Exercise when the gym isn’t an option

By: Samuel Smith, Columnist

Gyms are slowly opening back up, but I’m not going. Gyms have always been a source of anxiety for me. I’m a transgender guy, and when I go to the gym, I have to do it in short spurts, as the locker rooms and bathrooms aren’t options. I have to show up in my workout gear, as changing isn’t an option. And, while there are gender-inclusive classes, gyms are frequently gendered, from locker rooms, to how you’re treated, to who you maybe pair up within a class. Not only that, but it is isolating

I know you can’t tell who’s trans just by looking at somebody, but I always feel exposed – I always felt like everyone could tell I’m trans, and somebody recognizing your transness can become a safety issue. Nevermind the fact I’m also fat (note: I choose to reclaim the term “fat” as a neutral part of my identity) and feel totally out-of-place and like I’m doing something wrong just by existing at the gym while fat. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made many attempts to hit the gym on a regular basis. It just never sticks. But I do stay active! I just do it at home. It took some adjusting, but I’ve never exercised more frequently in my life. What’s even better is I actually enjoy myself now! I have many ways I stay fit, and I’m going to lay them out, from least expensive to most expensive (roughly).

First, there’s some equipment you need when working out, no matter what your routine is. You at least need stretchy pants/shorts (sweatpants or gym shorts work great), a water bottle, and a flexible attitude. That’s it! That’s the absolute basics for something like doing bodyweight workouts (strength training with no equipment) inside. If you want to do yoga, I recommend getting a yoga mat, but those can be relatively cheap. There’s also chair yoga if you’re not able to stand. If you’re exercising outside, you’ll want to get the right kinds of shoes. Cross-training shoes work great, and when I was starting out, I lifted in my Vans with minimal issues. Walking only really requires shoes, a water bottle, and comfortable clothes. If you’re exercising outside, you’ll also need sunscreen. 

If you want to pick up running, I highly recommend investing in good running shoes. This will help prevent injuries like shin splints. A specialty running store can help assess what shoes best fit your running style, and get you sized properly. If you’re a heavyweight runner (like myself), make sure you get shoes with plenty of cushion, as this will help absorb impact. They also make socks with more or less cushion, and socks that stay dry even if you sweat a ton. Other than that, find a free running program to help build you up to running. Don’t try to run as long and fast as possible right off the bat, as that can cause an injury. There are tons of programs and apps online that will build you up to running 5Ks, 10Ks, or even marathons. I also like having a waist bag/fanny pack to hold my phone, keys, and ID.

Hiking can be more or less expensive than running, depending on your needs. Short hikes don’t require much equipment, just comfortable shoes that don’t slip a ton, a backpack, a first aid kit, and extra snacks. Longer or more intensive hikes may require special hiking boots, rain/wet gear, maps/compasses, or even a headlamp and batteries. REI has a really awesome checklist to help hikers determine what to pack. To find hikes, you can use guidebooks for the state/region you want to hike in, apps like AllTrails or Strava, or groups online. There are even groups online dedicated to LGBTQ hiking and outdoor activities.

Finally, weightlifting. Weightlifting can be more or less expensive, depending on what your needs are, but if you get serious, it can get really expensive. Dumbbells and kettlebells can start pretty cheap, but if you want multiple weights, you’ll need to invest. A good way around this is to get a sandbag. Sandbags come in different sizes (each with different weight ranges), and you adjust the weight by adding more or less sand. Sandbags are relatively expensive compared to body weights or yoga but are pretty mid-tier when you add in things like adjustable dumbbells (which can be hundreds of dollars). Another thing you can do is get a weighted sandbag vest, which you wear while running, hiking, or doing bodyweight exercises.

There are other things you may want to consider buying if you wish to work out regularly. A fitness tracker or smartwatch may be helpful to gauge the intensity of your workouts, the distance you’re going, or how many calories you burn. You may want a pre-workout if you plan on exercising first thing in the morning, but don’t want to work out on a totally empty stomach. You may also want to check in with your primary doctor before starting, to check for any underlying health concerns that would affect your workouts, or to discuss dietary changes that need to be made.

Getting exercise can be really fun. It should be a way to get rid of anxiety, not cause it. If going to the gym isn’t your jam for whatever reason, there are so many ways to do it from home. It takes a while to find your routine, but once you do, it feels as natural as breathing.


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