As I burst open the door and was hit by a wave of stale sweat and janky rubber, I immediately knew this wasn’t my scene.
In a sea of monstrous football players and gym junkies, I remained the feeble boy curling 20 lbs to the beats of KC and the Sunshine Band. These were the enemies I faced at 6 a.m., the skeletons in my closet that haunted my life as a collegiate athlete.
As a varsity swimmer, there’s an expectation to enter the weight room with at least some type of knowledge of how to handle weights. But for me, the boy in the highlighter shirt, squatting, spotting and maxing out were words only used by buff gym rats. Certainly not to be utilized by those who need help carrying packages from the mail room — A.K.A me.
Of course, I wasn’t the only first year picking things up and down and rolling my eyes like I owned the place. It seemed like everyone was gearing up for some intense body building competition. And just like all great comedies, there was more to this disastrous foreshadowing.
Our brand new weight lifting coach, a six foot ex-football player twice the size of me, planned to make our routine similar to the military. This included quick whistles, yelling, and of course, bloody elbows from all those soothing military crawls.
The eye rolls could only last so long until I felt like crying. How was I supposed to last a full season without elbows?
Since our lifting coach was so daunting, I had to rely on my lifting partner. This typically wouldn’t be a problem, except my partner happened to be an Italian virtuoso who couldn’t make it to the gym because of his dedication to the conservatory. That left me alone with my passion for funk radio and my expanding freckles. Two of which, wouldn’t help me in this situation.
My spotters had to be on their A-game with me as I could fall at any minute. In fact, I was known for these travesties as I would hysterically laugh and mutter “oh my god” every time a weight would nearly fall on my face.
And without a proper technique, I resorted to using light weights and reading horror stories online about people injuring themselves their first time at Planet Fitness. This only made me feel like more of an idiot as I lifted 10 times less than everyone else and felt strains in the wrong muscles.
It took me an entire two months before I was able to squat using the bar. I was feeling a little bit like Hilary Duff in Cadet Kelly at that point, pants drenched in mud, looking up at the rain crying, “why me!?”
Having been an athlete for 11 years of my life, I possessed the mental toughness to conquer this type of situation, but the gym still got into my head. I swam just as fast as my teammates in practice, but I couldn’t fathom why I was that much worse than them in the weight room.
It took a lot of willpower to come to terms with the fact that I can’t compare myself to anyone in the gym. My body is not meant to be like Popeye (no matter how much spinach I ate). Especially with that anchor tattoo he has, that does not hype me up at all. But I’m okay with taking it slow. If that means benching Fruit Loops until I get my technique right, I’ll do it.
When I look at all the tired and angry people in the gym who look like they just mortgaged their house, I have to just laugh to myself. I never want to be at that point again where the gym feels like beginners are forbidden. Being strong and being muscular are two completely different things.