By Debbie Fox
Isn’t it ironic that the word exercise, exertion made for the sake of training or physical fitness, can also be defined as a public exhibition or ceremony? Exercise is becoming more and more public. Health clubs abound and attract both the fit and unfit, offering high-tech equipment in place of home-rigged gear. We abandon our basements, garages, back rooms and privacy to flock to upscale clubs for training among a group of strangers. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my exercising remain private. However, since I don’t own a swimming pool or a Nautilus machine, nor a basement or room designated for training, I joined a health club and, unwillingly, became one of the many who exercise (employment or use) exercise (training) as an exercise (exhibition).
Club members are a breed apart from the private sector exerciser. The women wear the proper clothes, not any old thing dragged from the closet. Sport bras under tight tank tops and Capri-length pants of spandex hug their muscled bodies. Like the rule forbidding the wearing of white past Labor Day, I won’t wear spandex until I’m the size of Paris Hilton, which will never happen. Besides, isn’t spandex combustible? Too much thigh friction on the treadmill and va-voomph – sizzling, hot pants.
Besides having the trendy clothes, club members preserve their sneakers for use only in the gym and lace them up with reverence. My sneakers go everywhere I do, both indoors and out, a sacrilegious outrage that draws a few uplifted eyebrows as if to ask, “You’re not changing your shoes?” I frown at the eyebrows and want to ask their owners, “Do you think I want you scrutinizing my socks, too?” The eyebrows relax, and their owners hasten from my presence, bottles of Evian in hand. Wouldn’t want to ingest germs from the water fountain after expending so much effort staying fit and healthy.
Working out in a health club is an adjustment from working out in private. In a room filled with machines meant to make exercising efficient and fun, club members, with their iPod ear buds jammed in their ears, ignore the room of strangers and soberly perform their routines – in front of a wall of windows. Any passing pedestrian or driver can witness the exhibition. I hunker down on a low rider bike as far away from the glass as possible, humming to myself because I don’t own an iPod.
The distractions interfere with my concentration. I notice people of all shapes and sizes, and my mind starts dreaming up scenarios about them. Maybe, that pencil-shaped woman once weighed three hundred pounds. Perhaps, that chunky man traded his cigarette habit for gym workouts. Lost in character analyses, I suddenly realize my pedaling is slowing down. The hunky, hot trainer in the corner is eyeing me suspiciously, probably thinking a two-year-old could pedal faster.
I pick up my pedaling pace. The sounds of the various machines – whirs, clicks, clanks – and the thump, thumping of footfalls on the treadmills make me feel as if I am not emoting enough noise as I pedal the bicycle. I vow next time to bring along a couple of baseball cards and clothespins to clamp on the spokes. Oh wait – the bike doesn’t have spokes, just one solid, whisper-quiet wheel.
The weight machines don’t interest me, mainly because the club doesn’t have weights in cute colors. Besides, they’re just so heavy. I prefer my two-pound purple hand weights I have at home that exhaust me after ten reps. And the treadmills terrify me they’re so complicated. They measure everything except I.Q. and my aptitude for walking. I walk as if I had concrete blocks for feet, and even the slowest speed would be too fast for me.
When I feel like Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France – exhausted but jubilant – I check my time. 12 minutes! Wow! Am I great? I want to shout for joy at my new personal best; however, seeing the somber expressions on faces of strangers keeps me silent. They might like being on display in front of windows, but they don’t appear to be having much fun exercising. I decide I’m not cut out for exercising among strangers at a gym. Wouldn’t these members be surprised to learn that the word gym comes from the Greek word gymnazein, meaning to exercise naked? Maybe, that would put a smile on their faces, but that’s a whole different form of exercise, one that’s better exercised in a private exercise.