It’s that time again. You lace up your Nikes, fill your water bottle and grab your iPod. As a college student, it’s become a normal part of your day. Those pizza and beer binges every weekend have helped you to pack on the pounds and your punishment in disguise is making time for that daily, weekly or possibly sesquicentennial trip to the gym.[pull]
There are plenty of students around here who actually looove the gym. It’s a chance to relieve the stresses of never-ending exams and pesky CAPA homework. For others, going to a clammy room filled with strange, foreign machines and some of your smelliest classmates is worse than an all-nighter at the library. Even further, there are the people who have a real fear of the gym. One look at the perfectly chiseled guys pumping hundreds of pounds of weights and the tiny sweat-free girls with not an ounce of fat under their spandex is enough to make anyone go running…away. These buff bodies are one of the reasons students and Americans in general are avoiding the gym, and their fears can be summed up in two words: gym intimidation.
It’s a vicious cycle, a Catch-22. You’re out of shape so you want to work out. You don’t want to work out next to Body Builder Bob and Cardio-Queen Cathy so you don’t join the gym. Then, you just get fatter. There’s got to be a way to work out in peace, to overcome the fear. But what is it?
Some don’t feel right working out with people they know; it can be distracting and stressful. There’s no time for a social hour with half of your sorority or fraternity. They want to work out and get out. Ashley Barazsu, a communications senior, is one of those people. She was a member at Powerhouse on Grand River in East Lansing but didn’t like it because she felt uncomfortable working out in front of people she knew. She said she rarely went and when she did, it was during the hours that the gym wasn’t crowded. “I felt like I was being watched and judged at Powerhouse,” Barazsu said. “I was too scared to use the machines because of the huge guys working out on them.”
Barazsu decided to join a different gym this year so she wouldn’t have a severe anxiety attack every time her friends would ask her to work out at Powerhouse. She joined Fit Zone, a smaller gym in Okemos on Jolly Road that is designed for women only.
Gyms like Fit Zone are joining the Curves phenomenon of women-only workout facilities. The Curves workout is designed around a 30-minute circuit and has reached over 9,000 locations worldwide in 10 years. Barazsu said she likes the atmosphere of Fit Zone and since most of the women are older, she feels less intimidated and more comfortable using any machine she wants. “It was to the point where I just had to join another gym,” Barazsu said. “Now, it’s not so much of a chore for me to go to the gym. It’s just a natural part of the day.”
Barazsu now goes to the gym three to four times a week and stays for an hour—just enough time for her to sweat out some cardio on the elliptical machine or treadmill without fear of looking “gross” in front of people (read: guys) she knows.
“Women can get very intimidated by a man. Running in front of a man or working out in front of a man is intimidating because you feel like you have to look good all the time,” said Kristen Clark, manager at Fit Zone. Clark said her facility is different from Curves in that it offers everything a co-ed gym has including cardio and weight machines. She said some of their machines are designed to fit a woman’s body and the classes they offer are mostly along the lines of yoga and Pilates. Clark said many women like Fit Zone because they can feel comfortable in a more sexually neutral atmosphere and they don’t feel pressure to show off for anyone. “This gym is so popular because we don’t expect you to look like a model when you walk in the door. Here, you are just an average person, you’re just a regular person,” Clark said.
[kc1]An alternative method of overcoming fear is do the opposite of what Ashley Barazsu did: bring a friend along. Make a schedule with your roommate of good times to go together and you won’t feel so embarrassed when you can’t quite figure out how to use a machine. Plus when you have someone to work out with, you have a spotter on the machines and someone to talk with and make your workout just fly by.
If you like working out with students your own age, Michigan State has recently updated their IM West facilities to include a brand new gym equipped with weight machines on the lower level and cardio-based machines up above. English Freshman Katie Cross says that most of the time there are more girls on the second level most of the time and guys stick to “beefing up” on the weight machines below. Katie works out at IM West by herself and although the gym is very bright, she doesn’t seem to care much about her fellow Spartans. “I don’t watch anyone when I’m working out so I’m sure they aren’t watching me,” Katie said.
Psychology junior Joey Paulisin just recently joined IM West because they offered a discounted semester membership. “I wanted to play IM soccer, but the boys team was full. So instead of dressing up like a girl to play, I joined the gym,” Paulisin said. He said he likes to look like he’s doing something productive around all the people he said, “are just trying to make themselves look bigger.” He also likes the variety of the facility and said the desk people are nice. “I’m on my way to being a complete yuppie. Pretty soon I’ll have an apartment and a golden retriever,” Paulisin joked.[jp]
Ok, so what if you already belong to a gym? That 2-year membership contract is practically signed with your own blood. One option for those of you who don’t like large groups of people and long waits on each machine is to consider that the gym isn’t always crowded. Many gyms are busiest between the hours of 4-7 p.m., when many people are out of school and work. Cross says she usually makes it to IM West between 6- 8 p.m. and says it’s extremely crowded at that time. “I went at noon the other day and there was no one here.”
Early mornings in East Lansing can mean very small numbers of dedicated gym-goers. At this time it’s cooler and less crowded. My friends think I’m crazy, but I actually like getting up at 7:45 a.m. so I can be at the gym with a small number of lunatics like myself. Plus, an early session gets the workout out of the way and kick-starts the day; an adrenaline rush equal to a Starbucks latte that will leave you feeling refreshed and awake for those 10:20 classes. Of course, the hardest part of my workout is getting out of bed, ugh….
As for figuring out how to use the machines? Jason Block, director of personal training at the Michigan Athletic Club in East Lansing, emphasizes the importance of personal trainers; they are the most educated and are there to help. “Generally, if we can get members to feel comfortable in using the club, they will exercise more frequently,” Block said. That way, you don’t look like an ass when you just can’t quite figure out the bench press. Mix up your workout. Cardio workouts can include the stationary bike, the treadmill, the elliptical machine and if you’re really brave; the stair-climber. Along with that, to build muscle definition, it’s important to lift weights or do some sort of strength training. Most people focus on different sections of the body on different days. Let’s face it, running on the treadmill for 30 minutes every day can get boring, even if you’ve already loaded the newest Mariah Carey song on your iPod. Run outside, join an IM sport, go rollerblading, check out the indoor IM pools. Fitness can come in all forms and should never be boring.
[pull2]Most of all, have confidence in yourself! The best way to overcome gym intimidation is to try not worry, and give yourself credit for being there. “The reality is that in every gym there are people of every shape and size and at differing levels of ‘fitness,’” Block said. “Perceptions are often reality for people, but we really try to encourage them to just take baby steps…we really talk a lot about the trends of our nation regarding obesity and its ramifications. Everybody wants to feel good, and as we continue to educate people that they can accomplish this through good nutrition and exercise…our culture can change.”
Instead of being scared of those you love to hate, use them as an inspiration. Glenn Sterner, a graduate student studying student affairs goes to Gold’s Gym in the Hannah Plaza every day, seven days a week—now how’s that for dedication? The gym has become part of his everyday routine and he usually goes in the late afternoon or early evening. His workouts consist of a four-day rotation of chest, arms, back and shoulder lifting. He also runs one to three and half miles per day as well as a bike or elliptical workout. Add that all together and you have a whopping two-hour workout. Sterner is not training for anything but said, “I developed this mindset of why I go there: for me, to make sure I am healthy, and to make strides in my muscular structure.”
Sterner said he doesn’t care about others at the gym because he is there for himself, and that’s all that matters. And for those of you who think these gym gurus are perfect? Let’s just say they can do embarrassing things too. Just ask Sterner. “I definitely fell on the treadmill because of a cramp, and my knee got stuck under the belt as I flew to the ground.”
So this goes out to you, Glenn Sterner, and all you other beautiful buff bodies out there — good for you. You look good and you’re keeping at it, probably the hardest part of any fitness plan. As for the rest of you, use these tips to get over your fear of getting in shape. And once you’re in shape, you can work on the next goal of eliminating your real enemy – the weekend pizza and beer binge.

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