New Gym, Old Mistakes

My little independent gym closed two months ago. I had been a gym member for 9 of its 13 years. It wasn’t fancy, but it was convenient. I could walk across the street and be there. And it rarely got crowded, especially in the 5 AM hour.

When it closed, my membership was transferred to the Signature LA Fitness. Although I miss being able to walk across the street, I now have a lot more equipment, a sauna, and a pool. It even has an indoor basketball court. Every time I go, I find new equipment. The best part is I am locked in at my negotiated $12 monthly rate from my previous gym, which is much less than the $45-$50 rate most LA Fitness members are paying.

This post is about the lessons I’ve learned (or relearned) since switching gyms.

#1 Maintain the same warmup routine

As little as my old gym was, it had a larger area for warming up than the huge LA Fitness. The new one is crowded and as a result, I’ve skipped the warmup routine that has served me well for a decade. Before heading to the gym, I still do a yoga and stretching warmup at home, but I’m learning that isn’t enough. I need to keep my old gym warm up as well.

arm-circle-mobility

Arm circles are a staple in my warm-up routine. Both directions.

#2 Novelty Can Be Good and Bad

LA Fitness has much better machines – both plate-loading and pin-based. I’m like a kid in a candy store. I want to use them all, which is good because it makes me more excited to get to the gym, but I need to restrict the exploration or risk injury.

The way I resolved to handle this was to initially dial back the intensity with light weights and increase the variety of machines.

#3 Each Machine is Unique

I need to remind myself that I can’t do apples-to-apples comparisons with the equipment I used for years before with the new equipment. The angles are different. The seats are different. The same weight on the same type of gear might feel heavier or lighter.

At my old gym, I navigated all the equipment on muscle memory. I knew exactly where to sit, where to put my feet, and the limitations of the machines. Now, I need to learn all that all over again.

This also applies to cardio equipment.

Mistakes I Made

LA Fitness has a lot more members than my old gym. I’m no longer sharing the free weight room with 3 other people at 5 AM. It is much more crowded. You likely will need to wait on dumbbells if you arrive as late as 5:15 AM.

After my first few visits, I became conditioned to seeing a packed warmup area. I stopped looking after 2 weeks. I rationalized that my pre-gym morning routine was enough. It wasn’t.

One morning, the staff arrived late to open the gym. When they did arrive they opened the front door to the street before they opened the doors from the parking garage. This made me the first person in the gym. I hadn’t been able to use the dumbbells and benches since I became a member. Too crowded. I went directly to the dumbbells and knocked out some goblet squats and farmer’s walks as the 5 AM army of men poured into the free weight room. I rushed. I didn’t warm up. I tweaked my back and was in pain for a few days.

It was a foolish mistake. I haven’t felt pressure to rush a workout in a crowded gym since I lived in Northern Virginia (~1999). I hurt my back then as well.

I also started to get neck pain from one of the chest press machines. I didn’t notice the seat angle was further back than my old gym. I kept the same head posture I used there, which placed my neck in a strained position.

Lessons

A new gym should not change how you warm up. I found an unused spot in the gym where I am now doing my old warm-up routine.

I’ve accepted that I’m now in a crowded gym and that if I want to use dumbbells, I may need to find a different hour to go to the gym. The wrong answer is to rush.

I need to be patient with each piece of gym equipment. It isn’t just the weight and reps. It is body position. It is learning how the machine responds at each point in the repetition.

Do you have any tips or advice you follow when heading to a new gym?

4 Comments

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  1. Alex Smallwood

    Jun 10, 2024 — 5:54 am

    Great post. Can u do a post on your warm up routine?

  2. @Alex – Here is my core warm up routine that I posted on in 2014.
    https://criticalmas.org/2014/02/body-language-exercise-warm/

    It really hasn’t changed. I just added the yoga stretches before I leave for the gym.

  3. MAS – how common is a 5am workout in North America? This sounds incredibly early. Do you go to bed at an extremely early hour too? I like to exercise in the morning, but 0700 is a more realistic time for me, except for swimming which to get a quiet pool I do late at night.

  4. @Dan – I don’t know, but I have heard it is a West Coast thing. We often work with companies on the East Coast, so getting our workouts finished early is a priority.

    After years of struggling to sleep past 4 AM, I gave up and just started going to bed earlier. 8:30pm is common for me.

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