What It’s Like Going to The Gym After Many (many!) Years Away!

Hello! So I bought some gym passes on Groupon for my local “cheap” gym on a whim– it’s actually only a few pounds cheaper per month than a nearby gym that is a bit nicer, has a pool and sauna, etc., except this one that I am going to has the benefit of no contract, you can cancel at any time. So anyway last week, with the deadline looming to use them, I worked up the courage to go.

I admit at first I found the prospect daunting, as the last time I belonged to a gym I was in my twenties and more uh, societally body friendly shaped (less fat, I was less fat ok! ;-0). The thought of being surrounded by people in my workout gear did make me internally freak a bit (I go to a Pilates class but that is slightly different in that I know what to expect/it’s generally all female, etc.).

Thankfully I had been reading a chapter of body positive wisdom a day from the (sadly retired from public life) Anastasia Amour, and doing the handy self-love/positivity exercises in her book Inside Out, for the past couple of weeks. It helped that I chose to go to the gym during a quiet period too, as it began to get busier on my second visit I did feel my anxiety rising slightly.

Anyway, unsurprisingly a few things have changed  since my last visit to a gym! Of course some things stay the same, too.

Things that are different about the gym:

-It’s more high tech! You enter a pass code just to get in the door – I guess this saves having a receptionist, but the second day my code didn’t work so a member of staff had to come let me in anyway. There’s also a code for the locker room, but I guess you only need that at night as it’s a 24 hr. gym (I didn’t realize this the first day and kept using it anyway!).

-The machines are different…but the same. I mean, the only major thing I guess is that now there are power plates, which no one seemed to use while I was there, I am curious about them though. The exercise bikes are more high tech with stats, but less comfy (it could just be this gym buys cheap bikes, although a guy who worked there told me they were getting new ones soon, as they were 6 years old, which I thought was a bit old for a gym raking in money). Also the stair masters looked different, more of a circular motion nowadays than the up and down motion of old, and spinning rooms didn’t exist the last time I went to the gym!

 -A few of the weight machines had a different layout. I was walking around trying to figure out what they all did – the last time I was in a gym the back of thigh/butt leg lift thing you used was laying on your stomach and curling up, now you do them sitting up, like you are on a rollercoaster or something; it felt kind of ergonomically weird to me to be honest!

 - There are these new-fangled DIY weight lifting sections that include kettle balls and pulleys and things you are supposed to push, do burpees or squats or whatever. I avoid them as I have no idea about any of that!

-There is no germ spray! This might be particular to this gym, the staff spray down the equipment, but I only saw this happening occasionally, which, sorry but….so freaking gross! I was used to automatically spraying before and after I use equipment, so this was probably the worst thing for me about the gym experience! Would it be weird if I brought my own? They would probably ban me lol! Maybe it’s an American thing?

-The music. Oh wow is it bad. The stuff they play in the gym corresponds to an ongoing tv channel full of terrible, so called dance music with corresponding sexist and terrible type videos....I mean, I guess it's the price we pay now to work out? I made my own Spotify list which was good but using my phone is a bit clunky – I think I am going to buy one of those teeny mp3 players that clip on to you. Again, file this one under "I'm too old for this ish".

-The people…it’s a little more of a scene than I remember…and this could merely be that this gym attracts a younger clientele. But the generation after mine is definitely geared up in their snazziest workout clothes, perma-tanned and selfie ready at all times. I do get the urge to have nice gym clothes, though, I guess it's a little bit more of a motivator - when I was younger we just wore baggy everything, so it is an adjustment for me trying to find things I feel comfortable in. I picked up some cropped bottoms in the M&S sale that are that rare thing - not skin tight, woop! I don't see them online but they have a pretty good selection of not too out there stuff in terms of prints (I feel like the bold prints are something I have to work myself up to!), and the fabric on mine feels of a really nice quality.

I wasn't completely antisocial(!), I met a really helpful girl who showed me a couple of things, and another girl I had a nice chat with…until she asked me to take a picture of her butt for her trainer – I was all “Um sure” but omg people. So awkward, just me? I mean, part of me wanted to say “You know you look great and are not just a bunch of body parts, right?”, but I knew it would fall on deaf ears/ I would seem like an old weirdo!I know that "the youth" today sees working out totally differently, it's more like creating some Michelangelo perfect creation, in a very specific and almost scientific sort of way.

It's not the path I'm on, and it's not for me to try to sell anyone on self acceptance whatever their size...but sometimes it's hard, when I remember how self critical I was when I was young and thin, the grandma in me just wants to say "Don't forget to enjoy yourself, life is not just about striving for physical perfection"...but I think young ears don't usually want to hear that, probably.


Things that are different about ME in the gym:

-Despite some slight social awkwardness about being a newbie, I felt less self-conscious than I used to. I was aware of being older and yes fatter than most people there, but very weirdly, it didn’t bug me (much ;-)). Maybe I felt invisible in a sea of young, toned ones, and that made me comfortable, or maybe my self-care/body positive practice is turning into something resembling actual self-confidence? I’m not too sure, but I felt a lot more comfortable than I had imagined I would.

 -I wasn’t shy about trying out new stuff – I even tried the rowing machine, something that in my youth no one went near, just because they were out of fashion/we didn’t know how to use them I guess? On my second visit I ambled over to the rowing machine area, surreptitiously observed a couple of people around me, and had a little 10 minute row. Pretty sure my technique needs much work (I have since watched a few Youtube videos, determined to master my Claire Underwood from House of Cards rowing action!)…basically it’s Legs–Arms-Arms-Legs (it makes sense if you watch the video!). Rowing is actually good for me because it doesn’t put any pressure on my knees, and is a great full body workout.

-I felt very concentrated on my workout. When I was younger I mostly went to the gym with a buddy, I might half-heartedly do a few bits but I wasn’t really that focused on what I wanted to do other than “burn calories”. I do kind of miss having someone to giggle with, but honestly it’s probably better for me to go it alone. I know that I need to build up my quad strength because of my dodgy knees so I am slowly focusing on that.

-I sweat like the middle aged animal I am! I made the mistake of not bringing a towel into the gym at first and omg, I get drenched in sweat after 5 minutes of anything cardio. Such is life!

- I am trying not to pay attention to calories burned or attribute any meaning or goal around that. Obviously the machine displays them, I am aware. But I am trying my best not to treat it as a mathematical equation of how much food that adds up to. Exercise is not a punishment or a “making up for” calories consumed. Not for me, not anymore. I am trying to treat exercise as something I (kind of! ;-)) enjoy that helps my overall health.

- As Leslie Knope said "Everything Hurts and I'm Dying!"...ok it's not so bad, but even taking it relatively easy I'm feeling lots of unfamiliar aches and pains. Which is slightly embarassing, I thought Pilates had me in not terrible shape strength wise. I think I have reached a plateau with Pilates and probably need to do it more than once a week to see any real difference at this stage. Plus I am using different muscles in different ways. Plus I am a hundred years old!

Seriously though, there is no reason anyone, of any age, shape or size, can't decide to exercise if they feel like it. There was a man at the gym one day when I was there, he could have been in his late 60s or even 70s, it was hard to say, and he was really going for it it on the stairmaster for what seemed like an hour, and at one point a member of staff came over to check on him, and just going by visuals he was basically like "Piss off whippersnappers!" and kept going, and I thought that was pretty awesome! Obviously they have health and safety concerns, I get why they did that, but it was kind of hilarious!

Just do you being the message I guess. If you are like me and nervous/afraid of the gym for whatever reason, give it a go, it’s not so bad, and you can do it on your own terms if you want to. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to exercise or have a body, everyone is different and has their own limitations and goals for what they want to achieve.

I feel like a lot of people (myself included) might not go to the gym for fear of not fitting in, and this particular gym was probably the most challenging one I could choose to attend in terms of not fitting the age bracket/super young, fit body goals of most people there or whatever. But I still enjoyed it, and these things are never so bad as you make them out to be in your head.

So yes…I am still hemming and hawing about whether this is the gym for me, but I am looking forward to going back this week and I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively natural the experience felt after such a looong time away!


  1. That bit about the butt picture made me laugh! I'm not sure I'd ask my close friends to take a picture for me, nevermind a relative stranger in the gym!

    Christy x
    Dinner Stories

    1. Ha, glad it's not just me! I am so out of the loop I thought it might be a normal part of gym culture now lol! Thanks for stopping by Christy :-)

  2. I can say that I have never been to a gym, the only time I interacted with gym equipment was in HS when we did weight training in between jazzersize. I'm just waaay too shy for that kind of environment I think.

    Asking strangers to take a photo of your butt!!! That's a new one to me, ha.

    Glad that you had a mostly good experience!

    1. Ha! I remember high school weight training and jazzercise too! A lot of my high school gym time was spent napping in the nurses's office "because I had my period" though ;-)