I grew up on Army bases where kids generally stayed active doing kids stuff like playing catch and hitting golf balls at the local driving range. I was fortunate in that I acquired a couple of well used bicycles along the way, thus facilitating transportation to the swimming pool or a local creek, which nurtured my love of all things fishing. I don’t recall ever entering a weight room or doing calisthenics for the heck of it. In high school, I turned hour upon hour of playing catch into a relatively productive pitching career where I lettered in baseball, all the while carefully avoiding the weight room and running when I didn’t have to for reasons other than beating out a weak ground ball on the diamond. The Highway Patrol Academy, under the watchful eye of one G.P. Corbin, marked the beginning of real time in the gym where calisthenics became a daily ritual and running became a daily challenge. While I certainly did not rise to the level of Forrest Gump, I came to appreciate the sound of Converse sneakers on asphalt. A very active lifestyle then became my conditioning regimen until retirement when I reigned in the horses and relied upon a far less active lifestyle to, well, temper my level of conditioning. Predictably, my new lifestyle resulted in weight gain, high cholestoral, an open heart procedure and the energy level of box turtle. It was time for a change and my daughter was the catalyst for this change. Stacey, a gym rat, reintroduced me to the concept of conditioning, and I began my third career venture as an active member of a gym. I am a little over two years into this career and thought I would offer a little insight into the humbling and humorous aspects of the gym culture.
Calisthenics, for the most part, have been replaced by a series of nifty resistance machines that will accomodate every level of strength and stamina. I have noticed that very large folks, the folks who were most likely told by their doctor to begin exercising or cultivate a relationship with the local funeral director, prefer the devices that permit you to recline in a fashion similar to your favorite reading or television chair. They will lie back, with the device set to offer little if any resistance, and pull, push or peddle with the the same effort it would take to squash an errant bug. Their 16 minute workout provides at least some activity and provides ample justification for a stop at a local C-store for a Red Bull and Snickers. I suppose that you have to start somewhere and they are at least showing up.
Next up, we have the “clankers”. These are the testerone laden, muscle bound behemoths that can, and do, pick up twice their body weight while squatting and standing. They are easy to recognize when they enter the gym. They will be sporting wide leather body wraps, presumably to keep from blowing apart when they jerk the equivalent of a small car from the floor, wife beater undershirts, and a quart or two of (presumably) protein drinks to help them bulk up. The clanking comes in when they drop the weights to the floor, thus eliciting a “look at me” response from the rest of the patrons. These folks usually bring their own bar into the gym and prefer the mirrored corner of the weight room where they can admire themselves and see who else in the gym is fascinated by their style and effort. You won’t see these folks using the resistance machines, unless there is a comely lass in close proximity, which will result in them hopping on the next machine, setting the weight to several thousand pounds and doing two repetitions, while carefully eyeing the lass to see if she is suitably impressed.
Another segment of the gym population is comprised of “spinners”. In all fairness, this group is mostly made up of the fairer sex, who will make their entry in form fitting Lycra, makeup just right, hair pulled tightly in a bouncy ponytail and wearing a carefully coordinated outfit, replete with matching sneakers and a bottle or two of artesian well water. Trust me when I tell you these ladies, each sporting body fat in negative numbers, can climb onto an elliptical, stair-stepper or treadmill and burn the damned thing up, all the while sweating not. I am not talking about a 15 minute, maximum effort sprint……I am talking about a hour or more in a single session sprint that is far scarier than watching the clankers. While I have no way of knowing, I Imagine their heart rates are somewhere in the teens………and they breathe only when necessary. I admire their focus and discipline, but would become quickly bored with their Ewell Gibbon diets of wild hickory nuts and granola.
To be sure, there are a number of pretty normal folks who show up to pursue a reasonable level of fitness. Their gym attire ranges from a well worn pair of jeans and a pair of normal tennis shoes to sweats, shorts and t-shirts adorned with graphics that suggest they have the means to travel to such far away haunts as Destin or Panama Beach. You will see a lot of Under Armor adorning their physiques, which, by the way, range from pretty well trim to portly. They love the resistance machines and are walkers, who will occasionally climb aboard a vacant treadmill. I suppose I fall into this category, having tweaked my daily regimen with input from Stacey and our resident fitness instructor. We are a little more likely to offer a greeting to other members of our group and perhaps engage in a short conversation every once in awhile, usually near the water cooler or blood pressure cuff. We certainly have no interest in one-upping each other on a resistance machine or impressing the spinners with our ability to do a million or two inclined sit-ups. Our reward is lowered blood pressure, a reasonable resting heart rate and the preservation of what little muscle mass we have left. Experience has taught us that excess, in any form, to include exercise, is likely not in our best interest. Our motivation at this point in our lives is to break even when the reaper calls, and to have the energy to do the things we like.
My readers know that I am a numbers guy, so a brief numerical summary is in order. I have averaged 3.7 trips to the gym each week over the last 27 months. My goal is to be in the gym at 6:00 AM, Monday-Friday, and my typical workout is 70 minutes long. I utilize the treadmill, inclined, (30 minutes), 7 resistance machines and a one measured mile walk as a cool down. I have doubled the weight on the resistance machines that I rely on with one exception, and that exception is related to the thumb surgery last February. I stay away from the mirrors as I am reminded of my age every morning when I shave, and have no desire to compete with the Schwarzenegger wannabes, and other narcissistic toners, tanners and marathoners. My health care team has convinced me that I can prolong my time in this world with a reasonable physical effort and my experience tends to support this hypothesis……..My equipment consists of Bose earbuds that I use to listen to the morning news on one of the many televisions on the walls and my I-phone, to connect me to Spotify. Weather permitting, I ride the Red Baron II to the gym, exactly 8.9 miles away and usually end my workout session with a short Americano from the closest Starbucks, decaffinated of course.
Thank you Stacey, for recognizing that I was declining at an unacceptable rate and suggesting, in Johnson fashion, it was time to get off my ass and into the gym. They are great places and offer a rare peek into human nature as a bonus. I can recommend it and think you will enjoy your experience with the gym culture.