Archive for June 8th, 2008

When I was running cross-country in high school, my coach was blunt and unpretentious. One boy who briefly tried out of the team kept talking to him about getting his second wind (whether because he hoped to reach that mythical state or for some other reason, I could never figure out). But I used to be embarrassed for him, because I knew the coach was to straightforward to talk in such elevated terms. In his view, you just ran – you didn’t talk about it. I must have absorbed some of the coach’s matter-of-factness, because when I see how some people at the gym try to elevate the simple act of exercise, the same feeling of embarrassment on their behalf floods over me.

The self-aggrandizement starts with their clothing. Naturally, exercisers need a pair of shoes that will give them support, and at least a sweat suit for warmth and dryness. However, these needs are simply met. For all the exercise most people do, they can probably find an adequate pair of shoes for under $100. If they find a sale, they might get away with as little as $50. But, to hear people at the gym talk, anything less than a $200 pair of shoes, and they’re risking crippling themselves for life.

The same goes for shorts, T-shirts, and everything else that they’re wearing. Never mind that they are lifting weights, or only spending twenty minutes on the treadmill. They talk as though they’re planning an Arctic expedition, and one false economy will leave them to suffer the fate of Franklin.

In the same way, I notice that nobody can undertake a workout nowadays without a water bottle. I even hear the trainers who give personal sessions at the gym solemnly warn people never to exercise without their water bottles nearby, and to take a sip every ten minutes or so. You’d think they were planning to run a marathon across Death Valley in the middle of a summer afternoon.

All of which leaves me, whose workout lasts an hour and ends with a few sips of water before I jog home, more than a little amused.

But the worst are the grunters. You know the ones I mean: The ones who are unable to lift the lightest weights without providing their own soundtracks of agonies. Typically, they stand in front of the mirror, motionless for a minute, then heave their weights towards the ceiling, contorting their faces and grunting or moaning as if they just pulled a leg muscle. Apparently, they claim that their noises are the equivalent of a war-cry, and helping them to focus their energies.

Maybe. But I’d be far less skeptical if they were lifting a hundred kilograms rather than twenty.

What all these behaviors have in common is that they take the very simple act of exercise and try to make it more dramatic. In the process, the people who indulge in these behaviors make themselves and their actions feel more significant.

Personally, I always wonder: Why can’t they just get on with their exercise? They won’t have a better workout for any of these behaviors, and they probably won’t impress anyone who overhears them, either.

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