I joined a gym. That may sound simple and straightforward, but it is not. For one thing, it required prior research. I visited the gym twice to look around before speaking to the gym manager. I checked out what women wear to the gym. I’m not sure I want to be seen in public in standard gymwear. I also do not know exactly what standard gymwear is. But I have a vague understanding of standard gymwear and I do not own any of it. I contemplated working out at the gym in a muumuu dress. But the fear of having my muumuu hem get stuck in a piece of exercise equipment ended that contemplation. Imagine if Isadora Duncan had been a fitness fanatic and had died by having her scarf catch in the rowing machine (for those of you who don’t know, dancer Isadora died when her silk scarf caught in the open-spoked wheel of a car and broke her neck). What to wear to the gym is one of those mind-boggling chicken-and-the-egg problems. You have to work out for a few months to look good in gymwear. But then what do you wear to work out until you look good in gymwear? Definitely not something that can flap its way into a machine, get tangled, and break my neck.
I decided that I will wear leggings and a babydoll top to the gym. That done, I approached the gym manager, Nina, to ask a few questions before making a firm commitment. Nina gave me a tour of the facility. Nina’s enthusiasm exceeded that of a golden retriever on a tennis court filled with bouncy balls. She could have pursued a successful career as a prize-stroker. Clearly fond of the shiny gym equipment, she fondled the machines lovingly while explaining to me which part of my body would be stretched, kneaded, pummeled, aggravated, strengthened, pursued, bended, folded, mutilated, and emusculated (spellchecker wants to change that word to emasculated but I won’t allow it) by which machine. I asked Nina which machine would improve my abdominal muscles. She led me to a vinyl bench. “You lie down on your back on this and you do sit-ups,” she explained. That sounded a lot like something I could do on the floor of my bedroom without paying for the privilege of putting on my well-plotted gym outfit and doing sit-ups in public. The vinyl sit-up bench has handles hovering over it, so I’m guessing there must be some kind of enhanced sit-up I can do on it. Maybe, if the handles are automated, I can do a mechanical sit-up. Or maybe the bench will do the sit-ups for me and I won’t have to do anything at all. Nice.
Nina informed me that if I joined the gym I would get a free one-hour session with a personal trainer who would show me how to use the equipment that corresponds to the body part that I want to work on toning, defining, firming, flattening, and emusculating. She had me at personal trainer—that’s when I knew I would join. When I emailed my daughter later to tell her I had a date with a personal trainer, she replied with horror, “MOM, it’s not a date, it’s a sesh.” Oops. My daughter prevented me from making a terrible faux-pas by, say, posting on Facebook that I had a date with a personal trainer; which might lead people to think I am getting a divorce so I can run off to Aruba with a guy in turquoise spandex. Nothing is further from the truth. It’s just a sesh, folks. I’m having a midlife sesh. (With Cindy, who I don’t think is a guy.)
The contemporary gym experience includes a surprising level of digital technology. The treadmills, electric bicycles, and ski machines light up like an arcade and have screens that allow you to watch TV programs and videos of scenery flying by to simulate an outdoor experience. It could be amusing to run scenery of tropical beaches whizzing by while on the ski machine. The workout machines also have lots of pretty lights in all different colors in case you want to develop epilepsy or blindness. I tried out a strength-training machine that works the legs and arms. It had more numbers beeping and changing on the readouts than you would find on an AP Calculus exam. If I knew how to interpret them, the numbers would tell me my heart rate, life expectancy, IQ, number of red blood cells in my body, blood pressure, checking account balance, how many blueberries to put in my breakfast yogurt, dermatologist’s phone number, shoe size, car odometer reading, and approximate calories in the image of a slice of carrot cake that keeps popping into my head lately.
When Nina told me that I could attend a weekly High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) class at no extra cost with my membership, I asked where to sign. I have been wanting to learn more about HIIT. Never mind that the room in which the HIIT class was taught resembled a torture chamber, with straps hanging from the ceiling, metal weights as big as my car lined up on racks, ropes, mirrors, whips, chains, a cardboard cutout of a dominatrix, and a hologram of a large scary dog wearing a spiked collar and baring its teeth. The room also had adorable exercise balls in every size and color. Pretty. I think I could lift the exercise balls and that would give me a nice stretch.
So I joined the gym. My first set of exercises consisted of filling out the membership forms. I enjoyed this quite a bit since Nina wanted to tell me about her garden and did so in great detail while I completed the forms. Since I am an avid gardener, I was genuinely interested in Nina’s monologue. I was tempted to hire her to tell me about her garden while I was using the equipment. She was so upbeat and perky that I finally poked her arm to see if she was a hologram. She wasn’t. She is simply a woman with a backyard full of salad. I already eat salad for lunch every day, but I might start eating salad for breakfast too to see if it can make me as perky-happy as Nina. By-the-way, she has a marvelous ponytale.
One of the things I like the most about my new gym is the purple plastic “key” I now have on my keychain. If I wave the purple key thingy in front of the keypad on the door to the gym, it will open to me at any time of the night or day. So if I am possessed by a mad urge to watch a workout video at three in the morning, I can run over to the gym and do it. At that hour, I could probably use the rowing machine in my nightgown because no one else would be there. I could sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” while rowing in my nightgown. That’s a concept. I wonder if the key will also open my bottle of mouthwash with the childproof top that’s also relatively adult-proof as well. (Must go wave the magic purple key around in the bathroom to find out.)
Why do I feel the need to join a gym? I’m a fairly active person with no significant health conditions. I don’t take any medications, I walk every morning, and I spend a lot of money on incredibly healthy food. I’m within the expected weight range for my height and age. So why the gym? My daughter, who goes to the gym religiously almost daily and looks terrific, has been on my case for a couple of years about strength training. And she’s right. I need to build more muscle mass and strengthen my “core.” I’m not sure what my core is, or where exactly in my body it is, but I know I need to strengthen it. I figure if I tell the personal trainer that I want a stronger core, she’ll lead me to a machine (maybe something called a corer?) that will reach deep into my soul and make my core impervious to any compromising element. That’s why I joined the gym. I want a super-good core. Then everyone will say about me that I’m super-good to the core.
This contraption looks pretty scary. If I entered it I’m not sure I’d ever find my way out.