Further Thoughts on the Gym

Further Thoughts on the Gym

If gym talk is boring to you (it is to many) go ahead and skip.  Though it’s not too long a post :)

Yes, I go to a gym to weight train.  And though I’m sure this declaration will bring out all the lurkers from the WisCon/Rachel Moss thing (who left such inspiring comments as: you fatty fat ni**er, you’re fat!  Yes, literally) to point and exclaim that since I am going to a gym this is proof I totally know how fat and disgusting I am, I can’t bring myself to care.  I find it a little sad and a little scary that there are people out there completely convinced that I and anyone else who is not a twig (correction, any other WOMAN who is not a twig) must truly hate ourselves and know deep down that being big makes us awful people.

This is one of the things I discovered from that particular set of trolls.  80% of the comments they left were very similar to the one above.  They boiled down to: you’re fat and you’re black.  As if these two things were something I was meant to be deeply ashamed of.  I feel slightly sorry for people who think such things, because I have a feeling that, if the commenters are women, they actually feel that way about themselves.  And if they are men, they feel that way about someone who loves them (and possibly themselves). I can’t feel too sorry for them, though, because they’re racists.

Anyway!  That was tangental.  But not completely.  Because whenever I go to the gym and look around me, I try to suss out if the women who are running so hard or cycling so long or doing those ab crunches or leg presses are doing all that because it makes them feel good or because they hate themselves.

The gym I go to is supposedly a “No Judgment Zone” and discourages weightlifting (which is different from strength training) and competition.  I don’t know if the gym’s policy makes that much difference, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable or inadequate or that anyone was paying particular attention to me and how I look.  People seem to be there to do their own thing.  And if they feel anything close to what I feel when I’m on the bike or doing a machine, they feel pretty good about themselves.

I get a nice sense of accomplishment when I get to the end of a 30 minute cardio program or do that 10th rep.  I feel really good when I stretch at the end of a workout.  Even the aches the next day make me feel good, because they’re proof that my body is changing, getting stronger, and that much closer to being able to kick ass.

But there are times when I am on the treadmill and I think — jeez, what a bourgeois activity this is, walking in place for an hour.  I’ve read a lot of books on how to lift weights correctly and walk correctly and stretch correctly, but people have been in shape for many thousands (perhaps millions) of years without needing a book to show one the absolute correct posture.  Not to mention that I am spending money for the privilege of walking in place for an hour, or spinning my legs on something that tells me I have gone 8 miles when I actually haven’t.

And of course I know that, in the past, humans had very different lives that led to being muscular or able to run fast and far and such things.  But looking at all the ways and tools we have now to help us get in shape, I sometimes feel like: how did we ever manage before?

The other week on CNN, Dr. Sanjay was talking about a recent poll or study released that showed most Americans knew that certain activities and lifestyles helped prevent cancer — like exercise and eating a balanced diet — but didn’t do those things, regardless.  64% or so said that they didn’t go to the gym because memberships are too expensive.  I feel that!

My gym is pretty cheap — $16/month — and has a level below mine.  Most gyms are over $60/month, some over $100.  That’s a lot of money to lay down each month to walk in place.  And the less disposable income you have, the less likely you are to spend it on a luxury.  (You’re also less likely to eat foods that are good for you because, haha, those foods are usually more expensive.)

Exercise has become such a business that it looks like an expensive prospect, even without a gym.  Getting the right weights in the right increments or getting the right shoes for walking or running (I spent 2 hours in a sporting goods store yesterday just trying on shoes, looking for ones that would support my arch correctly, gah!), getting the right matt for Yoga, the right DVD for Pilates, the right this or that or another.  No aspect of fitness is safe from people trying to convince you that it can’t be done right without 3 – 6 tools. Tools that aren’t cheap.

There are times that I wish that my PE classes had actually been an education in being physical instead of a chance to make me feel horrible and have kids who hated me throw really hard rubber balls my way.  Why don’t PE teachers teach kids the correct way to stretch?  Or how to gain more flexibility?  Or how to properly lift weights, or walk correctly, or how to test and improve balance?  These would have been useful in my youth.  I know that some schools do this — usually rich, suburban schools.  It all comes back to money again.

I just want to scream and shake people, you know?  You don’t need to spend a lot of money to be in shape, but you do need to spend some time showing people how that works.  Everyone is so worried about us being fat?  About kids getting diabetes?  Make PE useful and not just about playing sports.  Make Health class about learning what foods do to your body, not just a semester-long tourure session in which people blather on about how you shouldn’t be having sex.

De-monetize the fitness industry and show people 10 free things they can do to improve their bodies.  Tell Jenny Craig to jump off a cliff, because no matter what you eat in what quantities, it all comes down to this: If you sit around all day and don’t move your body — whether by walking, jogging, dancing, playing with your kids, wrestling with your dog, chasing after your cat — you will not lose weight for real.  If you starve yourself, your body will not like it.  If you deny yourself, your mind will rebel.  If you allow yourself to have a variety of good things in moderation, sugar and fat included, you will be healthy and happy and look the way you want.

Okay, I lied, that WAS long.  Sorry.

11 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on the Gym

  1. I would imagine PE teachers don’t teach weight training because it’s still somewhat controversial as to whether it’s good for bodies that have not yet stopped growing to engage in weight training. Although obviously football players and others who engaged in sports are doing it at earlier and earlier ages. And because there are more liability issues because it’s potentially dangerous in terms of accidents.

    Stretching is actually an interesting subject because some trainers believe the normal kind of stretching before more intensive exercise can be bad for you unless it engages the whole body. I have seen studies showing that stretching *after* exercise is perhaps better for you.

    There are tons of sites on the internet that show how to do strength training just using your own body weight. Which costs nothing.

    Regardless, I think weight training (whether with your own weight or not) gives you more bang for your buck than straight cardio, especially if you do circuit training where you can up your heart rate by doing several different weight training sets one right after each other. Also, cardio doesn’t actually burn calories for that long after you do it, whereas lifting weights tends to extend the effect of upping your metabolism. This is especially important, I think, for people who are in relatively sedentary lifestyles–like writers. Longevity of career is directly related to alertness, physical fitness, etc., to counterbalance the effects of aging. There’s also obviously the effect exercise has on combatting things like depression, to which writers, for whatever reason, seem more inclined to indulge in/succumb to.

    Body fat isn’t really as important as amount of lean muscle mass. And many people are more concerned with toning their bodies and making their muscles “look good” than in actually building strength, although the two are not mutually exclusive.

    On another note, I don’t think anyone is such an acute observer of human behavior that they can suss out the motivation for why someone is in the gym. Short of an interview and a transcript from a psychiatrist’s couch. That is why we have fiction!


    1. I once read somewhere that weight training using one’s own body weight wasn’t effective, but I can’t remember if they were talking about toning muscle or doing bodybuilding, which is different. I would assume it’s the latter, though, if such a thing is true.

      And though I obviously can’t read the minds of the people at the gym, I think a good observer can tell the difference between preening and not ;) After all, there’s a whole separate gym culture of “no judgment”, which indicates that it’s possible to tell when you’re being judged or judgmental. It’s a lot of why some people feel very uncomfortable going to gyms – if you’re surrounded by people more interested in looking better than the people around them than concentrating on their own stuff, that’s no fun!

  2. When I was a kid, PE had a lot of non-sporting activities. Our school district had a set of 50 or so roller skates that got traded around, and I think the PE teachers knew that everybody wanted to play on roller skating day.

    Even on the level of sports though, there’s a lot of improvement that could be done. There are youth leagues in every community, and they’re all the same. IE: Overrun with annoying parents who think that if they scream obscenities at the coach and their little future basketball star gets to play as much as they want all the time, that it will mean a future career or something. Heck, I remember being EIGHT and not given the same amount of game time in the community youth league, or even being allowed to play anything but defense because I wasn’t good or fast enough. My mother tried to alleviate this by coaching one year, and the only stats she kept were playing time so that all the kids (whose parents paid the exact same amount to the league) got to play. Yeah, and she got bitched out by other parents for it, too, because sparklepants basketball genius future varsity team whizzkid was whining about sitting on the bench for 10 minutes a game.

    I get annoyed by the apparent inability of Americans to accept physical activity as a HOBBY. Oh, I don’t know, maybe their kids don’t want to be a star soccer player, maybe they just want to run around and get grass stains and mud on their socks.

  3. “There are times that I wish that my PE classes had actually been an education in being physical instead of a chance to make me feel horrible and have kids who hated me throw really hard rubber balls my way.”

    Oh, yeah.

    I just sent that to the PE college prof (and former nun) in Kalamazoo, whose class Delia & I lectured on Diversity last year . . . One gym at a time. We will make a difference!

    Bless you.

  4. Re: fat and black as an insult, I think it says a lot about western values and pretty much embodies all the stuff that’s been said lately about racialized perceptions of fatness. I cant bring myself to feel sorry for people who use it as an insult. It does rather make me want to mock them in proportion to how little they personally resemble Brad Pitt in Troy, because they never do.

    I’ve been lucky as an adult, I’ve been able to have fantastic teachers and trainers for my for martial arts training, weightlifting, etc. I think what is particularly important for large women who are just starting physical activity is to get bodywork as well– some sort of massage therapy is important if its available.

  5. I personally can’t stand gyms. Even when I joined the Y and had unlimited classes I never went. I definitely feel you on the “paying to walk in place” ridiculousness. Now I just do hiking, water ballet, and Brazilian percussion. I think maybe some of that is aerobic or muscular. ;)

    But yeah the outdoors is out there. You don’t even need an REI membership. You just need two feet, maybe some shoes.

  6. I think if gyms were cheaper, I’d go to one. PE class was something I dreaded, because I didn’t realise I had a birth defect in my legs, just that I couldn’t run like the other kids did. I felt slow, and with my undiagnosed ADD and Delexia, stupid…not a good combo.

    When I went to the creative arts school I no longer had to take PE, I was a theatre and DANCE major. That as great. I still wish I could afford a dance class on a regular basis. Right now I have to depend on the taped kind.

    And for the record Tempest…I think you are a beautiful amazon woman.

  7. OH, and – I didn’t go to a rich suburban school. I went to a poor inner city school for much of my early education, possibly one of five white kids in the whole school.

    And all joking aside, the PE teachers actually rocked; it was up to the students to take advantage of what they had to teach.

  8. I do believe that it was wrestling woolly mammoths that kept our ancestors in tip-top shape and looking hot in sabre-tooth Spandex. I may be wrong about this, however…


    At my PE class in grade school and high school, it was all about runningfortheloveofgodalwaysrunning!!!

    And then the subsequent barfing, because PE was after lunch.

    I learned to hate forward motion after that.

    Hate treadmills; love ellipticals.

    I REALLY LOVE weight-lifting, however. It just feels good.

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