My First Time In The Gym Didn't Go As Planned

If you've had experiences at gyms that were less than wonderful, you're in the majority. But that shouldn't stop you from finding a fun way to workout that can keep you fit and feeling your best.

If you ask me, my first foray into a gym could have gone better.

The very first time I ever stepped foot into a gym, I was an active but scrawny 14 year old. I don't remember how much I weighed at that age, but when I graduated from high school, I was a whopping 5 foot 8 inches, and 135lbs. At 14, I was a heck of a lot less than that. I probably looked like an average 12 year old (that might be generous...).

Suffice to say, it was abundantly clear to me that contact sports were something I should stay far away from during my high school tenure! 

Anyway, back to the story.

I wandered into the high school gym during recess. There were some football players piling weights onto the leg press machine. They looked strong and serious, and like they knew what they were doing (in retrospect, they definitely didn't and could have used some guidance). 

I noticed that a bench press station was open.

I thought: "I've seen this on TV a couple of times. Seems simple enough. Lay down. Lower the weight. Lift it back up. No sweat."

Plus, I thought I was pretty fit. I played sports (shout out to everyone I used to play soccer and floor hockey with back in the old days). I could do lots of chin-ups (my low body weight surely helped), and was a decent runner.

I sashayed over, lay down, unracked the bar and thought, "Holy shit. What the hell is going on."

I was shocked, to say the least.

"How much does this empty bar weigh?" I wondered. 

You see, before that moment, it honestly never occurred to me that the bar itself actually weighed anything significant.

If I had stopped to consider the laws of physics and common sense (I didn't), clearly my assumption was ridiculous. Obviously, a long cylinder of solid steel is going to weigh something - something meaningful. But I always somehow assumed that the bar was neutral - just a vessel to carry the weight that you added to it. Some kind of space-age titanium perhaps.

Wrong! So very wrong.

After a few very shaky, inconsistent reps with the empty bar (it felt like a 1000 pounds), I decided bench press wasn’t for me. In fact, I questioned if the gym was for me at all.

And I left.

I stayed active, took up running (in fact, I once had a streak of nearly 500 consecutive days that I went on a run before I missed a day due to the flu), became very interested in nutrition, and I always played tons of sports. But I didn't go back into a gym again until I was about 20 years old. And even then, it took another couple years to start figuring things out and to get serious about it.

Take it from me: I know exactly how it feels to be out of your element in the gym; to have absolutely no clue about what you should be doing there; and to be embarrassed by your initial level of sheer suckitude.

When I did return to the gym, I went to the university gym a few times with some buddies. They knew a little more than I did at the time (which was next to nothing), but not much. I remember doing a lot of pec flies and spending the majority of the time chatting.

I didn't get any fitter and thought the whole thing was kind of lame. Before long, I decided to quit going with them. I thought I'd get a better workout just running (which I did).

What I didn't realize then is that the gym could be so much more fun than what I'd experienced up to that point, and that the results could be legitimately mind blowing (especially compared to the sucky non-results that I'd seen up to that point). A properly designed strength and conditioning program is, after all, a beautiful thing when it starts to click with the individual. There's a real art to it.

One reason I truly love working with high school students is because I can help them avoid the nonsense I've described here.  I mean, my gosh. The potential of young people and the rate of progress they can experience when they train (properly) starting in their teens is unbelievable. It's the best time to start training the body and I believe is one of the keys to those who truly want to maximize their athletic capability. If you don't get started until your 20's, you'll probably never reach your ultimate potential. That's a topic for another time though.

And if you're not a teenager and you're reading this, don't use your age as an excuse! You can still accomplish a tremendous amount at any age. I'm just talking about getting as close to your theoretical peak-performance as humanly possible.  

For now, I'll wrap up by saying this: if you've had experiences at gyms that were less than smashing successes, you're in the majority.

But that shouldn't stop you from finding something awesomely enjoyable that can keep you fit and feeling like a million bucks - whether that's a gym routine, or any other activity that works for you.