This is the time of year when even people who hate the gym think about going to the gym. Many of us are still digesting whole floors of gingerbread houses, and jeans that fit comfortably in October are now a denim humiliation.
Sweating is a good way to begin 2012. Exercise, like dark chocolate and office meetings that suddenly get canceled, is a proven pathway to nirvana. But if you're going to join a gym—or returning to the gym after a long hibernation—consider the following:
1. A gym is not designed to make you feel instantly better about yourself. If a gym wanted to make you feel instantly better about yourself, it would be a bar.
2. Give yourself a goal. Maybe you want to lose 10 pounds. Maybe you want to quarterback the New York Jets into the playoffs. But be warned: Losing 10 pounds is hard.
3. Develop a gym routine. Try to go at least three times a week. Do a mix of strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. After the third week, stop carrying around that satchel of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.
4. No one in the history of gyms has ever lost a pound while reading "The New Yorker" and slowly pedaling a recumbent bicycle. No one.
5. Bring your iPod. Don't borrow the disgusting gym headphones, or use the sad plastic radio attachment on the treadmill, which always sounds like it's playing Kenny Loggins from a sewer.
6. Don't fall for gimmicks. The only tried-and-true method to lose 10 pounds in 48 hours is food poisoning.
7. Yes, every gym has an overenthusiastic spinning instructor who hasn't bought a record since "Walking on Sunshine."
8. There's also the Strange Guy Who is Always at the Gym. Just when you think he isn't here today...there he is, lurking by the barbells.
9. "Great job!" is trainer-speak for "It's not polite for me to laugh at you."
10. Beware a hip gym with a Wilco step class.
11. Gyms have two types of members: Members who wipe down the machines after using them, and the worst people in the universe.
12. Nope, that's not a "recovery energy bar with antioxidant dark chocolate." That's a chocolate bar.
13. Avoid Unsolicited Advice Guy, who, for the small fee of boring you to death, will explain the proper method for any exercise in 45 minutes or longer.
14. You can take 10 Minute Abs, 20 Minute Abs, and 30 Minute Abs. There is also Stop Eating Pizza and Eating Sheet Cake Abs—but that's super tough!
15. If you're motivated to buy an expensive home exercise machine, consider a "wooden coat rack." It costs $40, uses no electricity and does the exact same thing.
16. There's the yoga instructor everyone loves, and the yoga instructor everyone hates. Memorize who they are.
17. If you see an indoor rock climbing wall, you're either in a really cool gym or a romantic comedy starring Kate Hudson.
18. Be cautious about any class with the words "sunrise," "hell," or "Moby."
19. If a gym class is going to be effective, it's hard. If you're relaxed and enjoying yourself, you're at brunch.
20. If you need to bring your children, just let them loose in the silent meditation class. Nobody minds, and kids love candles.
21. Don't buy $150 sneakers, $100 yoga pants, and $4 water. Muscle shirts are for people with muscles, and rhythm guitarists.
22. Fancy gyms can be seductive, but once you get past the modern couches and fresh flowers and the water with lemon slices, you're basically paying for a boutique hotel with B.O.
23. Everyone sees you secretly racing the old people in the pool.
24. If you're at the point where you've bought biking shoes for the spinning class, you may as well go ahead and buy an actual bike. It's way more fun and it doesn't make you listen to C+C Music Factory.
25. Fact: Thinking about going to the gym burns between 0 and 0 calories.
26. A successful gym membership is like a marriage: If it's good, you show up committed and ready for hard work. If it's not good, you show up in sweatpants and watch a lot of bad TV.
27. There is no secret. Exercise and lay off the fries. The end.