Archive for the ‘gym’ Category

Once every decade or two, something I am into becomes popular. The situation is rare enough that I am still recovering from my chagrin when the local TV news used The Pogues’ “Fairy Tale of New York” as background music to an account of a dinner for the homeless a decade ago and from everyone knowing the plot of The Lord of the Rings when the movies were released. But by far my most frequent moments of unintentional trendiness and the resulting breakup of my routine revolve around exercise.

Since I’m built like a cement mixer, you might not realize by looking at me, but I have been a regular exerciser all my teen and adult years. Any day in which I don’t burn a minimum of seven hundred calories running, swimming, or cycling, I count as a slack day. I’m the sort you see doggedly jogging in a snow storm, or being unfashionably sweaty at one end of the gym. I consider exercise a necessary balance to all my hours at the keyboard, and a form of meditation besides. Unlike many people, I like exercise, and the heavier the better.

The trouble is, people are always discovering exercise. That means that the shoes I need periodically sprout velcro buckles and thick tread more suitable for a tank, or blossom in outlandish colors – anything so that their prices can double. Functional sweat tops disappear, replaced by tailored suits made of synthetic fibers that cause me to break out in a rash, and the gyms are always crowded in the first few weeks of January until the newcomers find the courage to break their New Year’s resolutions (much to everybody’s relief).

All this is superfluously annoying when all I want is ankle and arch support in my shoes, natural fabric, logo-free gear and a quiet place to sweat. But, this time, the fashionistas have gone too far. Noticing the popularity of basketball among males under twenty five, the sports stores have decided that all they need to carry for any sort of exercise is basketball shorts – baggy shorts that fall to the knees, and that generally amount to free advertising for an American team.

The least of my problems with the stores only selling basketball shorts is that I look ridiculous in them. Most of my height is in my torso, and I’m considerably below two meters tall. Wearing basketball shorts, I only look like a kid who’s growing too quickly for the length of his trousers. That’s how I feel, too.

But what I really object to is that basketball shorts are completely unsuited to strenuous exercise (and, for all I know, that includes basketball). They might be barely tolerable for the genteel weight-lifting that most of the men at the gym do, in which ten reps are followed by twenty minutes of conversation. But on the pavement or on the saddle of a bike, nothing is more unsuitable.

When I’m working up a sweat, I want my legs as unencumbered as possible. I don’t want them tangling in folds of loose fabric that bind them and prevent them moving freely. That is almost as bad as wearing sweat pants while doing strenuous exercise.

Yet because of the whims of fashion, a day is fast approaching when I won’t have the simple clothes I need to continue doing what I’ve done for decades. Within a few months, unless I abandon exercising altogether, I’ll be forced to choose between three unsatisfactory alternatives: wearing what’s easily available and feeling confined and uncomfortable; shortening a pair of shorts with one of my unsatisfactory hemming jobs (assuming that the synthetic fabric allows me to do that), or else ordering pairs of rugby shorts online and enduring the chafing of the thick material.

Probably, I’ll end up ordering the rugby shorts. But I resent having to make the extra effort simply because trendiness has touched down like a tornado in an area that I happen to frequent. My best hope is that it will move on before my present crop of shorts falls apart, and I can go back to being unfashionable for another ten years.

Read Full Post »

For me, exercise has always been simple. However, as I glance around at other people at the gym, I realize that I am very much in the minority – just as much as I am in my taste in music, reading, and art.

To start with, I still wear much the same as I did when I first started running daily in my teens. Since I’ve suffered my share of leg and foot injuries, I insist on a pair of running shoes with firm heel support, but often the best model of shoe is far from the most expensive. Otherwise, any old T-shirt, and a pair of shorts (not too long), and I’m off in the summer. In colder weather, I add a sweat top and a rain jacket, and for a week or two in December and January some sweatpants, and that’s all.

In contrast, you’d think that the people at the gym were auditioning to be models. It sometimes seems that every piece of clothing they wear is festooned with logos. Almost all of them have succumbed to fashion and sale clerks, and bought a pair of shoes that would be more suitable for triathalons than the half an hour of genteel puffing over repetitions on the weights.

Since I started going to the gym, I’v also taken to carrying a towel, because gym rules and common courtesy demand that I wipe off the machines after I use them (even I find the amounf of sweat I generate disgusting). Everyone else, though, carries more excess baggage than the Franklin expedition. iPods are especially popular, although the ear buds are forever getting tangled, sometimes with the equipment.

Everyone, too, carries a water bottle, carefully sipping from it every five minutes as though they are in the middle of traversing the desert. I have actually heard personal trainers warning people in their mid-twenties that regular hydration is a basic necessity. If I were more insecure, I’d wonder if I had been doing the wrong thing all these years, not drinking until the end of my exercise except at the height of summer. As things are, I suppose I’ll muddle along the same as ever. I mean, silly me – I’ve always maintained that eating or drinking very much during exercise only leads to cramps, because the body isn’t used to digesting and exercising at the same time.

What’s happened to exercise, I suppose, is that it has become popular, and overwhelmed by consumerism. But, to my jaundiced eye, people respond to the consumerism because it feeds their self-importance. Just hitting the pavement or the gym would lack glamour, and put them face to face with what they consider tedium.

So, instead, they surround their exercise with minute details of accessories and ritual. Just as some people seem incapable of hoisting a dumb bell with grunts and twisted tormented faces that make you think that the Spanish Inquisition has come to town (all unexpected), they are incapable of doing without their accessories and constantly fiddling with them.

It all seems to me a way of injecting drama into what would otherwise be dull routine (I must drink, or I will collapse!), and it all makes me, for whom exercise is a kind of meditation, feel simple and unimaginative.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »