Going to the gym can be pretty terrifying. Gymtimidation is a real thing, and I say that as someone who’s managed to fight her way into the most elite spots at the gym (the 8 a.m. spin class and the secret boot camp that isn’t listed on the group class schedule, in particular). I’ve only converted to religious gym-going within the past three years of my life, but the chilling sense of terror caused by even the most routine gym equipment is something I’ll probably never get used to (that, and how unusually comfortable some women are with talking to you in the locker room while fully freeboobin’ it).

Beyond the crowd we all assume will gather to point and laugh at us while we do jumping jacks (side note: they do not exist), the gym is intimidating because there’s a ton of stuff in there that looks like it could be used to administer torture. Honestly, if we took down all the mirrors at the gym and moved all the machines into a damp cave lit only by rudimentary torches, we would assume we’re going to be punished. Truthfully, the only things separating a fitness center from an evil lair are mirrors, overhead lighting, and up-tempo remixes of Rihanna songs. I know you’re probably wondering about the yoga pants, but yoga pants fall under state-specific lair requirements. So in an effort to demystify some of the more distressing apparatuses you’re likely to see at your average health center, here’s a ranking of TK common gym paraphernalia ranked from least horrible to most horrible:

 15. Foam Roller

It might be intimidating to see people using the foam roller to stretch or work their legs, but tit really isn’t that intimidating at all. As long as you don’t put this thing between your legs in any capacity or treat it like an adult Sock’Em Bopper, you virtually can’t be using it wrong.

 14. Yoga Blocks

Only yoga enthusiasts know what to do with these. If you are not one of them, my advice is to use these yoga blocks to build a nice, secure fortress that creates a barrier between you and the CrossFit people.

 13. Yoga Mat

Seeing people with visible abs practicing contortionism on the yoga mat might give you pause, but just remember that a yoga mat is just a long cushion that rolls up and protects your ass from the floor. Yoga mats are also the user-friendliest of all the gym gear, because even if you have no idea what the hell you’re doing, it won’t be as obvious to onlookers. You could easily lie flat on your back to “stretch” or “engage your core,” and take a short nap. Don’t worry—everyone will just assume you’re recovering from a tough workout.

 12. Exercise Ball

Unless you’re the clumsiest person with the brittlest (sounds like an app name–a social network for fragile people) bones and the worst luck in the world, the exercise ball really isn’t so bad. Don’t be intimidated by how inflated and round it is! From a practical perspective, the exercise ball is the most fun thing to use at the gym when you don’t know what you’re doing. Sit on it. Roll around. Stretch out backwards over it. This is as close as it’ll get to third grade recess at the gym.

 11. Step Platform

The step platform is tricky because assembly is required. In true IKEA fashion, if you improperly put the step together, it will collapse. That wouldn’t be so devastating if it were a TV stand or a desk, but because the step platform is most likely to buckle under your own body weight, the risk of step embarrassment is fairly high. Also, studies from the Overzealous Fitness Lovers Guild show that the step platform made over 45% of users overestimate their stepping and jumping abilities.

10. Free Weights

The free weights can be difficult if you’re bench pressing and deadlifting, but nothing obligates you to pick a heavy weight. Best case scenario: Pick up a pair of three pound weights, move them around in some capacity, and go “stretch” on the yoga mat.

 9. Medicine ball

The medicine ball is a bit trickier than the free weights because you have to hold it with both hands. Unless your gym has some fAnCy medicine balls, these usually don’t have handles, so you could easily drop this on your foot or onto the face of someone who’s doing crunches nearby. It’s harder to fake fitness with the medicine ball, so approach these with caution. The medicine ball’s uses are somewhat limited.

 8. Recumbent Bike

With no disrespect to recumbent bike enthusiasts, I think we all know that the recumbent bike was invented for people who genuinely want to get a little exercise, but want to do so in a posture that’s as close as humanly possible to sitting on the couch with your feet up. I believe the technical term for this is “ergonomics.” Sure, you’re going to have to peddle, but you don’t even have to sit up straight while you’re doing it! You’re a lot closer to the ground, too, which means if you somehow topple over in a wave of exhaustion and triumph after winning the imaginary race program you chose, you don’t have that far to fall. Not to mention, the seat on the recumbent bike is a lot wider and 120% more forgiving to your ass than the stationary upright bike.

 7. Rowing Machine

The rowing machine requires some strenuous, repetitive pulling and sitting your round ass onto a tiny square seat with no cushion or support for your back. To put this into layman’s terms, imagine you’re sitting on a tiny barstool seat (the kind that makes it clear the bar owner was quickly running out of money) with your legs up pulling a retractable rope that’s coming through a vat of drying cement. The rowing machine is a tough one, because if you don’t sit up straight, you may fall off. The only way to make this one enjoyable is to use your imagination. Is singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” enough? What about pretending to be the Winklevoss twins (especially in that one scene in The Social Network)?

 6. Upright Stationary Bike

The one good thing about the stationary bike is that you don’t have to balance or look out for murderous drivers like you would on a real bike. Sadly, that’s the extent of the “pros” list for this one. Unlike the recumbent bike, you’ll need to do more seat and handlebar height adjustments, and only 2 out of 10 people manage to gracefully climb aboard (and dismount) an exercise bike. Chances are, you are not one of them. The seat will always cause a dull, gnawing pain as your butt fat tries to morph around in search of more surface area to rest upon. When you’ve finally had enough, the embarrassing walk you’ll do will look as though you just finished riding a bull instead of pedaling to nowhere for the past ten minutes.

 5. Treadmill

Any machine that has an emergency stop button and tells you your heart rate should be taken seriously. The treadmill has a variety of workout options, inclines, and speeds that–if not selected carefully–could end with you being launched backward at a considerable velocity like a cartoon character. Except there won’t be any little birds flying around your head afterwards; instead, the three-time marathon runner a few treadmills down will rush to your aid, and you’ll probably pee your pants or something. Even if you’re just using it to walk, the treadmill is always, first a foremost, a conveyor belt of death we’ve devised to burn calories. Approach with caution.

 4. Elliptical

It goes without saying the elliptical is difficult. You can’t go to the gym and not see at least one sweaty person who looks like they may simply cease to be on this machine. The elliptical is what happened when some sadist asked the question, “How can we combine walking, riding a bike, and moving your arms?” The answer is this menacing, redesigned hamster wheel that tortures the parts of your body you’d least like to be sore for hours afterwards.

 3. Incline Elliptical

“Wait, didn’t we cover elliptical?” Yes, but the world of elliptical machines is a diverse one, and even though you’ve probably seen commercials for the Kilimanjaro Kangaroo Runner and Climber, most ellipticals could be divided into two main categories: the regular kind whose stride follows the usual round, elliptical motion with an intensity that can be adjusted and the kind that incorporate an incline setting in addition to the adjustable intensity. If you’re not familiar with this, imagine pedaling an elliptical uphill while your legs are permanently underwater. The incline elliptical is considerably more difficult than your average elliptical machine.

 2. Stairmaster

Since “Stairmaster” is a brand name, let’s clarify what we’re talking about specifically here. The Stairmaster is the tall, foreboding machine from which a tiny staircase rolls out continuously, forever, until the end of time. Just climbing up this thing is a workout in itself, and it only downhill from there. Some manner of profanity comes to mind every 20 seconds you spend on the Stairmaster. You’ll contemplate death at least every two minutes. There is nothing easy about the Stairmaster. It is hard. It is horrible. It will likely break you.

 1. Step Climber

The step climber is the brainchild of a group of people who thought the Stairmaster was simply not enough. Climb a tiny staircase rolling out from a machine? Too easy! Let’s get rid of all that and install pedals so the user has to do even more work! Step climbers are harder than the Stairmaster because you have to figure out the right momentum that keeps the pedals from touching the top or the bottom of the machine. It’s surprisingly a lot harder than just climbing up stairs, because you’re constantly. doing, work. The only “rest” period is if you climb more slowly, but even then you’re still climbing. Hands down, it’s the worst.

Obviously your own personal preferences, past injuries, and fear factors will all play into which things at the gym gave you agita, so please don’t go blaming me if you somehow manage to break a hip using the yoga blocks or hop on the Stairmaster only to discover you find it a lot less challenging than the recumbent bike. (Just kidding, if you tell me the Stairmaster is easier for you than the recumbent bike, I’ll just know that you’re a liar.)

11 thoughts on “A Definitive Horribleness Ranking of Common Gym Equipment

  1. As a reformed gym-phobic who has battled most of the above mentioned torture devices, I found this post hilarious. Particularly the reference to yoga blocks as a tool for hiding from the CrossFit acolytes.

  2. Oh my, yes. I have often noticed the similarity between yoga mats and kindergarten nap carpets. I do think that it is harder to fall off an eliptical than the treadmill. Also, all of this would be a lot less worse if it weren’t for the inevitable Boys (crossfit and not) who insist on picking up weights that are clearly to heavy for them since they insist on dropping them. Loudly. Idjits.

  3. I’m recently started using a gym and just the site of the stairmaster terrifies me!! I’ve pretty much been sticking to the basics…treadmill, and a few simple weight machines. It’s so true that going to the gym is crazy intimidating…I feel like everyone is watching me as I make my way from the locker room to the equipment. But, in reality, everyone’s just focused on their own sweat and pain, and I realize that as soon as I start my workout. Some of the weight machines still intimidate me, though. But, that’s ok. I’m a newby. I’ll get there…hopefully. Maybe.

  4. Nice summation. I do the elliptical then do a bit on the bike. It’s a beast of a workout but currently I burn about 400 calories in 40 minutes. Not bad. That stair master looks easy enough until watching someone get on it for a few minutes. They are sweating like crazy and panting. That sad truth is that I’ll have to get on that thing to train for climbing Mt. Fuji. Not looking forward to it…at …. all!

  5. P.S. The recumbent bike is good for people in physical therapy recovering and getting their strength back with low impact. Don’t rule it out, it has it’s uses.

  6. “Also, studies from the Overzealous Fitness Lovers Guild show that the step platform made over 45% of users overestimate their stepping and jumping abilities.”

    Ha ha! Can totally relate to this highly scientific study. 😉 Seriously! I’m not a good jumper. Nor are most people at the gym…

    The medicine ball is actually quite horrible for me. Everytime I do this ball throwing exercise thingy with it, my hair goes all electric, resulting in people getting small electrical shocks when passing by or touching me. Like my PT has to do. Touch me. And become slightly electrified. So yes, the gym is a frickin’ place of torture instruments!

    Also: my gym recently got a step climber. I haven’t dared using it yet. It looks like danger and possibly even death.

  7. Laughed so hard at building a yoga block barrier to keep the CrossFit cult out that I snorted.

    How would you classify the ARC trainer? My girlfriend and I used to call it “The Machine of Death.” Till someone died on it and we felt horrible. So horrible we turned it into an acronym and never referred to it in anything but solemn whispers.

    1. So, the gym I’m a member at doesn’t have an ARC trainer, and after Googling, I know why. Most of the people who are members at my gym are 45+ and well, given your nickname, it probably wouldn’t bode well for those with the knee replacements.

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