Sunday, January 3, 2016

Resolve the Gym

When I joined the gym in August, my daughter warned me about January, when the gym becomes mobbed with people high on the fumes of their New Year’s resolutions. She reassured me that this is a temporary catastrophe. The treadmill frenzy purportedly winds down swiftly since most of the gung-ho exercise enthusiasts who had all good intentions of improving their health but no clue how to use the equipment pull enough muscles to prevent them from doing more damage to themselves by continuing to hog the workout machines, zooming on the Nordic Track at knee-torqueing volume. Throwing your back out offers a terrific excuse for abandoning a fitness campaign. I wonder how many people with fitness resolutions actually arrange for proper training on how to use the equipment safely before they launch into an exercise routine. (Oh, wow, a giant exercise ball, I think I’ll roll on this and bash my head on the floor.)

I admit that I’m selfish. I don’t want to share the equipment at my gym. I go to the gym in the middle of the afternoon on Thursdays and Sundays when two weightlifters, a woman on the treadmill wearing a sleeping baby in a sling, and the cleaning lady are the only ones there. I also attend a couple of classes each week, taught by a professional sports trainer with a perky ponytail and an impressive sneaker collection who always appears encased like a breakfast sausage in brightly-colored, shiny, synthetic fabric. I worry that one day one of the guys in the weightlifting area will have a lapse in mental acuity, go off the deep end, and take a bite out of my teacher’s delectable raspberry leg. She looks so tasty in spandex. But I digress.

I’m not looking forward to the influx of people at the gym this month. It frustrates me when I can’t do my usual routine, which involves cycling through a dozen strength-building weight machines that work arms, legs, and abs. I use each machine three times. (My teacher calls these “reps,” which is short for repetitions. It helps you get fit faster if you know the lingo. I lost five pounds in ten minutes when I started using the word “reps.”) But when other people are on my machines, I have to skip around and go back to the machines I missed. Making this adjustment requires more brain effort than I am prepared to encounter at the gym. And what if I approach a machine at the exact same moment as a new gym user? Will she hit me with a barbell to prevent me from jumping on the machine before she can get on it? I could conceivably wind up in a musical chairs for a seat on one of my machines if too many New Year’s resolvers turn up. This is not the kind of thing you want to have to stay awake pondering in the middle of the night.

People who go to my gym are often a little odd and I anticipate more oddities turning up this month. I can say that because I go to that gym and I’m a little odd. For instance, there’s a wispy dyed-blonde woman who wears terrific fancy workout clothes. She lifts one 2½-lb. barbell over her head with both hands for several minutes, walks as slowly as possible on the treadmill for 20 minutes (she has it on the “do you seriously think you are moving?” setting), and uses some of the weight machines on the “lift-a-peanut” setting. She listens to something on her earbuds the whole time, probably music, or perhaps a motivational recording to keep her awake. I think she might be pretending to do a workout or maybe she works for a workout clothing manufacturer and she is conducting undercover marketing research. There’s a muscle-bulging guy, with what looks to me like the instruction manual for the assembly of a barge tattooed to his chest and arms, who removes his shirt and greases himself up before watching himself in the mirror as he lifts massive weights. They have weightlifting shows somewhere, right? He must be rehearsing for one of those. There are these two guys who go to the gym together and they use only two machines, both of them machines that work the leg muscles. Maybe they are actually mutant grasshoppers. One of them uses a machine while the other one stands next to him and talks with him, then they switch. They do this for quite some time, taking turns tying up these two leg machines and gabbing. They could just as well walk around the grocery store with weights on their ankles and leave the machines for the rest of us to use. Bicep strength must be against their religion. There’s a guy who sets the abs machine at the heaviest setting and adds extra portable weights to it to make it even heavier. I suspect he tells friends to punch him in the stomach for kicks; you know, like Houdini.

Fortunately, no one ever goes on the Stairmaster. So I can always use that when the other machines are occupied. I think people find the Stairmaster daunting because of the picture on it of the Empire State Building and the notation that to climb to the top of that landmark would require 1,860 steps on the Stairmaster. My math skills are limited, but I figure that at two visits per week, I should make it to the top of the Empire State Building by the middle of February. By then most of the people who resolved to go to the gym will have wimped out and I can have the equipment to myself. Getting adequate exercise is critical for health, and building muscle mass is an important piece of a fitness plan. So I encourage you to go to the gym, just not my gym.

My resolution for 2016? I resolve to say five things for which I am grateful every night before I go to sleep. With no repeats. Each night, five new things. And I already said dark chocolate. 

Even though I go to the gym, I was apparently not strong enough 
to pull this "cracker" (also called a "popper") with my son. 
He kept pulling it out of my hand. Someone else had to take over for me.

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