So you've joined a gym. Good for you. But before you go in there and attempt to pump any iron there are some things you should know. There are rules they don't include on your membership form or on that bit of paper that asks if you've ever injured your back or had an allergic reaction to Lycra. I'm talking about social rules, gym etiquette, and stuff that will come as a shock if nobody warns you in advance. If only they wrote these things on locker doors we'd all be a lot better prepared.
1. People will be naked. A lot.
Everybody has their own approach to the gym changing rooms. Some people are the masters of modesty, expertly managing to go from the shower to a towel to being fully dressed without showing so much as an elbow; whilst others treat the changing room like it's their own home - wandering from one end to the other in their birthday suit without a care in the world. And the latter can come as something of a surprise. It's not wrong - in fact it's a much easier and quicker way to get things done; if we all stopped worrying about keeping our towels over our nether regions we'd probably be out of there a lot more quickly - but it is always unexpected. Particularly in an environment as unfriendly as the gym where looking somebody in the eye during an exercise class feels as invasive as asking to join them in the toilet. So the trick is to just keep your head down, avoid the temptation to ask the woman in front of you if having a tattoo done there was especially painful, and get back out into the real world as quickly as possible.
2. If you smile, people will assume you're a weirdo.
The gym is a place of work, sweating, and listening to music your mum would describe as a 'racket' - it is not a place to make friends. Even though a lot of people go there because they want to and would even go so far as to say they enjoy exercising, they do not feel the need to smile about it. Smiling at somebody in the gym is like going up to somebody at a bus stop and touching their nose with yours - it's inappropriate and weird and proof that you don't understand how society works. The best you can hope for is a smile from the people on reception as you walk in but, other than that, stick with a grimace unless you want to get chucked out.
3. You will sweat more in the changing room than you do in the gym.
Have you ever been in a room filled with dozens of women washing, blow-drying and straightening their hair in close proximity? Well, it gets rather warm. All the good work you've just done showering all the sweat and tears from your skin post gym session will be undone as soon as you attempt to get in on the grooming action. An army of women blasting high degrees of heat onto their hair whilst trying not to elbow one another in the face makes for a pretty humid environment. You may want to keep hold of a towel so that you can mop your brow.
4. Going to the gym requires a lot of organisation.
There is nothing quite like getting home after a long day at work and placing a hand on the cold, damp gym kit you'd forgotten was at the bottom of your bag. The only answer is to get those clothes into the washing machine as soon as possible lest they either disintegrate or get up and throw themselves in the bin. And if you're not washing clothes you're rinsing out your water bottle, packing a bag full of make-up, shampoo and pants, or figuring out where the hell you've managed to leave your exercise bra this time, just so you can go and do it all again tomorrow.
5. Nobody gives a damn what you look like.
Whether you're prancing around the changing rooms in nothing but a thong, visualising a particularly rude commuter while thumping a punch bag, or sweating your body weight on the exercise bike, nobody will notice. Thanks to the 'Don't look at/smile at/or acknowledge me in any way' rule, you can just get on with your exercise without anybody taking any interest whatsoever in how it looks. And thank goodness for that.
6. ...Though some people still really like to look the part.
Whilst there are no rules as to what one should wear for a workout session - as long as it covers your necessaries, isn't so lurid that fellow gym members have to wear shades, and won't instantly become see-through at the first touch of sweat, you can wear what you like - there are those who like to have the full get-up: the baseball caps, the cropped, ab-flashing tops, the Two Tickets To The Gun Show t-shirts... And it doesn't do anybody any harm, it just makes those of us in an Itchy and Scratchy top we got from New Look circa 2004 look a little less committed.
7. Some people really enjoy the gym... like, really enjoy it.
I get it - exercise feels nice. I mean, not at the time, not when you're wondering why on earth you decided to pay money to partake in activity that makes you feel like you're going to throw up your heart, but afterwards, when you've had a shower and thought about how much good you're doing your body...sure, that feels great. But there are some people in the gym who love it - and they go out of their way to let you know. They don't walk up and tell you - that would be absurd - no, instead they let you know by turning their exercise session into a Herbal Essences advert. You know what I mean. (Or if you don't, ask your mum.)
8. Days when you don't go to the gym are the best of all.
Thanks to all the washing, sweating and walking around like a sportswear pack horse that going to the gym involves, there is no greater feeling than giving yourself a day off. A whole day in which you only have to carry your purse, phone, keys and usual miscellaneous collection of receipts, restaurant cards and out-of-date coupons around with you is an absolute dream. You feel light, guilt-free and delighted to be reminded that it's possible to go a whole 24 hours without having to avoid making eye contact with a naked stranger.