How to start going to the gym, part two: the pre-production dry run

Plus: how to spot a fake gym clout-chaser on TikTok; weaponizing your inner monologue; Meryl Streep's one weird trick. This is Links 45!

How to start going to the gym, part two: the pre-production dry run

Last week, we covered the essential role of the “gym visit” in starting to go to the gym. At this point, you’ve visited, you’ve gotten the lay of the land, you’ve perhaps even reassured yourself that it’s not a competitive conflict-heavy hellscape ruled by bros blind with PED-fueled rage, but a bunch of people mostly minding their own business.1

So now it’s time to dip a toe into the gym waters and actually attempt the motions of your workout.

It might seem like this should only be the second of two steps. But a lot of frustrating/discouraging things can happen in a new gym that may make you falsely conclude that working out is too hard and embarrassing before you ever accomplish the working-out part. This is especially true if your time is limited.

For instance, if you mis-time asking for next on the squat rack and then spend 10 minutes fruitlessly trying to adjust the j-hooks and safety arms, that can be almost half an hour gone on nonsense before you even do a single squat, let alone the rest of your workout.2

So: the important thing here is to go in with zero expectation of doing all the reps and sets you have programmed for yourself, or maybe even of sorting out all the logistics, at first. You are basically doing a dry run. All you’re doing in this session is figuring out:

  • where the stuff you need actually is (appropriately sized dumbbells, squat racks, deadlift platforms, clips)
  • roughly how to use it
  • any of the soft interactions you need to do in order to use it (asking to work in, asking for next, asking the gym staff how some piece of equipment works)

Basically, this means you will find the equipment, get to the point of being all set up to use it and have everything you need, and stop short of expecting to have the time and patience to do all your sets and reps.

For instance, with squats you will:

  • find the squat rack
  • ask the person using it how many sets they have left
  • take command of it
  • set it to the right height and find the clips
  • locate all the right plates that you need (2.5s, 5s, 10s, 25s)
  • make sure the safety arms on either side aren’t too high or too low for you when you squat
  • maybe figure out where you can set up a camera to film your sets

And that’s it. Technically, you can walk away at that point. (It might feel weird, but again, no one is really paying attention to what anyone else is doing.) If all that ended up being perfectly breezy and you want to do a set or two, or all your sets, with the empty bar or with more weight, that’s also totally fine. Then you’ll go to your next movement and do the same process.

This may end up taking way less time than an actual workout, if everything is easy. It might take up as much time or a little longer. Don’t take that to mean actually working out will take even longer than that; it will not. It’ll all flow smoother the next time, and the time after that. If you don’t get to everything, or have a second “day” of training to figure out (like Days A and B in LIFTOFF), by all means, do this a second time. People take all kinds of pre-production non-work seriously; whole jobs are structured around essentially going on vacation to see if it would be nice to film a movie there.

So once you’ve done this, hopefully (a) it didn’t ultimately take more than a week or so of your time, and (b) you are feeling ready to put all the pieces together for the next step—step three: Actually Doing Your Workout. That’s coming next week.

The Whole “How to Start Going to the Gym” Series":

What paid subscribers got last week: The concept of “deloading” is little-known outside the world of strength training. But the concept of “taking an extended rest to cure us of months of accumulated agonies”? We all know what that’s like now, thanks to the pandemic. If you don’t yet know how to apply this to training and your body, or why, or when, I have made you this guide.

How do I know when it's time to deload?
The Question Can you write about how I can know when to take a deload? —DG The Answer Deloading is one of the more mysterious lifting concepts, especially to outsiders. Already these outsiders are bamboozled by the idea of “progressive overload,” the idea of not that many reps, the idea of resting between sets. But then you say, “Progress and reps and long rests are great, but sometimes I take a week and don’t work so hard; I do even fewer reps, I don’t progress at all, and the workouts are pretty short.” And then their brains explode.


~Discord Pick of the Week: If you’ve read the “How to feel/eat like a big beautiful horse” posts and thought, “I am that, or I want to be,” the newly minted 2022 Poet Laureate Ada Limón has captured us exactly in this poem:

“I like the lady horses best,

how they make it all look easy,

like running 40 miles per hour

is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.”

Read the rest of it (it’s so good) and check out the collection, and hey, why not read more about her here?~

How to weaponize your inner monologue. A lot of discussion of positive vs. negative self-talk here. As in many things, I think the key is not pushing down or villainizing yourself for thinking negative things, i.e. “I can’t do this,” but making room for it and learning to talk yourself through it.

The beautiful mess effect.

The cozy sanctuary of a bookstore cafe. I realized fairly recently that key elements to how much reading I did when I was younger were (a) going to bookstores and (b) posting up in the big overstuffed chairs with a pile of books till I found a good one to take home.

Granny Guns!!: The workout machine forest guardian we deserve.

“The Kardashians of Norway are middle-distance runners”—*adjusts glasses*—”The Kardashians of Norway are middle-distance runners who have”—*adjusts glasses, sits up in chair, leans in and squints at the screen*—”The Kardashians of Norways are middle-distance runners who have competed on the global stage”—


I promised earlier this week I’d spare a minute for the cause of identifying fake clout- and virality-chasing gym-themed TikToks and Instagram reels. I’m not doing this because I don’t believe on some level that the horrible little algorithms deserved to be gamed; I do it because some of them are genuinely off-putting to people who are already afraid of gyms.

You can throw a rock on TikTok and hit a few hundred “Guy stole my equipment when I was using it 🙄 no one respects women” where the shot framing is so conspicuously perfect, the timing so poor, the facial expressions so wooden, that I can’t believe it has 10 likes let alone a million.

Believe it or not, this does make people think this is a normal indignity they will have to put up with in a gym all of the time, and it’s not. Will it happen, like, once or twice in your lifetime? Maybe. But the guy will be sorry, you’ll get your equipment back immediately, and it won’t be the high-stakes injustice that the Drake soundtrack to the looping TikTok clip makes it seem. Generating outrage for virality with fake reachy stuff rubs me the wrong way.

So, per the above, there are three telltale signs a post like this is contrived:

  • Shot framing is too wide or at too weird of an angle to only film the lifter lifting, and too perfectly captures the subsequent weird interactions
  • Someone is using the equipment in a way or standing in a place they would not be otherwise
  • The conflict is generated by one person exhibiting sociopathic/profoundly retrograde levels of assholery

The above was an egregious example from this week. Some signs it’s a lie: It would be fairly strange of you to film a light accessory like this, particularly if you’re in off-duty mode in your Uggs; one would not lie on the bench in that direction to do that lift (you’d just lie down on it normally). It’s just all the way off. Generally, no one would stand that far away from the bench, either, and then just back up seven feet to sit down on it again without looking. But I hope and pray the woman was in on it and this guy wasn’t contorting himself to embarrass her. Unfortunately, in these times, nonconsensual “pranks” for virality do happen!

Here’s another one I actually like, but must call bullshit. You’d never film a squat from 40 feet away like that, and the shot is perfectly framed to capture the subsequent backflip. The guy’s squat is clearly too easy for him to be celebrating with a backflip. Maybe the reaction is real, who knows.

“These guys didn’t believe I could lift the same as them.” Uh huh. I love to gather all my bros, two of them straight out of central casting for a Warby Parker commercial, and sit in our normal way (cross-legged in a circle around a deadlift platform) and talk about how girls, who have cooties, are inferior to men.

Who am I, the fun police?? ALWAYS. Perhaps I am too much on my Janeane Garofalo this week (see below), but cool stuff/dumb stuff happens authentically in life all the time; you don’t need to do this. I know the only way to retire now is to get enough TikTok followers to get a SheIn brand deal, but I will not participate in it; I will not like it; I will not comment “yass queen, slay the haters”; I wish to be excluded from the narrative.

Peloton is stopping bike production. The end of an era. This comes just as the company released an admittedly extremely good ad featuring strength training icon Chris Meloni.3

I’m not a vegetarian, and while I have eaten and enjoyed octopus in my life, I stopped a while ago. I just can’t do it. And before you etc.:

Dr. Dave also helps me resolve another moral conflict: Why the octopus, and not the cow? The other week, I saw octopus arms poking out of a container of insalata di mare at the local Metro, and my stomach turned over; and yet, a few days later, I ate a steak, barely thinking about the animal that it used to be.

“The tyranny of consistency has one goal,” she tells me, “and that is to make people tired.” It becomes too complicated to defend one, imperfect choice, so we accept the norm out of weariness. Take action, even inconsistently, she argues, and the ideology may follow after.

If you’ve never seen it: A woman who has lost her whole mind about Monster energy drink branding.


A profile of Janeane Garofalo, which, true to form, she does not participate in.

I’ve been really enjoying The Cut’s new column, Sober Questioning.

What, ME thinking that “someone working patiently to rehabilitate their relationship with a classically annoying and anxiety-inducing required-in-school activity, such as gym or math” is a great premise for a book?? You’re dreaming!

Meryl Streep’s one weird trick. I have noticed something, which is that most writers whose job it is to cover industries/people where their physicality matters are not super-good at identifying the role of physicality in “how good they are at their jobs.” I notice this most with Billie Eilish, who is a mostly-former dancer but moves with incredible strength and precision onstage in a way that she wouldn’t if she hadn’t been a dancer (or, pursuant to the swimmer’s body fallacy, vice versa: she wouldn’t have been a dancer if she couldn’t move that way). I also think about this a lot in regard to when actors do strength training in order to “move differently” for roles. A lot of them are doing it; no one really knows how to talk about it.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that Meryl has an incredibly precise physicality, and her sense of timing in her gestures and expressions and movements are otherworldly. I think often about her sequence of movements in The Devil Wears Prada when she transitions from interviewing Andy to listening to Nigel criticize Gwyneth’s photo shoot: breaks blank eye contact, flips newspaper closed, turns to proofs in one seamless gesture, and THEN: puts her glasses back on. Legend! Legendary!

I’ve been loosely following the end of Wendy Williams via Who? Weekly. She deserved better.

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—

  1. So, like, I mean, DON’T do this whole process, if it’s not your thing. There are freewheeling types out there who can walk and chew gum at the same time, and have a flexible relationship with accomplishment. This is for people who are prone to frustration about setbacks, like “I was all excited to do deadlifts and then I couldn’t find the right plates to set the bar up at the right height, and by the time I found them I had to leave, and now I have to wait another two days.” There can be a lot going on there,

  2. I say this not to make anyone apprehensive about working out; I say it because to not acknowledge a learning curve and just pretend these things are easy is to lose some people to self-blame and frustration, and all I want is for more people to lift.

  3. Adbuster mode: The ad was created by Ryan Reynolds’ production company; some may remember Reynolds made an ad for his gin company playing off the Peloton commercial where a woman was being visibly held hostage by her bike, a story that we broke at VICE. No; I won’t let it go. Anyway, this is some kind of thing coming full circle.