How To Lift Weights for Beginners (When You Have No Idea What You’re Doing.)

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Recently I posted here about joining the gym as an overweight girl and how intimidating it was. Since it didn’t kill me as expected, I kept going, and found out it I really liked it. Despite still being the biggest girl I’ve seen there, no one has laughed me out of the place yet and curiously, being surrounded by people fitter than me has been motivating. It’s amazing what a change in mindset can do – instead of seeing these fit people and despairing of how far I have to go, I think, “Look how great l will be if I keep this up! ”

Last week while I was on the floor, still desperately trying to do a pushup, a girl caught my eye. She was exactly what I want to look like. Not skinny, but solid. Not teeny tiny like my hips won’t ever allow me to be, but lean muscles, strong legs, and awesome shoulders. I watched as she walked over to the weights area, hefted some weights onto a barbell, and proceeded to bench press what I now know to be almost a hundred pounds. (More on that explanation later.) She was the only female in the area.

Because I am a glutton for punishment, I immediately thought, “That. THAT is what I want to do here.”

Here’s the thing. I’ve never really lifted a weight in my life. I have some dumbbells, but my heaviest ones are eight pounds and I struggled to use those in my at home workouts. I know how to work all of the machines, but I get bored with them. I feel like I’m just playing at working out instead of actually accomplishing anything. (Not that there is anything wrong with using the machines. There’s a very good chance it’s operator error.)

So I went home and did some research. And then I did more. I Googled beginner’s programs, I watched endless YouTube videos on proper form. And then last week, I grabbed my towel and water bottle, and walked confidently over to the weights area, ready to start.

I took this while in was standing around, pretending to stretch.

I took this while I was standing around, pretending to stretch.

Unfortunately, it was a Monday. Do you know how many people start a new exercise program on a Monday?  All of them.  So the weights area was full of all shapes and sizes of men, grunting and sweating and dropping weights on the ground after their sets, even though there are clearly posted signs stating this is unsafe. (Rebels.) It also must be noted about 75 percent of them did not appear to be following proper form, according to my research. (I firmly believe Google makes me an expert in everything. Seriously. I once fixed a car after watching a YouTube video.)

But none of my research prepared me for there literally not being room for me. So I stood around like a dolt, pretending to stretch, until one of the benches opened up. Which brings me to my first lesson.

Start with Weights Much Lower than You Think You Can Lift

Did you know the bar itself weighs 45 pounds? I sure didn’t. I thought I’d add 15 pounds to each side just to be on the safe side. Luckily, before I laid down I had to move the bar to the lower rung. (That’s probably not the right word, but you know what I mean. I hope.) When I almost dropped that on my foot, I quickly realized that if I’d added thirty pounds, I would for sure have ended up on YouTube myself as one of those gym fails entitled, “Stupid Girl Nearly Crushes Windpipe on First Bench Press.”)

Ask. For. Help. 

Seriously. The gym employees really are there to help you. The first time I did back squats, the bar just happened to be at the height I thought was good for me, which was right above my ears. The next day I was set to do them, it was about six inches above my head. I stood there debating how hard it would actually be to just do them from that height or whether I should just skip them before I screwed up my courage and went and asked one of the trainers for help. Rodrigo not only showed me how to safely move the bar down, but that the best height for me was actually just below my shoulders. Of course, then he made me do a few while he watched, during which time I prayed to everything in the universe I didn’t drop the bar or worse, fart, and he adjusted my form a little too. (I guess YouTube doesn’t know everything.)

Don’t Be a Dick. 

This isn’t gym etiquette, it’s just basic manners, but apparently it needs to be said. If you sweat all over something, wipe it up. If you’re a big strong man lifting sixty five pound dumbells, put them back in their proper spot instead of on the top shelf where twenty pound weights go so people (read, me) don’t pick them up, unsuspecting, and nearly throw out a shoulder. If it’s time for your weekly conference call, don’t conduct it while lying on a weight bench as though you’re lounging in a hammock. If you’re going to drop the weights – defiantly against the aforementioned posted signs – be sure no one is trying to navigate around you because if anyone is going to get their foot broken that way, it is me.

Most importantly, find a program that works for you, and do your research, YouTube or otherwise. I used this particular one, and checked out all of the videos on proper form on bodybuilding.com.  It does bear mentioning that this really isn’t something you should just jump into, because all joking aside, it’s easy to see how one could really get hurt if they’re not sure what to do. Despite my belief that YouTube makes me an expert, your doctor would probably disagree.

That being said, don’t let it intimidate you. Everyone had to pick up that barbell for the first time, and everyone has laid down on that bench and initially thought, “Wait, why am I doing this?” There’s no reason you can’t be one of them. Cmon, drink the Kool Aid! It’s fantastic.

**Also, you’re going to be sore. Really sore. Be ready. **

How to Be the Fat Girl in Gym Class

*****ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON XOJANE.COM******

 

I’m the biggest girl at my gym.

I first got the idea to join a couple of months ago when I saw all of the classes that the gym closest to me offered.   Apparently I need some variety in my workouts and I loved the idea of having a whole bunch of different classes available to me.  I liked the idea of being able to try one out and if I didn’t enjoy it, oh well, move along.  And if I couldn’t find one I liked, there were still treadmills and elliptical machines I could use instead of trying to run around Humboldt Park all winter, decreasing (hopefully) my chances of falling on my ass on black ice.

I was hesitant though; what if the whole gym was filled with little tiny girls in spandex?  What if they were all 22?  What if everyone in the class I wanted to try was awesome at it and I would look like a hippopotamus trying to roller skate?  What if I got to a machine, sat down, and then couldn’t press the weight I picked because I apparently have the arm strength of a weak six year old?  What if I was the biggest girl there?

Telling myself I was being ridiculous, I got on my bike a few weeks ago and headed up there, determined to join and not even look at anyone before signing up. Though I was slightly thrown off by the stunning membership advisor named Myles, (female) I persevered. I was joining the gym!

You know that feeling you have when you go into a new situation and realize that all of your fears of the unknown were completely unwarranted and you’re totally fine and feel silly for even worrying?

This was the exact opposite of that.

I was the oldest person there. I was the biggest person there. I didn’t know how to turn on the TV or where to put my water bottle. I almost face planted on the treadmill because treadmills have gotten fancy in the fifteen years since I’ve been in a gym.

But I ran on the treadmill for my thirty minutes, feeling great until I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized that I looked like I was only pretending to run.

But still. Workout complete!
The following day was the day of my first class. The class is called Body Combat – a mix of different martial arts combined with cardio. It started at 6:30. Between 6:15 and 6:25, I went to the bathroom three times. There’s something uniquely weird about being an adult in a brand new situation. I don’t know what I was afraid of – I didn’t really think anyone was going to laugh and point – but still, I was nervous as hell. The class was an hour long; what if I literally couldn’t keep up?? Seeing all of the people lining up outside the door, with their gloves – what? No one told me I needed gloves!! – and their overall…. Fitness, I suppose, I second guessed myself. And I almost didn’t go in.
But I had been so excited about it. And everyone has to start somewhere, right? So I went in.

Terror. The only spot left – because OF COURSE I had been in the bathroom when the doors opened – was right in the front to the left of the instructor. Floor to ceiling mirrors and now there were people behind me to witness? Ugh. I had to pee again and we hadn’t started.

Then the music started and the first song was a remix of “Wrecking Ball.” I love me some Miley and got all into it, punching and kicking with all I had.
We went through a whole series and I was so proud – I was keeping up!

Two things happened simultaneously here that were hurtful to my feelings. 1) I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the many, many mirrors and realized that I looked less like the warrior I felt like and more like an octopus that had lost control of itself and 2) the instructor yelled, “Okay! Warmup is almost done!”
It had been ten minutes. I was sweating and already sore. 50 more minutes??

But I kept on. I couldn’t always keep up, but I was close. I concentrated on the girl in front of me who seemed to know all of the routine. I was concentrating so hard on not looking like an idiot that I forgot to look at myself in the mirrors.

During a set of particularly awkward – for me – kicks in which I was sure everyone was laughing at me because I looked like I was trying to pee on a fire hydrant whilst jumping, I glanced up to look around the room.

Not one person was looking at me.

Not one.

They were all looking at themselves in the mirror or at the instructor, and that’s when it hit me. These people are just like me!

The only one concerned with how I looked was me. Everyone was here for the same reason. Guess what? It wasn’t to laugh at newbies.

After the class, everyone was smiling and congratulating each other. Everyone was sweating. It wasn’t just me. And every single one of them came up and welcomed me to the class, telling me to keep it up and keep coming back.

Maybe they noticed my shape in comparison to theirs. In fact, I’m sure they did. But how is that really different from me noticing their body in comparison to me? You are smaller than me, I am larger than you. Both of us look stupid trying to do that back kick thing, right?

So yeah. I’m the biggest girl at my gym. And no one cares.
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