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A Fat Dude’s Guide for Fat Dudes at the Gym

GQ logo GQ 5 days ago Gianluca Russo
a table topped with a blue background © Matt Martin

For larger gentlemen—full disclosure, a group of which I am a member—signing off on a gym membership is a little different than it is for our Nike mannequin-esque brethren. No matter how enthusiastic you may be about getting in shape, your mind probably keeps coming back to some version of the nagging question: Is everyone here gonna judge me, or what? Going to the gym, a place that shines a harsh spotlight on the thing we're here to change about ourselves, is not just mindless chore; it’s a tiny act of courage.

Not knowing what to expect—and, thus, letting your nervous imagination run a little wild—is normal for my fellow fat dudes. The good news is that it is also preventable. For help, we asked a few experts for their best advice on how bigger dudes can begin their exciting new lives as diligent gym-goers.

Shop around

Before buying your new fitness home, rent first. Every gym has a different vibe: Some are terrifying palaces of Baywatch models and Pumping Iron drones, while others are dependable hangouts for people will grab a beer (or three) after the pickup run. Celebrity trainer Alec Penix suggests finding somewhere that’s more mellow at first, where you can keep to yourself until you've got your swagger. Think Vince Vaughn in a yellow dodgeball uniform, not Ben Stiller in a muscle suit with an inflatable crotch.

Also, from a practical perspective, consider the time of day when you're going to exercise. If you want to start slow and are lucky enough to have a flexible schedule, avoid the early mornings and after-work hours, when the place will be packed. Another great option: late nights. Running on the treadmill is a workout, but laughing at Colbert's monologue while you’re running on the treadmill is the kind of thing that can really kick your butt.

You don't need new a new wardrobe

Most brands don’t sell activewear in plus-sizes, and chafing is awful. But the performance fabric craze is a relatively new thing in fitness, and before that, people were just fine working out in regular old cotton. You will be, too. Ditch the compression shorts and opt for sweatpants. You know who wore sweats when he worked out? Rocky. A WORLD CHAMPION. WOULD ROCKY LEAD YOU ASTRAY?

The same principle applies to shoes: Your basic pair of tennis shoes are fine. There’s no need to get the most expensive pairs of cross-trainers on the market in order to lift weights, jog, or ride an exercise bike. Besides, if you get too hung up on what you’re wearing and how you look, you’re likelier to decide not to go at all, which is bad.

“Finding something in which you can move freely and feel comfortable is the most important factor,” said weight loss specialist Jordan Grahm, who became a personal trainer after losing over 200 pounds himself. “The gym is not a fashion show.” Unless, at some point down the road, you want it to be: “Getting fresh new workout gear can be an excellent motivator.”

Strength in numbers

It can be lonesome out there on the elliptical, halfheartedly listening to the true crime podcast you’ve been meaning to catch up on, willing the timer to reach triple zeroes. Find some friends to take this journey with you! Group classes are an easy way to blend in, especially when you’re still finding your speed: spin class, pilates, kickboxing, interval training, Zumba, and so on. (Do not knock Zumba until you have tried it.)

If you’re shy, remember that it’s impossible for anyone to be looking at you when they're all staring at a Zumba instructor and trying to figure out what the hell to do next. This setting also gives you the opportunity to make gym buddies to whom you'll start to feel accountable. These social ties are important, because they'll keep you coming back to the gym at times when you otherwise wouldn’t feel like going.

Hire some help

If you’re investing time and money in a gym membership, invest the time and money into learning what to do with it. “A good trainer will be knowledgeable and nonjudgmental, and should provide you with support between sessions if required,” says personal trainer Hannah Lewin. They may also customize a diet plan, and lay out a schedule for accomplishing your medium- and long-term goals.

You probably don’t need to spend as much as you think—somewhere in the $50-$70 range is a good price point. If it’s not a fit after, say, three sessions, try someone else. But there’s no reason you need to spend $300 per session. You’re not Zac Efron. (Yet.)

Think big picture

It's cool of you want to lose weight. But should anyone ask you why you’re there, though, don’t say that. Tell them you want to be more active, and to change your lifestyle.

This might seem like semantics. But fitness is a long-term commitment, and measuring your progress only by a number sets you up for failure. (If you’re plopping yourself on the scale each morning, you’re bound to end up feeling frustrated when the results start fluctuating.) Instead, keep track of how your clothes feel, and how your body measurements change, and how you feel about your overall health. If the pounds don’t disappear at the rate you think they should, these other metrics will help you remember that your hard work is still paying off.

Remember: No one cares if you're fat

Remember those nagging questions? The ones about what everyone around you thinks? Here is an important secret: One thing all gym-goers have in common is that they are focused on themselves. (And their true crime podcast.) Like you, they want to get in, do the thing they’re supposed to do, and get on with their lives. So worry a little less. Besides, your body, your business.

Don’t forget to make a playlist.


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