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Every year, people join gyms in a bid to get fitter, healthier and more active. And every year, old gymmers moan about newbies taking up space. Writer Alice Doleman writes an open letter to every gym goer upset by having new starters in their fitness space.

Dear gym goers,

I know, I know. It’s that time of year again. There’s a queue for your favourite machine, you’re approximately two inches from someone’s downward dogging bottom in the stretching area, and all the decent towels are used up – not to mention the good mats. The 5kg weights have miraculously vanished. 

It’s rough. And it’s sweaty. I’d hazard a guess and say you’ve probably already cursed about two, maybe three, new starters under your breath already. Am I right? 

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Here’s the thing, though: once upon a January past, that downward dogging bottom used to belong to you. You were once the person looking a little lost in the weights section; the one who couldn’t quite figure out where the resistance bands were kept and whose squats lacked a certain, shall we say, elegance. 

You’ve definitely kept someone else waiting for the bike once or twice. Maybe you’ve even – *shudder* – forgotten to wipe down a seat from time to time. 

Whatever your reason for joining all that time ago, the fact you’re still going says a little something about what the gym does for you. It’s your happy place, right? It’s somewhere you can shut your brain up for a little bit.

If you’re anything like me, exercising started off as a physical thing and – over time – became much more than that: an escape from an anxious brain that does a little too much overtime. It’s also the one place in my life I feel like I (as a woman) can be angry and show some aggression without being judged. 

Even if it’s just a physical thing for you, moving your body feels so good. That ache you feel the day after? So satisfying. The sleep you get after a workout? Better than any drunk sleep I’ve ever had, and that’s a fact. 

Do you remember the first time you were really proud of what your body achieved in the gym? I’ve still never been able to do a pull up, but I know when I eventually do, that’ll be a huge one for me. What about you? Was it running your first mile without any walking? Maybe it was lifting that weight you thought was out of your reach. Your achievement might look different to mine but there’s one thing they have in common: they remind us we can actually do the things we put our minds to. 

Now think about all the mini achievements happening around you at the gym. You get to be present when someone else feels strong and powerful for the first time in their life. As much as you like to stay in your little cocoon of headphone-d privacy, you’ve probably nodded with respect at the person who just completed a pull-up. 

But back to the newbies. What if the new person that you cursed out earlier is going to be the next one to hit their big milestone? You’ll miss out on that little smile when they touch their toes for the first time since they were 14. They’re not there to nick your floor space, they’re simply trying to make their lives a fraction better. 

It doesn’t even have to be as grandiose as that – those newcomers are trying to make their day a little bit better. They may go on to make some of their closest friends at the gym, or it might become the one place that they feel confident. 

Whether you’re one for a New Year’s resolution or not, someone’s could be making it to the gym in the first place – so leave them in peace. You know better than anyone that getting fit is a long, sometimes painful (I once fell backwards off a moving treadmill, enough said), and often frustrating experience, but it’s made better by feeling comfortable and supported in your surroundings. 

You don’t have to go out of your way to grin at anyone; simply leaving people to get on with their training without judgement is enough. Vowing to stop with the annoyed glances or muttered complaints is a huge step towards making the gym a safer space for everyone. 

That new person who hasn’t wiped the seat of their arse-sweat? Offer them a wipe or towel – they may genuinely not know the etiquette. Those of us who are veterans of the cardio studio or weights room owe it to our community to make these places accessible to all. 

Looking to start your fitness journey? Come join us at the Strong Women Training Club.

Images: Getty

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