year whether you like it or not unless you get, say, a doctor’s note.

One thing you should definately watch out for very carefully is that some gyms on their plans that look really cheap have fine print - one local one only allows you to come on either Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays if you’re on their cheap plan. Some charge you for classes. Some don’t allow special groups (like if you’re getting a student discount) to use the gym at peak hours.

Go and tour the places. You’ll know if you like them or not - you want somewhere where they’re thrilled to give you a tour and where you feel comfortable. If there’s a high pressure sales atmosphere, leave. I’m extremely happy where I am, but I toured several places I’m glad I didn’t stay at. (The good gym also happens to be extremely convenient for me, which is very important - who cares how nice it is if you don’t go?)

It’s cool that you want to make a positive change in your life, but you need to get clearance from your doctor to exercise before you jump right in.

That said, this site is a great beginner’s site, and it’s targeted specifically towards women. Take a look.

Thanks, Zsofia, knowing me I’d just pick the first gym I looked at out of a sense of obligation to them after I’d done taken up all their time showing me around and everything, you know, because that’s how I am, but I’ll be sure to steel my resolve to find the best one for me. You’re right- if it’s the wrong place, there will be lots of reasons to not go.
And I’ve bookmarked that site, Ultrafilter, it looks like a good one. I’ll be perusing that one and many more during my 10 days of recuperation. (Yeah, it doesn’t really take that long to recover from a lap enough to go to work, but I haven’t had a vacay in a while and I do have PTO so there.) And yes, my PCP and surgeon both know I plan to start an intensive workout plan 5 weeks after. I will definitely make sure I’m recovered before starting, as pain and me- we don’t get along.

dons cheerleading outfit

Go, trublmakr, go!!! You can do it!

(In the spirit of positive reinforcement, every day you go without a cigarette will be a day that I don’t send you a real picture of me in a cheerleading outfit.)

I feel like an idiot telling people I’m “going to”… we all know people who say that all the time. Most people I would say that to don’t know how very stubborn and motivated I am, and how I’m a real goal-setter that actually does take the steps I need to take to accomplish my goals.
But I really am! I already have my patches, I’m enrolled in a program, and I’ve memorized lots of neat tricks to help myself with. I think one thing that will help alot is if I put a bunch of cigarette butts in a jar of water with a lid, then when I crave I will open the lid and take a big whiff. Knowing me with my super-duper industrial strength gag reflex and ability to associate, I think it will be a powerful tool.
Thanks for the encouragement! :smiley:

I’m gonna suggest skipping the gym, and instead seriously taking up an aerobic sport, like running, cycling, or rowing…

I have heard that running is an excellent thing to do all around. I have to admit, though, that I’m kind of scared of it. Once I get into enough shape to jog without feeling like I’m dying, I’ll try it. I think I would like it.
One thing I’m planning on doing: jumprope. Jumprope good, right? Weights, also. What else would be good? Is one hour 4 days a week enough at least to start?

My current gym tried that sign-up fee business with me and they didn’t even offer any goodies to go with it. I told them I wanted it waived. They made noise about how it’s a standard fee but finally waived it after I told them I’d find another gym. You can get a gym bag and the supplements and crap they give away for a lot less than $100.

Take it easy on those joints.

Don’t do crazy with running or other joint-pounding activity (e.g. jumping rope) until your body has strengthened sufficiently to accept the new demands you place upon its joints. Listen to your body!

When I first started, I was so excited when I was able to run three miles that I did it a few too many times and gave myself a fierce bout of tendonitis in my knees and ankles. It was a humbling experience to have to shuffle from my car to my office like an old man, pondering in amazement the total distance between the two. That lasted for a couple of weeks, and then I backed of the running for awhile.

These days, after a year and a half of gently ramping up, I do about 35mi/wk and love it. I just wish I didn’t have to go through that awful pain in the beginning.

Oh yes… I firmly believe that the most important critical success factor for a gym is how close it is to my house. There’s a totally bitchin’ brand new gym across town that is affiliated with a local hospital – they have a pool, track, individual TVs on the machines, among other cool things. You won’t see me there because it’s expensive and it’s about 12 minutes from my house. My gym is about four minutes from my house and I actually go there.

I would second the opinion of staying away from the gym if I weren’t tempted myself. Jogging/running is totally doable if you gradually build up to it. When I first started, I would run about 1 mile, then walk a couple of blocks, then run another mile. The problem is that I’m not a hard core runner and I refuse to run in winter in Chicago. Thusly, I’ve been thinking about a gym membership.

The plus side of going to a gym is that since you’re payig, you won’t be tempted to wus out. The bad side is that it costs money at all. Those fees can get expensive. Bally’s seems to always hae some good deals, but I’ve also heard good things about Crunch. Also, those Crunch fitness videos are neat-o.

Try to find a gym that (a) has towel service, (b) gives you the option of renting your own permanent locker, and © is open early enough in the morning to get your workout in before work. Trust me on this: These three things do wonders for maintaining consistency. Morning workouts are great because (a) you’ve got to take a shower anyway, so why not workout first, and (b) there’s damn little that can happen to you that early in the day to force you to skip the workout. A permanent locker of your own is great because you can stash your gym shoes, shampoo, etc. there, as well as a few days’ worth of shirts and such, to change into after you work out. Then most mornings you can just head over there without thinking about gathering your stuff together, or what to wear afterwards. It’s all about making the routine of working out as smooth as possible, which helps you to keep going.

In the last two years I’ve turned into a gym rat and I can offer the following tips to the other great stuff people have listed.

  1. You may need to try more than one gym. For this reason, try very hard to start with a month-to-month membership to see if you like it. All gyms have a different feel and dynamic. Don’t commit to a full year upfront. I started at one gym that was too crowded and switched to another.

  2. Variety is important. Don’t get stuck in a rut and I recommend working in outside activities during warmer months. Mountain biking is my choice.

  3. Fitness is a long haul. I’ve lost 30 pounds over two years while building up a much better body for myself and it can happen very slowly.

  4. Classes can be fun. I recommend Spinning because you completely control the resistance and workout while still being pushed/motivated. It also has almost no impact on the joints. It can be made very intense if you push hard (800 calories in an hour). Best of all, repeated visits to the classes has resulted in some friendships. They don’t extend outside the gym but just knowing people are expecting you and vice-versa makes an otherwise “socially odd”.

The only way to get into enough shape to jog without feeling like you’re gonna die is to jog. :slight_smile:

You may be surprised at just how activity-specific fitness is. Lifting weights at the gym will make you good at lifting weights at the gym; riding a bike will make you good at riding a bike; and running will make you good at running. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, cross training does occur (especially WRT aerobic activity), but to a MUCH lesser extent then you might think. For example, when I was a competitive cyclist I took up swimming on recovery days. I was in great shape for cycling, but I felt like I was gonna drown midway through the first lap. Likewise, when I started running (which I do now), I still followed a beginners program and slowly built up the miles, even though I was in good shape from cycling.

That said, you’d be surprised how quickly you can build up a basic level of running fitness (here’s a beginners program from Runner’s World). If you stick it out for a few weeks, your progress will be dramatic and noticeable…

First off, congratulations on the stopping smoking. This is probably the single best thing you can do to improve your health. I hope you are successful, and I wish you the best in this endeavor.

Next, here’s the SD (at least from my perspective here in San Diego) on gyms. There are basically two types of gyms: small, “mom and pop” type gyms and big chains.
The small, “mom and pop” type gyms may serve a niche more by location, or will cater to a more specific customer (body builders, for example). They will have less equipment, and may or may not have classes. They will likely be cheaper, but not necessarily (if they’re the only gym around in a given area).
The big chain gyms will be much more glitzy, have lots of variety of equipment, will have classes, and generally better facilities (shower and locker rooms).
But here’s the key, certainly the big chains and perhaps to a certain degree the mom and pop types, are based on a business model of customers paying for, but not utilizing their product. That is, their entire source of revenue is based on people paying for their membership, but not necessarily coming in. I would imagine the statistics on how many people belong to gyms (pay, or have paid) vs. how many actually go to their gym are staggering. So much so that if all the people that paid ever did go, the gym could not handle the capacity.
So what does this mean to you ? A couple things (especially in dealing with a big chain gym): 1) if you sign up for a longer term (but need to pay upfront) you will get a better deal 2) haggle !. If you keep in mind that their whole business model is based on “money up front”, then you can use that to your advantage.
The typical chain gym will have a “joining fee” (usually about $50 to $150), and a monthly fee (something in the $15 to $30 per month range). You can get the joining fee waived pretty easily by A) having your company contact the gym and arrange for a “company” deal (costs the company likely nothing, and is just an excuse for the gym to offer a better deal) B) simply refuse to pay the joining fee (salesman will then need to talk to his supervisor - not unlike the car buying game). Note: try this toward the end of a month - quotas need to be filled, so they are more desperate or C) tell them you’ll sign up for 3 years (instead of 1) if they’ll waive the joining fee.

Okay, enough about gyms and how to join. Considering your situation, here is what I’d recommend. The first thing to consider is that you need to find something that you “enjoy” doing. And by “enjoy” I don’t mean “euphoric bliss” while you’re doing it, because let’s face it, starting out on anything will not be “enjoyable” in the same way as eating ice cream. “Rewading” yes, but not enjoyable. So it needs to be something that is not so distasteful that you will learn to loathe it, and it will become a real chore to motivate yourself to continue. If you are disciplined enough, and the rewards (even in just feeling better, and not necessarily looking better) are enough, you may come to “enjoy” something that started out as really tedious.

But for a plan of attack, here is what I would consider:

  1. Walk. It will likely be all you are capable of after this surgery anyway. So what will likely start out as “rehab”, you can turn into a regular exercise. It sounds like you haven’t worked out regularly before, so starting out with something non-stressful like walking sounds like a good way to go. Begin slow, maybe 20 minutes a day. And then build from there. You may want to shift to big walks every other day. And you may also want to change from neighborhood streets to hiking trails for different terrain. But I think getting some cardio development before jumping into something more strenuous is important.

  2. Something more strenuous. After a month or so of just walking, you will be ready to up the stakes a bit. You may need to explore different things as to which direction you want to go. Checking out a gym might be good, or maybe trying jogging or cycling if you find you prefer being outdoors. Again, remember that “what you enjoy” aspect.
    If you are considering the gym route, it is kind of a tough call as to whether to go with a personal trainer off the bat. Keep in mind that the gym staff (should) are always be available to learn how to use a particular piece of equipment. So you don’t need a trainer to simply learn how to do the various exercises. The thing with a trainer is that if he’s good, he’ll push you to your limits. This is good in that you get a hell of a workout. But starting out, you may be so sore and exhausted, it may turn you off to the gym. I would recommend trying to work different pieces of equipment, maybe trying a class or two on your own for a while.

  3. Focusing on your goals. So now, after a couple months of “getting into” exercising regularly, I would then move toward your specific goals. If losing weight is a priority, then here is where a personal trainer/nutritionist can be very helpful. Keep in mind that probably 95% of the people who join gyms are there to lose weight, so the gyms are geared toward these people (hoping they only come once or twice, and then stop coming ;-). It will cost you significantly more for a personal trainer. From what I’ve been hearing, around $50 to $75 per session seems about the norm. If you can get a recommendation for a trainer all the better. As I mentioned, a (good) trainer will push you pretty hard. He’ll have a better sense of what you’re capable of, and will try to eek that out of you - think drill sergeant, only not so demeaning. This is where I get the most advantage because I know I don’t push myself as hard as the trainer pushes me.

Some keys to exercise: regular is key. You can vary the days, but keeping to the same number of days per week is important. I find that 3 days a week works well for me. I found a huge difference between going twice a week and then 3 times a week. I only meet with my trainer every other week. They will likely want you to come more often, but I felt like I was continually recovering when I tried once every week.
There will come those days when you should go work out, but you will not feel like it (for whatever reason, and you will come up with every reason in the book !). Negotiate with yourself on what you’ll do, and do it. I found this trick to be very helpful on my non-motivated days. I would just say “okay, I’ll just ride the stationary bike for 20 minutes”. This would be enough to get me out of the house and over to the gym. 9 times out of 10, after my 20 minutes on the bike I’d feel energized enough and end up having a good (normal) workout. But there were also times when I didn’t feel like much else, but since I’d “fulfilled my obligation”, I would leave not feeling so guilty (and feel good about not having bailed completely). The key is, if you’re going X times a week, always go those X times even if they aren’t full on workouts. Don’t fall into the “I’ll make it up next time” trap.

That should be enough to get you started. I hope this helps. And I wish you luck.

Hi, I’m Snickers, and I’m here to rave about the Y (at least in my location; your area may be different). A coupla years ago, I was where you are now, and after touring a couple gyms and being subject to the high pressure sales pitch they gave me, I went to my neighborhood YMCA. And it’s fantastic.

They have a 12 week program where they help you start down the workout path - you meet with a trainer the first week, he shows you machines and explains the routine, then you’re responsible for yourself. You meet with him again about every three weeks or so to see where you can improve or to get more motivation or to ask questions or whatever you need. It’s a great program.

They have free classes (in my area, some you do pay for) and nominal fees for swimming lessons if you’d like to take them. I also really like that they’re active in my community - they have after school classes for kids, and free daycare; they sponsor summer camps; they reach out to seniors in the community; they offer reduced or special rates to families who otherwise couldn’t afford it; and on and on. I figured if my gym fees have to go to something, I’d rather they go to an organization that’s also active in my community.

They have good, modern equipment, and while it can be busy at times, I’ve never had to wait for a machine - if they’re all full, I just choose another one. They’ve got both free weights and weight machines, and there’s always someone around to help. You can also book appointments with trainers, although I don’t know what the rates are. There’s a free orientation, and also that free 12 week class I mentioned earlier. Bottom line? At least check them out (if there’s one close) when you’re checking out the other gyms.

Last, one thing: if you’re like me, starting a whole new you campaign, while attractive, might be difficult. I’ve tried total life revampings, and it doesn’t work because I get too bogged down and miss too many goals and feel too guilty and eventually give up. If I were you, I’d start small, with one thing at a time. Maybe I’d start an exercise routine first, then after a month or two, give up the smoking, then after a month or two, add something else. If I try to do it all at once, I’ll inevitably fail, but little by little does the trick. But you know you a lot better than I do, so you’ll know what works best for you. Don’t be afraid of setbacks however; you will have them. Just accept it and move on, promising to do better.

And we’re all here pulling for you!

Good luck.

I go to my local Y, too. Great place and it has a pretty good price, to boot. They’re also all over the place–sign up at one and you’ll never be lacking for a place to work out.

Having said that, the quality of the facilities will vary from facility to facility, even within the same town. I’ve seen them vary from cheesy to jaw-droppingly good, so you’ll want to tour the local Y’s that you’ll most likely be attending first.

Ah, yes, the Y! I never thought of that. It’s probably what I’ll end up doing. There are many locations in this town. That’s a great suggestion!
And I realize now that I should probably plan on starting out a little slower than I was thinking with regards to exercising. I’d rather gradually build up to a good level than hurt myself just starting out.
Thanks for the help!

A comment on ladies’ gyms. There’s one small chain of them in town (as well as the ubiquitous and evil Curves), and I know some people who go to them. They like them. I don’t. My gym has serious weightlifters, yoga princesses, soccer moms, everybody. My friends who go to the ladies’ gym are much, much more worried about their workout clothes than I am, because “everybody else is”. There’s more of a fight for the cardio machines, because the soccer moms live on them.

Also I feel very Serious about it when I walk in and there’s those guys on the free weights with the belts and all, and they nod at me at the water fountain.

One suggestion I didn’t think of: try to go to see the gyms when you would normally be working out, and see how crowded things are. Would you have to wait in line for a cardio machine? Are there conspicuous sign-up sheets? Are the classes you’d like to take very full?

When I was really working out a lot, the thing that got me to the gym wasn’t enjoying it, or wanting to be fitter, or any of that. It’s a schedule. My body got used to the idea that every Wednesday at 1 or whatever it was going to have to go to the gym whether it wanted to or not. The routine is what made me go. Personally, I can’t stick to anything I do at home or on the roads or whatever; I find it a lot easier to do it if I have to go to do it. Once I get my workout clothes on, I’m in it and I stay until I’m done. Now I’m back on the wagon with my mom, and she nags me, and that helps a lot too; a workout buddy is invaluable. I’ve found my triceps again!