When I was in my mid-twenties, I took a part-time job at a fitness club–a state-of-the-art facility that included an Olympic size swimming pool, in-door track, and racquetball courts, a weight room, and large, mirror-walled studios for aerobic classes. The pay was, ahem, minimal, but I took this job not for the paycheck, but for the free membership that entitled me to use the swimming-pool, track, racquetball courts, etc.
I never used any of those things. I think I took one aerobics class, and I hated it. In fact, I hated the job. I sat behind a big desk with the word INFORMATION hanging over it, and yet, I may have been the least informed person in the building.
Athletic Complex Patron: I would like to register for the racquetball tournament.
Dippy Girl at Information Desk: What racquetball tournament?
Athletic Complex Patron: When will the pool re-open?
Dippy Girl at Information Desk: It’s closed?
Yes, these are real conversations starring me as Dippy Girl at Information Desk and they took place daily. I’m not an idiot. I wasn’t an idiot back then either. It’s just that I worked for a manager who had hired me, given me a t-shirt that read STAFF and put me behind an information desk, but never bothered to train me or tell what was happening.
And of course, there was drama. Lots of drama. At 25, I was one of the older part-time staffers. The lifeguards and the childcare workers were all college kids. When they weren’t squabbling with each other over who said they would work an additional shift, but then didn’t show up, they were being bullied by patrons—“What do you mean, my kid can’t be left in the pool unattended? I don’t care that he nearly drowned some other brat. It’s your job to watch him! Do you want me to get you fired or do you want to take it out to the parking lot right now, asshole?” yelled the 250-pound weight-lifter to the skinny 18-year-old boy in Speedos. Oh, how I wish I were exaggerating. Steroids mess with the mind. Apparently.
I quit. The decision to resign had little to do with the weak management that kept me in the dark and didn’t support the very youthful, inexperienced staff when they tried to enforce rules. I quit because—as I mentioned earlier—I wasn’t using the one benefit that made the job appealing. I wasn’t using my free membership.
Fast forward to Christmas day almost twenty years later. My husband gave me a family fitness club membership in 2010. Even though I had mentioned that I liked this one particular gym where I had attended a meeting, I really was surprised by the gift—surprised and delighted! I would use this membership! I would! I would!
And for an entire year, I did! I did. In fact, I came home from my first gym visit and informed my guy that for my birthday, I had purchased the services of a personal trainer and that I would be meeting with her for eight sessions to design a fitness plan just for me. That’s the beauty of a January birthday—I can supplement my Christmas present with a birthday present. This year for Christmas, I got struts for the hatchback on my SUV and for my birthday, I’m getting an oil change and tires. Fun, fun.
I was even more excited about this fitness adventure once I met the trainer. She was like me—a 40-something mother of two. She liked ice cream, and this job—part-time physical trainer—was her re-entry into the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom. Hooray!
Why was this common-bond important to me? Well, I have a niece who works at a gym, and she’s very fit and very thin. She’s also in her twenties. If a super-fit, 20-years-my-junior person had come out of the office that day, I would have been a bit intimidated. I don’t think I would have quit, but I would have been a little more self-conscious about the circumference of my thighs. That’s just me being honest, folks!
But no, I lucked out! I got a trainer who was like me—only she liked exercise. Maybe I could learn to like it, too. Maybe.
So, I worked with her those eight sessions. What I learned was to warm up with cardio of some sort, and then move to the weight room. I did this work-out once, twice, thrice a week for an entire year. And I never learned to like it. Still, I credited myself with just going and rationalized that I would go even more often if I found a gym closer to home.
I let that membership lapse. In March 2012, I bought a two-year membership to my current fitness club. I was sold on the location—only about ten miles from my house—and the very inexpensive childcare. It’s only $2 per two hours per child! And the classes were included in the basic membership. So, if I wanted to take spin or kick-boxing or stretches-for-seniors, I could!
Then, within that very same week, my mother-in-law fell and family-style-apocalypse ensued. First, my husband was at the hospital 24/7. Then, he moved in with his parents. Then, his dad died and his mother came to live with us. My words do not describe the upheaval. I just don’t write well enough to convey how this has impacted every aspect of our lives, so you will just have to trust me on this. It was a bigger change than having a baby. Yep, that big.
At various points in these past two years, I have tried to get back in the habit of working-out, but the classes are never scheduled at a time that works for me, and while their childcare is affordable, they don’t offer granny-care. I guess I could just take my mother-in-law with me, but taking her anywhere can be a little like moving a very angry corpse. Besides, it IS an exhausting work-out for me to get her in and out of the car since she no longer assists with her own mobility.
Briefly, I was going to the fitness club at 5 a.m. so that I could get in a work-out before my husband left for work and while everyone else in our household was still asleep, but that was eating into my writing-time, and what is more important—writing or exercise? For me, it is writing! When people tell me they don’t write, I’m amazed. It’s like saying, “Oh, I don’t breathe.” Yeah, it’s THAT important to me.
So, I started 2014 with the intention of using the last two months of my membership because my one and only New Year’s Resolution is to make my own health a priority.
Then, I changed my mind.
As with every new year, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what does and doesn’t work for me. It’s pretty clear that fitness clubs and gym memberships do NOT work for me. I hate the cardio machines—treadmills, stationery bikes, ellipticals. You are moving, but you aren’t going anywhere! That’s a little boring to me. If I am walking, running, or peddling, I want a change of scenery. As for the weight room, half the time, I’m not sure if I’m using the machines correctly and I can’t always find someone to ask. Besides, my dislike of exercise is well-documented at this point. And again. And again. See? I told you it was well-documented.
What does work for me? Walking outdoors. Hiking. Playing music loudly and dancing around the house. I need to do these things more often. They are free and can be worked into anyone’s schedule and lifestyle.
The only fitness classes I’ve ever enjoyed were yoga, pilates, belly dancing and tai chi—most of which I took through county parks and rec programs in that long period between the-job-from-hell and the happy-Christmas-surprise. I’ll look into those and in the meantime, I’ve been doing my own little yoga-pilates-tai chi workout every morning. I’ve pieced it together through what I remember, and although it has only been one week, I think my posture has improved. At least, it feels that way to me. Do I look taller?
So, in the name of health, I am becoming a fitness club drop-out. I don’t need the pressure of one more thing that I should be doing. And I definitely don’t need yet another task to which I feel obligated, but don’t enjoy. As I have said a gazillion times, if I am going to feel guilty, it’s going to be over something I did wrong, and not over societal pressure or my own stupid ideas of what I should be doing.
Dropping out can be very freeing. And that has to be good for my health.