Archive for April 21st, 2008

For me, exercise has always been a contemplative act. I usually exercise first thing in the morning, before I face other people and the day’s business, or at the end of the workday, when I’m trying to relax. Most of the time, I exercise solo, not just from preference but also because doing so is easier than trying to get schedules to mesh. All these reasons explain why, although I have just about become accustomed to mixing an exercise bike with street jogging, going to the exercise room at the nearby rec center, my pleasure from working out is lessened by the people around me.

Admittedly, I always enjoy people-watching. But the only way I can make using an exercise bike tolerable is to do interval workouts in which I go flat out for five minutes, then ease off for two. This sort of workout takes a certain kind of concentration, a slipping into the zone where the rhythms of the exercise take over and I can keep going without a conscious effort.

The constant radio and TV are distractions enough (and I’ll leave it to possible future blog entries to ask why both need to be on together, why background noise is assumed essential, or why classic rock stations never play the really classic rock, like Derek and the Dominos or Jimi Hendrix instead of mediocrities like Elton John or Chicago). But the people are often too much.

I suppose that the only way many people can exercise is by making the effort a social occasion. But, too often, it seems that people are doing far more chattering than exercising. Moreover – no doubt hardened from constant cell phone nattering, most of those working out carry on their private conversations as if they were alone.

I wouldn’t mind so much if their conversations were interesting. The rec center is less than five miles from a major university, so you’d think the odds would sometimes be in favor of a thoughtful remark or two. But the reality is more relentlessly banal. If it’s not housewives talking endlessly of half-baked dieting fads and what’s on Oprah, it’s male middle-managers replaying last night’s hockey game or trying to outdo each other by peppering their conversation with sports statistics. More than one exerciser spends three minutes talking for every one minute he exercises – and that’s on a good day.

But by far the worst are the teenage boys. For some reason, if you put the average teenage boy near anything to do with sports, he seems to instantly lose forty IQ points and to affect the hoarse, semi-articulate tones of a hockey announcer. Then, to make matters worse, they start throwing mock punches at each other and wrestling or kickboxing in the aisles, all the while talking relentless trivia.

Today, a group of teenage boys were carrying on in their usual way about a meter away from where I was wiping sweat from my forearms and brow and trying to psych myself up for my final interval. But, this time, the antics kept going much longer than usual, and I started to fume.

And it wasn’t just me. A couple of women regulars, who work as hard on their routines as I do on mine, couldn’t get around them to get to the weight rack. One of the women was jostled, and almost fell over a work bench.
Suddenly, I had had enough. I shouted at them to take their games outside and get out of everybody’s way.

For a moment, the boys looked startled. No doubt they were surprised that the middle-aged fogey could talk or have good enough eyes to see what they were doing. But one thing I’ve always noticed is that, the rare times I lose my temper, people don’t cross me. They muttered half-articulate apologies and I started my last interval, glad for the silence but also ashamed that I had turned angry.

The personal stresses of the last month had made me overly sensitive, I’m sure, but my outburst was troubling all the same, especially since I know that I’ll either have to learn to endure the conversation of those less dedicated to exercise or else find a place in our crowded townhouse for my own exercise bike.

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