The Fat Girl's Guide to Joining a Great Health Club
Posted by Toni in Health + Beauty,Sports + Recreation
Lacing Up by libraryann

Ah, New Year's resolutions. Hard to avoid this time of year, we know. We also know that many of you are probably resolving to be healthier, regardless of what page just turned on the calendar or whether or not weight loss is part of that goal. That means savvy fat girls will be looking for New Year's specials on gym memberships. Here's how to get started:

First, work your brain

It's common for women to worry about whether or not they "belong" at a health club because of their size. When we did a shout-out on Twitter seeking tips for fat girls looking to join a gym, one girl wrote:
Always be skinny? I hate how all the thin, toned people stare and wonder why I'm going there - well, duh!

We've all been to that gym, right, girls? And it's no fun, we know.

Aside from telling you to generally avoid "meat market" health clubs in favor of one where people of many shapes and sizes are welcome, when you do settle on a club, here's a new attitude to bring to this particular dance: nobody cares that you're fat. There, I said it. Oh sure, some people do. Like, say . . . insensitive jerks. And as with fat people, jerks are everywhere, including at health clubs, so it only makes sense that we can make room to coexist.

We get that not all health clubs are created equally, nor do they have the same clientele. My small town rec center is worlds away from the 'sweaty, svelte singles' club I belonged to in Chicago in my 20s. But many people I've talked to - fat, thin, male, female - who work out regularly say they're always happy to see overweight people at their gyms because it's good to see people taking care of themselves. So pack the attitude that "shame ain't worth as much as you think" into your gym bag and start shopping for a place to work out.

And maybe times are changing - more of us are overweight in general, after all. However you may feel about The Biggest Loser, one former contestant maintains that this television show made it acceptable for fat people to work out in public. And that's a very good thing. You can probably guess our attitude about this: act as if you belong wherever you are - fake it till you make it, if you must - and you'll be one step closer to finding a gym that fits your needs.

Remember: the customer is always right

And in this case, you are the customer, not the other way around. "I think the phrase 'joining a gym' is inaccurate," says Janice Kay Smith, founder of A Woman's Gym in Chicago. "You're really choosing a gym. If people take that view, they will be more particular and look closely at a location to see if it's what they want." Smith recommends asking yourself if this is an environment that's going to make you feel comfortable. "You're bringing them money," she says. "It should be your attitude that they're lucky to get you."

Tee, our resident gym rat who has inspired over 30 people in her community to work out with her, had this to say about sussing out a new place. "When you walk in, ask for a tour, and mention that you're trying to get in shape (or stronger, or whatever you biggest goal is) but that you're not sure how to get started," she says. "If they jump on it with excitement and start offering up ideas and options, that's a great sign that you've got a fat-friendly gym. If you get the deer-in-the-headlights look, or a few polite smiles and nods and then back to the canned speech, keep looking."

Commercials and ads will also give you a clue, says gym owner Smith. "If they only show slim women moving really fast, then that's probably what the clientele will be like."

Aim for variety

There are so many options available today, from no-frills, neighborhood Curves-style gyms to full-scale fitness centers. If you're not yet in an established routine and haven't found your favorite activities, go for something with more to get into than just your garden variety treadmills, bikes, circuit training area and classes. Athletic clubs often offer more, like racquetball, batting cages, volleyball, spinning, punching bags, ropes, a climbing wall, etc. Once you get comfortable using the gym in general, you'll likely find yourself curious about some of these. Without those options, you may get bored and be tempted to use that as an excuse to stop going. Commit to exploring and experimenting with classes, equipment, boot camps and everything else the gym offers. Mixing up your workout and getting some fun sports action in there when you're ready can boost your results fast.

Bring a friend

Tee was adamant about this tip: "I'm sure myriad studies have been done about how long people stay at a gym when they have a workout buddy vs. solo, but I can tell you from my own and many of my gym partners' experience: I stay almost twice as long and have a whole lot more fun when I've got somebody to keep me company." As with choosing the right gym, be sure to find the right workout partner for you. A Woman's Gym owner Smith agrees. "Sometimes a buddy will make people get into the gym, but some people just talk to each other instead of working out, or if one doesn’t come one day, then the other won’t come," says Smith. Her advice? Don't partner with complainers, excuse-makers, or buddies who will drive you straight to Dairy Queen afterward.

If you don't have a friend willing to go, or all your friends are thin and/or not into working out, then put an ad in the activity partners section in the community area on Craigslist. Be specific about what you're looking for, including your schedule. And be sure to adhere basic Internet safety rules, like choosing a public place ( like your prospective health club) to meet for the first few times.

Take it for a test run

One of our fans on Twitter said it best:
Take advantage of free trials/passes before committing! Attend class, use sauna, etc. Don't like the vibe? Keep lookin'!

"Before joining, stop by the gym at least twice at different times of the day to see what kind of crowd they get," says Tee. "If it's all gym bunnies and meatheads, you may want to look elsewhere." Another Twitter fan wrote (and made us giggle): "Try to join a physical therapy clinic where they can specialize for weight issues and not everyone is a tiny workout whore."

Check to see that the club has the types of activities that are right for your fitness level right now - including checking out basic and beginner classes, if you're completely new to exercising or haven't worked out in a while. Finally, if you need accountability, sign a contract. But try for six months instead of a full year, and then at the end of your six months, negotiate a better deal for staying on.

Ask for personal service

In the ten years since A Woman's Gym opened its doors, Smith has designed tailor-made workout programs for each of her clients. "It has to be that way, because it's my name on the door. And if a workout is not customized, they’re not going to keep coming," she says. "If they think they might not have it down, or they might hurt themselves, or they're doing it wrong, people are not going to come back." If your prospective health club doesn't offer personalized service, ask about the rates for personal trainers, and keep in mind that it might take more than just the standard, free one-hour session to get into your groove. Smith suggests asking for the best personal trainer for your needs and goals.

Finally, here are some more tips and tricks from our fabulous FGG readers from Twitter and Facebook - thanks for sharing your know-how with our readers, girls!
You just have to own it...your size, your fitness level, your life. Hold your head up, go there for yourself and no one else. Respect yourself for doing something for yourself. Push yourself as far as you can go, and compare yourself to no one. You'll see more improvements quickly, recognize every one of them and build on them. Have a sense of humor. And if you are self conscious, join a women's gym. Don't try and do everything in your first visit...don't expect to accomplish what you did 20, 30, 100 lbs ago. You've got to build to that. Above all...just go, girl.

If you are looking for a new apartment, make sure it has a gym (safe and well-lit). You will save money and it's closer. No excuses.

Resist the urge to compare yourself to other women in the gym (I have to remind myself of that). Drink plenty of water and keep a small towel with you during your workout to wipe away sweat.

Now grab a gym bag, some affordable but cute workout clothes, and start your search. If you find (or have already found) a place that feels like home, tell us about it in the comments.

(We probably don't need to say this, but just in case: you know your body best, but it's a good idea to check with your regular medical professional to get the green light before starting any new workout routine).