When this year began, I had a goal to go to the gym at least twice a week. That lasted about a month (which is actually pretty good). Unfortunately, I just don’t make the time to go, even though it makes me feel better. Why? One reason: it is intimidating.

Whenever I walk into a gym, I want to bolt. There are hardly any other overweight people trying to become healthier by shedding a few pounds. Everyone is fit, toned and ready to outrun me.

In my mind, the gym was designed for five types of people: celebrities, athletes, personal trainers, body-builders and people who are already fit (or at least look fit). These people have no problem walking into a brightly lit space, wearing tight or few clothes, and sweating for the next hour in close proximity to everyone else. Why should they? They already look great.

I’m sure the gym really is there to help everyone get in shape, but the setup is undesirable for someone of my size. I’ll use the Swenson Gym as an example. All of the cardio equipment is within three feet of each other, each row facing the back of the next, with the weight machines surrounding them and the track surrounding all of that.

So, not only am I usually flanked by people who don’t break a sweat while I drench myself in my own; I also have to worry about all of the muscle-heads behind me. Even when I go to try and find a nice quiet corner to stretch in, there are at least two other people out-stretching me, probably thinking, “What kind of stretch is that?” or “Poor thing doesn’t know how to do it.”

On top of that, if any of the equipment is on the fritz (squeaking, clicking, making other strange noises), everyone hears it. If a fit person is on one of those fritzy machines, people just think ‘fritz’ or ‘broken.’ When I get on one of those machines, I can imagine people thinking that I broke it or that I’m making it sound like that. It’s not a pretty feeling.

Of course, I am being very vain about whether or not others actually pay attention to me, but when you feel that exposed, it’s hard not to be vain and self-conscious.

The simple fact is the gym needs to be redesigned to help those who truly need the help. Yes, those other people still need the gym, but they should have their own area for advanced gym-goers. What if we had gyms that were for overweight people and gyms that were for fit people?

In order to accommodate those of the more hefty or rubenesque body type, only a few things would need to change:

1. Lower the lighting. Honestly, no one wants to see each other sweat and jiggle. Give us enough light to work by and call it quits.

2. Space things out. I would much rather go to a gym with less equipment and more space than one with tons of equipment and no space.

3. Don’t surround the equipment with other equipment. OK, this would take a little bit of creative thinking, but I believe it is possible to have all of the equipment in such a way that no one has to look at each other (or at me, for that matter).

4. Regularly maintain equipment. This one isn’t that hard. Honestly, people, I just don’t want to sound like I’m breaking the elliptical when I get on it.

5. Have private spaces for stretching. OK, when I stretch, it’s after I’ve done my cardio so I can work all those warm muscles and relax. I just want a place that people won’t stare at me for folding over myself for a minute or two.

These types of changes probably won’t happen for a long time, if ever. Why? The gym works and comfort doesn’t matter. So, for now, I’m going to try to suck it up and go back. Maybe one day I’ll get my ideal gym.


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