How to tell if your gym is toxic: Five signs
Years ago, if you would have told me that I would prefer running outside to on a treadmill, I would have looked at your incredulously. “How in the heck can I watch Bravo when I’m running in the park? And what if I need a sudden bathroom? A close water fountain? And what about all the hills outside??”
Granted, at the time the gym was my only source of cable television (which thus required that my trips to the gym be perfectly timed to my favorite shows), and I lived in the Midwest, so the gym provided a temperature controlled entertainment center with the added benefit of heart health and stress relief.
These days, however, I crave the outdoors. Ever since I started focusing on mindful exercise, I’ve come to appreciate the incredible connection I can feel with the earth when I’m moving my body in the fresh air. And to be honest, most gyms give me the heebie-jeebies. Besides being hotbeds for MRSA, they’re often full of people who I can reliably say should spend a little less time there. Sure, there are others like me who go for a quick heart rate elevation and go, but there are always those gym rats who are there for two to three hours at a time and strut around with their bulky arms running swinging into things.
On the other hand, I’m quite sure that not all gyms are as skeezy as some of the ones in my memory. However, many are, and this can be a totally toxic environment, particularly for people who have struggled with a not-so-copasetic relationship with exercise or their bodies. Here are some signs that your gym may be one of those places:
You find yourself comparing yourself to everyone else there. This might mean that gym per se isn’t toxic, but it is a negative environment for you. If you have a history of compulsive exercise or an eating disorder, it may be wise to stay away from a place where you’re checking out your neighbors in booty shorts and tank tops. Comparisons aren’t always physical either. If you’re sneaking glances at the next guy’s treadmill to see his incline (and subsequently feeling bad about yourself or compelled to amp it up), it might be time to step off and out into the wide world of nature.
The clientele is lacking diversity. A good way to see what your gym is all about is to check out who goes there. Are they the gym rates I mentioned above whose sole purpose in life seems to be lifting a car above their heads? Are they working people? Stay-at-home parents? Older folks who are trying to keep kicking it? Is there diversity in race, body size, ability level, or even personality? If your gym is only attracting a certain type of person, it might not be focused on celebrating different fitness goals and body types.
The classes offered focus on weight loss. Check out a list of the classes that are offered and notice the titles. If all the yoga is “power” or every kick-boxing class “cardio,” a clear message is being sent. Another clear message is sent with classes like “6-Pack in 6 Weeks” or “Lucious Legs” (seriously, I’ve seen these!). Read the descriptions too — if the focus seems to be totally on burning calories or developing a certain aesthetic, that might not be a great sign. Having strong abdominal muscles has great benefits outside of portraying a certain look (e.g. breathing better, improved posture, increased stability), but if your instructor doesn’t seem to realize that, you might be setting yourself up for frustration.
The staff pressure you into things you don’t want. If Darnell called me one more flipping time asking me to come in for my complementary personal training session, well, I’m not sure what I would have done. But I would have been a very irate lady. If your gym staff is pushing weight loss products, personal fitness assessments, or additional classes (see above) and you feel uncomfortable, speak up or get out. Do it for your body image.
The signage makes you want to scream. Take a peek around the gym and see what’s adorning the walls. I’m sure you’ve seen the totally un-clever “No pain, no gain,” mantra, or the screaming “No excuses!” Or better yet, the before and after photos of the previously so unhappy housewife suddenly turned muscle model (apparently losing weight comes with a complementary spray tan). If the signage makes you want to scream, it might be time to find a new place to move your body.
The wonderful thing is that you don’t have to subject yourself to toxic gyms in order to reap the many benefits of exercise. There are tons of things you can try where you won’t even know you’re working out! Exercise should make you feel healthy and happy, not wreck havoc on your self-esteem. If it is, it might be time to call it quits.
Have you ever belonged to a toxic gym? What told you it was time to quit?