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I’m the Person All Gyms Hate (But I Discover 8 Surprising Side Effects of Working Out)

After a class, Ottawa, November 2019
After a class, Ottawa, November 2019

I’m the person all gyms hate. I’m the woman who, like thousands of women before me, walked into a gym and signed up for a membership. I’m also the 1% who, two years later, is still taking a class five days a week. Gyms bet on members who lock themselves into annual contracts in January—the fitness version of Black Friday—and stop showing up after a month or two.

Ah, who’s laughing now?

Certainly not me after a HIIT class. Oh, I get my money’s worth!

I didn’t sign up in January with fitness goals. I bought a membership for hot yoga classes in September 2017 when a new gym opened a twenty-minute walk from home. I’m not that into yoga but I’m always cold so I figured it would be a nice way to experience subtropical temperatures once in a while during winter.

Except that I took one hot yoga class and I hated it. In another life, back when I was the editor-in-chief at a Crown Corporation, I used to go to a hot yoga studio twice a week. My last class was a few days before giving birth to Mark. And now I couldn’t help picturing myself a few years earlier, in warrior pose, an eye on the work-issued BlackBerry, and in downward dog, staring at my big belly, wondering how motherhood was going to be.

Seven years later, it was time to start a new chapter of my life.

The following day, I went to a “power barbell” class—note that I had no idea was a “barbell” was nor how to load them.

I love it, though.

And ever since, I’ve been taking various 60-minute high-intensity circuit classes five times a week.

I don’t go to the gym to look better but because it makes me feel great. For me, it’s the chance to be bossed around for 60 minutes—a rare treat when you’re self-employed and have to be your own boss—and see people.

It’s also interesting for many reasons…

I’m discovering new music

The downside of being able to download any music anytime is that you miss out on the randomness of radio programming and the chance to listen to a genre of music you’re not that into.

Each instructor has a playlist and they are usually pretty good. I (re)discovered Sia, Rihanna, Maluma, Juan Magán, Michel Teló, Pedro Capó… Now I know what Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande or Lady Gaga sings. My own playlists usually feature Pink Floyd, The Offsprings, Crowded House or Manu Chao but it’s good to add some pop or Latino music and keep up with new music.

I’m meeting people from all walks of life

I’ve never met the alleged mafia member who was shot a two weeks ago—…for non-gym-related reasons!—because he was apparently the type to exercise at 5:30 a.m. I go to the gym in the evening, a time slot favoured by government employees and middle school teachers.

Other than schedules preferences, there’s no “typical gym member.” Any given class is a mix of 18-65 years old from all over the world, some single, some married with kids, some super fit and some starting a gym routine. It’s very refreshing, plus I get to speak English, French, Spanish and Mandarin!

I’m socializing without commitment

I see plenty of regulars four or five times a week and overtime, we became closer without even trying to be friends. “How many of us, back row people, are coming today?” Depends, but we will set up mats and weights for whoever is going to be late.

We barely know each other’s names but everybody’s got a story to share fifteen or ten minutes before the class. Someone is getting married soon, another person is fixing the house, a girl is pregnant and another one got promoted.

There are also the people you notice but never had the chance to talk to—that guy with the Calgary Flames tattoo on his leg, the fifty-something couple who exercise together except when they give each other the cold shoulder for reasons only they know, the three loud French-speaking friends…

It feels like following a miniseries without commitment and the usual awkward “hey, we should grab coffee sometimes!” I love it, it’s relaxing.

I discovered NSFW details

I’ll try anything once, so I tried spinning. I hated it. It’s too static, the music is crap and the group felt very cliquey. “And it hurts my butt!” I complained to a woman in my bootcamp class.

She laughed.

“You know that many women love spinning precisely because if you sit just right, it can be very pleasurable?”

Fuck, no I didn’t.

Trying spinning again is on my list—I just have to Google… ahem, proper sitting position before.

I got used to looking at myself in the mirror

I don’t really look at myself. We don’t even have a full-length mirror at home. But there are mirrors everywhere at the gym, including in the co-ed studio. You can’t avoid them. Like seeing pictures of yourself or hearing the sound of your own voice, you hate it at first then you get used to it. It’s actually interesting to see how you move. And no, your butt isn’t big. Nobody’s butt is big enough to think “gee, what a big butt!”  

And in the end, nothing really matters, you’re just a human being among other human beings, all unique, flawed and pretty awesome.

I realized every body is different

Older women on their way to the pool seem to love hanging out naked in the locker room. This is probably a “don’t give a fuck” stage of life. Younger members tend to keep their underwear on at all time, but you still see plenty of semi-naked bodies around you.

Fun fact—we are all built differently and absolutely no one has a “perfect” body, whatever that means.

You’ll notice it during classes as well. There’s probably a 150-lbs difference between the thinner and the heavier participant at any given time but they both perform the same.

I memorized corny pep talk

“This is what you came here for!”, “Last set, best set!” “10 seconds left!” or “You can do it!” are just ways to motivate us through the workout. It sounds awfully corny but there isn’t much you can say when the music is loud and you have an eye on the timer.

But you know what—sometimes, this is exactly what you need to push through or harder, at the gym or whenever you’re facing a challenge.

I’m meeting experts

Most instructors have a full-time job completely unrelated to the fitness industry—school teacher, real estate agent, IT manager… They teach one or two classes a week for the free membership and because they enjoy whatever they are into.

It’s nice to meet experts who can give you tips and advice and have no interest into selling personal training services or weird protein shakes. I learned proper techniques, a thing or two about how bodies work, new terminology and more.

After a class, Ottawa, November 2019
After a class, Ottawa, November 2019

I’m not quitting the gym. I feel better, stronger. And I’m pretty sure I still have a lot to learn.

(Sorry for the pictures… I haven’t mastered the “fitness guru” pose yet!)

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