Anyone who keeps tabs on me will know that about three years ago I started running and by winter of 2009 had lost forty pounds. I’ve kept all this up, but for all the work I was doing I felt I just needed an extra edge. I was working too hard to be yet a little over weight, so I bit the bullet and joined a gym.
My gym includes people of all kinds; it’s not the place for an uber-serious bodybuilder. We say that modern men are not superstitious, but one finds evidence of a belief in mystery at my gym. Anyone who is serious about getting in better shape agrees with the physicist that F=ma, but many of the people at my gym believe that a kind of magic reigns, as if going to the gym is like visiting Lourdes, the Fountain of Youth, or the nudie bar.
I have struggled to keep a straight face while witnessing some of this. Old women lay on the ab machines, half-asleep, as if mere contact with the sweat-stained rubber will give them the torso of Michael Phelps. This while the F=ma crowd paces about nervously, waiting for machines and wondering how fast their heart rates are going to plunge. At other times I’ve seen people young enough to do better walk on a treadmill at some glacial pace for thirty minutes and burn a whopping 150 calories. At that rate they’d be better off skipping the extra cafe latte and staying home and doing something they enjoy, since exercise is obviously indulged half-heartedly. The elderly recovering from surgeries and heart attacks is one thing; the lazy middle-aged is another.
Nevertheless, it’s not just the lackadaisical who provide the entertainment. Just the other day I watched some guy do eight reps on the bench press and then get up and stretch his right leg. More common is the mistake of jerking the weights around. My joints hurt just watching it. One of the disadvantages of being young is that your body doesn’t impose discipline for such infractions, and so the young do this disproportionately.
A few years ago I saw an article which essentially asserted that exercise makes you fat. This is, of course, ridiculous, but only if you know what you’re doing. Running six miles isn’t even enough to burn off most donuts. A lot of people assume otherwise, however, and so, after burning their whopping 150 calories on a treadmill, I suspect they head home to eat like pigs while watching rubbish on the idiot box. (Many idiot boxes—or, if you prefer, booboisie tubes—are available at the gym, too, since most people can’t stand the thought of being outside the matrix for more than a few minutes.) Maybe this explains why so many of the people at the gym are downright fat, along with why that stupid article was written in the first place.
I looked around at all this one day and had a sudden vision of Roman vomitoriums. Are these people here just so they can eat more? Are they attempting to be thin without giving up even the worst of their eating habits? Would all cultures in all times consider vomitoriums to be grosser than gigantic sweat-holes? I’m skeptical, especially since I’ve been frequently surrounded by the hygienically-impaired. I won’t go further into detail, for fear of anesthetizing the reader.
If you want to go to a gym, and if you want to make real progress, there is one place you can go: the free weights. By its nature, this section is limited mostly to people who know what they’re doing. Most of the members at my gym would be afraid to pick up a fifteen pound dumbbell, so it’s a perfectly safe place to go. Anyone in that section means business and knows you mean business, too. Get in, work out, get out. The shared ambition even increases cooperation. There are no fat people taking naps on the benches.
If jaw exercise were as beneficial as using a gazelle, I suppose America would be the fittest country in the world. We love to talk about fitness, to admire supermodels, and to buy gym memberships and eat fat free food-like substances. But something is obviously wrong, since such a small portion of our society is actually in good shape. I am afraid that physical fitness is a fad that will pass away, a good wave for smart businessmen to ride until people realize they’re not accomplishing anything, and give up, sliding down Mencken’s proverbial greased pole. Golf is easier. I only hope that when that day comes, there will still be a place for me to work out.