Gym Rookie: Humbled Under the Barbell


My doctor told me women my age should lift weights.

Pause right there. “Women my age?”

One perk of moving back to suburbia is living within a few miles of my former gym. Since I took my membership card to Mexico twelve years ago, and then brought it back, I figured I’d take a shot and see if I still existed in their system.


Week One:

I opened the glass door in a slightly self-conscious manner and approached a young, over-bubbly staff member.

“Hi! Can I help you?”

“Uhh, yes… are there a maximum amount of years you’ll hold a frozen account?”

“I don’t think so. Let me check.”

Pretty sure my card and cheesy holder were older than he was, but I presented it anyway.

“Don’t laugh, but I saved this from 1996. Do you think it will still scan?”

“Oh wow, that is old. Let’s see… Carrie?”

I couldn’t believe it! I thought I was lost, but apparently I was found.


“Are you still on Saskia Pass?”

“Uh, no—that was 21 years ago. But before we go on, does it show my monthly fee?”

“Yep—twelve dollars.”

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

After retrieving my new digits and dwelling, he scanned both of my index fingers three times, smiled and said, “You’re all set! Here’s a class schedule, and if you need a padlock we have them for ten dollars.”

Ten? The last time I bought a padlock was in junior high for about $1.49. So being the frugal girl I am, I took my purse out to my car and locked it in the trunk.

For free.

Upon re-entry I avoided the scary, confusing machines and headed to the familiar ellipticals. They changed a little lot in the past dozen years and I couldn’t find the “on” button.

Pride kept me from asking my neighbor how to start the dang thing, so I grabbed my phone and pretended to do something important while hovering 18 inches above the carpet and looking past my screen to the complex dashboard.

After an awkwardly long stint I remembered something about how the lights come on if you start walking.

Kinda like moving forward, trusting God will reveal His plan if I just begin? Exactly.

Lights illuminated and I started strong, but my body quickly reminded me of my newbie status. A returning-rookie-from-south-of-the-border. The last time I set foot in a gym was before I had sagging pit skin and I could easily bench press a toddler. I’d waltz in, jump on these machines and log 30-40 minutes, no problem.

I was not cocky, I was confident. There’s a difference.

Now I dealt with shifty eyes, an insecure pulse and an absence of courage.

Legs burning, back whining and sweat glands sweating, I lowered the incline, searched for distractions and swiped my phone to a podcast.

I forgot to steal my husbands earbuds though, so after about 15 minutes of uncomfortable leaning toward the dashboard to hear my understated entertainment, I halted in order to document the first day and prove I didn’t just wander between the bathroom and barbells.

And that’s when my machine sent me a nasty message:


Excuse me? I stopped on purpose. And why are you asking me to pedal? This is not a bike. Did your coder save money by putting the same message on every apparatus? I don’t need this—I’m moving on to someone who will treat me and my quads better. 


Week Two:

They told me the popular/crowded class required sign-ups, so I shot for the moon and grabbed a pass 70 minutes early.

I can go run an errand and slide into class right before it starts with a saved spot? How cool is that?

I returned at 9:28 a.m. and stood outside the separate room, waiting for the previous class to empty.

I don’t want to brag, but I’m fairly sharp, so it only took me about 68 seconds to realize the ladies inside were the early birds and my class was about to begin.

But this particular class involved equipment. A quick glance around had me grabbing everything the pros grabbed: a barbell, multiple plates, connectors, a step and risers.

This isn’t step class. Why do I need a step?

Clearly not a full-service, Ritz-style gym, I was on my own with 30 seconds to liftoff. I slid the beginner weights on the bar but couldn’t figure out how to keep them there. This advanced technology changed since I’d been gone and the new connectors weren’t intuitive, so I peeked at the surrounding gym rats.

Copy, paste.

With 94 mirrors surrounding the 50 of us, it wasn’t a secret I held the smallest weights. I learned my lesson long ago by lifting too much too soon, so I settled into one pathetic level up from bar weight and squished in between two strangers while the Energizer Bunny took her post.

“Good Morning, Ladies!”

Oh, glory. Here we go.


So. Many. Mirrors. 

Yowza. I hadn’t seen this angle of myself in years. Or maybe ever.

Being privy to everyone else’s angles also brought a whole new stream of distractions.

Were my shorts, shirt and shoes supposed to match?

Did everyone do their hair before they came? Why am I the only one wearing a hat?

Why is that lady next to the instructor facing the audience?

And why is that one only eight inches from the front mirror?

Are those friends wearing matching outfits?

I’m towel-less. Can I still stay?

See why I sit toward the front in church? Way too much to process.

And the buddies? Seemed like almost everyone knew almost everyone.

I wonder if I’ll ever have a buddy. Someone to laugh about inside gym jokes with. Someone to ask why I didn’t show last week. Someone who knows the scoop on the massive germie gel dispenser and why we haven’t seen Arnold or Jane lately. 

We lifted weights to the beat of the music and at one point everyone knew to sit on their steps, tip back to horizontal positions and prepare for the tricep and chest press track.

I followed along, lifted the puny barbell above my ribs and felt my hat slide off my head, onto the floor.

Maybe that’s why nobody wears hats.

What am I doing here? I used to feel so confident, so strong. Now I’m staring at fire sprinklers with exposed greasy hair and weak arms.

Seven minutes to go and women scattered.

Is it over? We still have seven minutes. Wait, why is half the class putting their equipment away? Hold still—don’t panic. Should I follow the teacher or follow the crowd?

When you’re the newbie, pride keeps dumb questions in your head, never to be released to the surrounding public.


No Card Required

Now all I need to do is remember my new cell number, scan a pointer finger and I receive a digital message: “Enjoy Your Workout!”

So much more encouraging than the stupid elliptical.

But “enjoy”? As in, to have fun? To be keen on? To be fond of? To appreciate, relish, adore?

Nice try, marketing team. These first two weeks may have ranked in the thrilling category because I get to still pay 1996 prices, but I don’t anticipate this honeymoon phase lasting beyond my next round of clean presses and evil planks.


When’s the last time you were taken down a peg or two?

Do you embrace being humbled, or fight it like Rocky?

Do you follow The Teacher or follow the crowd?


Know someone who might like this post? Don't hoard it like a secret family recipe, share it...



  • Sherry Brinkerhof

    I so enjoyed your “trip to the gym”. I recently had a “gym” experience of my own so I had to chuckle as I read yours. Of course you have to add 25+ years to the age thing! After 12+ years of the same ol’ same ol’, I was motivated to step it up. Since I am not a gym “rat”, I discovered an exercise “studio” in my town. It sounded less intimidating than “gym”.

    In my advancing years, I realized that I needed to add something to my routine that would help add strength, balance, and stamina. I really want to be able to lift my grocery bags, put my pants on without sitting down, and clean my own house. Fitness classes seemed to be just the ticket! For a mere $65 a month I could attend any class any time. Ripped, F.I.T. Camp, and Body Pump were just 3 of the classes I tried. And I thought “gym” sounded intimidating!

    While I don’t think I look 70, I may be the only one delusional about that. Even though most of my classmates were young enough to be my daughters and some young enough to be my granddaughters, I was determined to “work it”! But alas, the Booty Barre class did me in. After sustaining an injury, I threw caution to the wind not caring how my fellow (much younger) classmates would perceive me; I stopped the exercise grimacing all the way to the floor. Whatever I injured allowed me to walk without pain, but my left leg would no longer climb stairs.

    Needless to say, I think my exercise studio days are behind me. At least I can still walk the neighborhood. My chiropractor and I are becoming buddies and I am on a first name basis with a physical therapist. After ice, rest, and Aleve for these past weeks, I think I am on the mend and will actually get back to my stair-climbing exercise. Maybe I should check out the Silver Sneakers program at our local gyms–they offer exercise designed for seniors and it is free too!

    • Carrie Talbott

      Oh my gosh, Sherry… this is hilarious. Silver Sneakers or Booty Barre–I’m just impressed that you’re out there striving for a healthy, fit body! And no, you don’t look 70. Keep on keeping on!

  • Gidget

    Man, I can imagine the frustration. My greatest fear is NOT knowing what to do in ordinary places (like pumping your gas). I made my husband go with me to the gym to help me navigate everything. You are my hero!

    Hugs, Gidget

    • Carrie Talbott

      You’re hilarious. If you must know my secret, it’s to walk confidently and act like you know what you’re doing. That may or may not have swung me through the bathroom a few times so I had a place to go, but so be it. Speaking of gas, Doug got honked at 3X when he went to Costco our first week here. Nice way to be welcomed back to America!

  • Molly

    A guy kept looking at me inside Target. After several minutes he walked up and said, “You look familiar.” (Drum roll…) And I said, “Thanks!” As if I expected a compliment instead!????

    • Carrie Talbott

      Ha! We’re gonna make that our new compliment instead of the words pretty or beautiful. You are SO familiar. 🙂