On the Modern Gym Experience

30 08 2011

With mention of and pleas to various sub-groups of gym members.

For the gladiators working out was not an elective so much as it was “do this or die more quickly”. The Greeks worked out so that they could take home a crown made of deciduous vegetation. (Olympics anyone?) My grandparent’s generation engaged in physical activity if and only if they were in the military or owned a farm.

Something happened in the 1980’s though that changed our cultural perspective. For the last thirty years or so working out has been… well… cool. With a host of fitness and health oriented books, magazines, day-time talk show specials and reality tv shows we are now a culture of gym rats. The fact that 80% of people don’t know what to DO when they are at the gym is irrelevant. There’s always “standing around pretending to be mid-super set” or “getting a drink of water” or “listening to one’s iPod”. As a last ditch effort the confused can find a personal trainer who will guide them through the maze of equipment and activities.

I like to think of myself as part of that elite 20% who a)know what to do to use my gym time well and b) don’t shoot myself in the proverbial foot by eating crap ten minutes after a workout. And, since I’ve been working out and have had access to a personal trainer off and on for the last eight years, I am able to workout while simultaneously observing the idiosyncrasies of fellow gym members. Today during my intervals I composed the following mini letters to different groups of people I see at the gym.

Dear Middle Aged Men,
Way to go! Now is the time to get heart-healthy. Now is the time to learn to love anything from bicycling to kayaking to running. But please, don’t think that your newfound hobbies give you the right to wear spandex. Manly man shorts of appropriate length and volume would greatly enhance your manliness. Trust me.

Dear Overweight Ladies and Men,
Do you know who the most inspirational person in this building is right at this moment? Nope, it’s not that guy over there who was once an Olympic pole vaulter. Nope, not that lady who has been running on the treadmill for an hour without stopping or even breaking a sweat. The most inspirational person here is YOU! You are the one who conquered unknown numbers of insecurities, unhealthy habits, hatred of gym clothes, embarrassments and cruelties. YOU are the one who decided that you wanted to make a change. YOU are the one who SHOWS UP EVERY DAY. Well done! I doff my cap to you and thank you for being so amazing. Keep on keeping on.

Dear Teenage Boys,
Good habits start young. You are off to a good start if you are already making working out a daily part of your life. It will benefit you for years to come. That said, please do your research. Watching you lift improperly day after day after day is painful to me. Not to mention that you’re front-loading your muscles. Your pecs and biceps are admirable but your back is weak and your triceps must feel neglected. Read some books! Get a trainer! LEARN! Also, don’t waste my time. If you aren’t using a piece of equipment GET YOUR ASS OFF OF IT! Some of us have jobs and classes and life to get back to, I don’t have the leisure to watch you watch a football game while sitting on the bench I need. Also, last thing, please do not stare at that girl’s butt so obviously for so long. This is her gym too and she needs to feel safe and comfortable. You leering like she’s the porterhouse steak and you’re the hungry pit bull does not encourage her to spend time here.

Dear Young Women,
First, when you come to the gym make sure that your butt is fully covered and your boobs are contained. I know, I know, the men should not be staring at you in the first place but you are hardly making this easy on them. Feeling cute at the gym is important, I get it. I myself put effort into being both comfortable and cute when I’m going to pump iron. One cannot wear baggy sweats and a sweatshirt at the gym without passing out from heat stroke. But you can work your outfits so that you have maximum comfort with minimum distraction-potential. Oh, and dear dear girl, doing the stair master for an hour six days per week will not make you fit. Cardio alone will not cut it. Do some research and start lifting free weights. It’s the best way to protect your body, build bone density and see results. Just wait until you wake up one day and have triceps! It’s the best feeling ever.

Dear Old People,
I love you. I love your knee-high white socks and black tennis shoes. I love your sweat bands and your treadmill-walks and your awesomeness. Someday I hope to be just as cool as you.

Dear Suburban Moms,
I’m impressed. I thought all your people did was take yoga classes and meet your friends for coffee. Nice to see some bicep curls from your group. Come back soon and often!

Dear Me,
Don’t think you know everything. Remember that every person has a story and you don’t get to judge anyone. Ever. Also, do more push-ups. You were slacking today.

Dear People Who Don’t Go to the Gym,
You should. It’s a fascinating place to people watch. Besides which, “Exercise give you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” Thank you Elle Woods and thank you gym. It’s been a good day.

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10 responses

30 08 2011
Parsing Nonsense

Hi, Suburban Mom here 🙂 I rarely meet my friends for coffee and I never do yoga, though I’d love to. Maybe the suburban moms get to do that when their kids go off to school all day? Either that or there’s some secret club I’m missing out on with free, limitless childcare!

30 08 2011
Meghan

Hello Suburban girl. You are too young to be one of the people I was referring to so get back to me in ten years. 🙂

31 08 2011
idhrendur

It’s true, I should (go to the gym, that is).

And with an acquaintance of mine starting one soon, I just might start. Then again, maybe not, I’ve a habit of laziness (it’s one of the three programmers’ virtues, after all!)

6 09 2011
jareddiehl

It has been way too long that I have not taken a look at your blog, this truly makes me smile..way to go!

7 09 2011
Meghan

Thanks Jared! How are things with you?
(And idhrendur, there is no excuse for slack muscles! Someday the computers will take over and all you’ll have are your back muscles and a sledgehammer to fend off the coming apocalypse!)

8 09 2011
idhrendur

Actually, I’m far more likely to use a polearm, so the power would be coming from my legs, and…

Wait, are you using my love of post-apocalyptic scenarios to try to motivate me? Clever girl…

17 09 2011
Meghan

Well your legs won’t save you if the zombies attack your upper body only. And yes, I believe in using motivation where ever one can find it. Am I remembering correctly that you have familiarity with some sort of martial art? Or am I making up a backstory for you because you are a faceless, vaguely-named internet entity and I dislike vagaries…

3 10 2011
Idhrendur

I’ve been to both Tae Kwan Do and Brazillian Jiu Jitsu exactly once each. And I practiced with some SCA guys several times before getting injured. Thence my knowledge of polearms (incidentally, power from my legs, but I hit the head or torso. And yes, core and arms add even more power to the blow. But most of it is still from the lunge you take as you strike).

I do use the ninja schtick as much as possible, though. And somehow succeed in having everyone believe it.

As for vagaries, my internet name is pure Tolkien nerdry: idhren – Sindarin, ‘wise’ or ‘deep thinking’, -ndur – Quenya, ‘servant’. Any further dispelling is best done by following me on twitter (same name in use) or facebook (/stephen.may), or the new blog I’ll be creating soon.

29 12 2011
MeghanTheShorter

This is The.Best.Thing.EVER.

I have to be a better follower of your blog…and stop spending so much time annoying you via text. Forgive me, I beg!!!

31 01 2012
idhrendur

Having started going to the gym, I decided to reread this post to see if there was good advice for me. There’s, but it’s not your fault. See, I 1) have a trainer all the time, so I don’t foolishly exercise one set of muscles and use improper motions that’ll just hurt me, and 2) while I should be in category b near the top, I inherited a metabolism of doom and stay super-skinny when my lifestyle should have been flabby.

And given our conversation in the comments, I should mention that just tonight I mentally replaced me improvised weapon of choice. In dire need, instead of grabbing a mic stand, I will grab one of those bars for weight lifting. Or I will once I’ve developed enough strength to be confident of a good thrust with one.

Finally, random side note: that Greek habit of crowning someone with vegetation? The Greek word said vegetation is the source of my name.

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