On Fitness

I recently joined a gym. It’s the kind with two-toned pictures of fit people painted enormously on the walls and motivational music blasting through the sound system. It’s new and all the machines work and I’ve never had to wait for anything and everybody is pretty polite. It’s not the kind of scene I imagined, with muscle-bound men trying to pick up sweaty females. It’s not even terribly competitive. I am not self conscious there, lifting my puny weights, and I don’t feel judged by the guys who lift ten times that amount.  People are generally considerate of one another. I find it kind of inspiring the way the muscle-bound guy will lean over to encourage the middle-aged flabby guy who is trying to figure out a piece of equipment.

But there is something I’ve noticed about men in general, thought not true of all men, it is true of a lot of men, of all ages and cultural backgrounds (the LA Fitness in Brooklyn Center is a melting pot). It may be true of some women, too, but I mostly see men doing this.

It’s this thing where whatever a guy is doing, running on the treadmill or lifting weights or whatever, he wants to do it all at once and to the max, without a warm up or any casual self-assessment of his ability. Some guys have no inclination to start off at a quick walk, and then pick it up to a jog, and then gradually speed up the treadmill. Not, there are a lot of dudes get on a treadmill, immediately ramp up all the settings so they are attempting to run 10 miles per hour on a ten percent grade and then last for about two minutes before they move their feet to the sides and stand, panting, while the belt roars along between their legs. (I wonder if they post their finishing time and distance to Twitter and Facebook, even though it’s really a measure of how long and far the belt moved and not how long and far the feet traveled.)

The same guys spend more time bracing themselves for a go at the barbells than they do lifting. They load up the sides, then pace around the bench, giving themselves a muttered motivational speech, before finally lying down and straining for a few reps before they get up again and flex in front of a mirror. I think the stupidity about what one can accomplish also translates to what one has accomplished, because I see a lot of guys in an out of the gym in ten minutes. They hit the sauna and the showers after barely breaking a sweat. I guess as long as they can say “Went to the gym! Worked out!” they are satisfied. (I also suspect they’re the first to stop coming to the gym at all before long.)

On the more dangerous side, I saw a guy who’d clearly overextended himself staggering around in the locker room, heaving and gasping, and I wondered seriously if I should alert staff to a potential medical emergency. He was clearly not ready for whatever he’d attempted.

It  may have to do with people having seen too many sports movies and trying to rush through a “getting in shape for the big fight” montage instead of settling in for a long, patient run/lift/climb/cycle/elliptication. It may be the “just do it” aspect of our culture that shames people for insecurity, however wise and well-informed it is. Our culture over-champions ambition and under-values patience; over-rates confidence and under-rates character.

Sometimes I want to pause my own treadmill and go tell a guy to take it easy — accomplish something today, and live to run another day. But  I figure the odds are against the guy taking my advice and I don’t want to be the new cardio-convert equivalent of the muscle-bound guy giving me unsolicited advice in the weights area.



4 thoughts on “On Fitness

  1. Gym culture is very odd. I can picture every guy you’ve described here. The one thing you didn’t mention was what I call the Straight Guy Test. Not sure if that guy is gay? If he goes to the locker room after his workout, peels off any article of clothing AND THEN SNIFFS IT, he is straight. Gay men DO NOT DO THIS.

    (Not that you would ever need to employ this test. Just a sort of FYI. And I’m not saying ALL straight guys sniff their sweatacular garments. Point being that only a straight man will do it, if it’s in fact done.)

  2. If that’s all they’re doing, yes, they’re doing it wrong. But there is a role for that type of short, maximum effort workout. If you’re trying to bulk up muscles, increase your speed, you need that in your program.

    In running (and cycling), you’ll do speed work like fartleks or intervals: repeated maximum pace for short distances separated by short rest/recovery periods. And yes, after a good interval workout, you very well may feel like hurling.

    • Maybe so but Occam’s Razor is that they just don’t know what they’re doing. If I saw a guy doing intervals it would probably be clear that he had a plan and a purpose.

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