How I Decided to Join a Gym

Up until October of 2011, I had never once joined a gym.* I debated for a long time joining the Bed Stuy YMCA before I took the plunge and I had a pretty detailed thought process that might help folks out there deciding whether to join a gym.

COST
There are a million gyms in New York City and they all vary wildly in how much they cost. In 2006 I was thinking about joining a gym because I wanted the benefits of an elliptical machine but I decided that buying an elliptical would cost me less than three months of a gym membership so I did that instead. I got a machine that was pretty good and $100 used on Craigs List. But when I moved to Brooklyn I no longer had space for it and had to let it go (and was able to sell it on CL for what I bought it for, thanks used marketplace!). I’ve also used the same logic before to buy home video workouts that I do enjoy but there’s something about the seriousness of going someplace to workout and using the nice machines and classes.

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Me and Hana at Brooklyn Pride.

What really pushed the decision forward for me was that the YMCA offers yoga classes and water aerobics. I love to swim and I love low-impact workouts and hadn’t done water aerobics for years. I figured at $45 a month** it was worth the membership if I attended three classes a month, since the NYC street value of a yoga class is about $15 now and water aerobics is impossible to find outside of a gym. Also the Y offers financial aid for folks who qualify.

It was helpful to me to determine the value in a realistic timeframe. Before I joined the gym I was going to yoga 2-3 times a month (with desire to do more but not the cash). It was not realistic to say I was going to go to the gym three times a week when doing the cost analysis because that’s not where I was in my fitness lifestyle at the time. I wasn’t trying to get “wishful thinking” value out of the gym, I was trying to see how it fit in financially with my lifestyle at the time. (Now that I am a member I often do go three times a week.)

FACILITIES
With the value factor figured out just from the classes available at the YMCA, I was leaning towards it. They had a member drive in September 2011 (with no joiner fee) and I went on a Saturday and took a tour of the facility. I really recommend letting people “sell” it to you, even if you’re already pretty sold because you’ll find out even more about the place than you would on your own.

The Bed Stuy Y is dope! Lots of new equipment, a ton of rooms, childcare, an indoor pool, giant locker room and showers, the aerobics/dance/yoga studio is really nice. It’s also a community place with a lot of activities and seemed really unpretentious.

For me the facilities that were most important were a pool, plentiful ellipticals so I wouldn’t have to wait, and a rowing machine because I am rowing machine curious. Also, those recumbent bikes, I saw a fat person using one on a reality show once and I thought it seemed like a good bike alternative. It helped to have a list of what I was looking for and ask the tour guide to show me.

I discovered they had Bravo on the machines so it was a great way to get some Real Housewife action and I’ll be honest, sometimes I time my workouts with Shahs of Sunset.

There is also a “family” locker room for folks to use that might not feel comfortable in either gendered locker room. Most of my pals on the trans spectrum who work out there feel okay in one or other of the locker rooms but one time Glenn Marla and I had a really frank discussion about being fat and gender variant folks who work out at the Bed Stuy Y with the Membership Director. I had a really positive experience from that conversation and I think if folks have questions about multi-gendered folks using the Y’s gendered facilities they would feel comfortable talking to her.

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Singing Father Figure at a Fuck You Dad Father’s Day Event last summer.

GYM CULTURE
I think the culture of the people is so important to whether you and your gym will be compatible. I researched the culture of the Bed Stuy Y very diligently. The biggest thing that influenced my opinion was how many great Yelp reviews it had. Yelp, and other consumer review websites, can really give you insight into the culture of the place.

There were a lot of things that made me hate the idea of going to the gym. Not the least of which is being a fat person exercising. I don’t love to exercise but I do love how it makes my body feel and it is essential to my mental and emotional health. I need my exercise to happen in a fat positive or at the very least, fat neutral, environment. I combed the Yelp reviews and interviewed my friends who went there about how many fat bodies were working out and what it was like. Other than a slew of diabetes prevention program vis a vis weight loss flyers (which thankfully does not have a targeted fat body on it, the person’s face is thin-appearing), the focus of the gym environment there seems to be on fitness rather than weight loss.

On the other hand I would never consider the NY Sports Clubs because they specifically use fat hate speech in their advertising, which is gross and tells me everything I need to know about their culture!

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Damien goes to my gym.

I have heard about “cruisey” gyms and I also can’t stand the idea of someone hitting on me while I’m working out or anywhere close to about to work out. I’m not wearing make-up, my hair is sloppy and I’m in a comfy gym outfit. My mind is anywhere but on getting dates. I like that my gym is not cruisey at all and every now and again I get compliments on my leg tattoo when I wear a sweatskirt and my hair even when it’s all riled up and ridiculous from the pool. But they are nice compliments and not sleezy.

I’ll be honest, one time I saw a really hot queer working out on one of the weight machines and I briefly considered introducing myself and then I remembered by staunch opposition to gym cruising and decided to “let it begin with me” and trust the Goddess that if I was meant to meet this person they would end up crossing my path at one of my parties or something.

PALS THAT GO TO THE GYM
One of the biggest factors that went into it was whether or not there were folks I knew at the gym. I thought I would really need a buddy for those first few workouts to help me get over my intimidation at being a gym newbie.

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Glenn Marla is my favorite gym buddy. We aqua jog!!

It turned out it was really hard to schedule so I just started going on my own, but it was an incentive. It also gets me to go to some of the classes more when I meet up with a friend for a “good decisions date” where we attend a class and then gossip in the steam room afterward. But you can’t gossip too hard because basically all the queers in a 2 mile radius go to this gym. At any given time I’ll see a famous self-identified trans queer rap artist working out or a queer performance artist pal in the locker room.

The last 15 months at the Bed Stuy YMCA have been pretty boss and I am looking forward to getting pals to come with me to check out the other YMCAs in town. I hear the Vanderbilt YMCA is “so nice you never want to leave.”

*For awhile in the mid-aughts I worked out at Curves but I don’t think that counts as a gym.
**The Bed Stuy Y went up to $47 last Fall but still remains worth it.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Wow, is $47 with income-based financial aid or without? In the Bay Area without financial aid the YMCA is close to $100/month, and it only goes down to around $40 with financial aid. (Other gyms in the area are less expensive, but they don’t have pools.)

    I totally agree with you about non-cruisey gyms. I had been excited at the thought of maybe joining a particular gym that’s known to be cruisey, but then I ended up at the Y. In my area when I’m there it’s mostly women in their 60s (not my dating pool) and it’s been great to have a space where it’s easy to focus on exercising and not trying to cruise or be cruised.

  2. Wow, $47 seems so high. I could never afford to live in NYC.
    Did you apply to pay based on income? I did that at my Y and I pay $8/month.
    I like aqua-jogging too! I even get a Pavlovian response to that bleachy chlorine smell; it automatically makes me happy!

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