A month or so ago I gave up smoking after a long and happy relationship with cigarettes. Gosh do I love cigarettes. The taste, the smell, the happy feeling on sparking one, the satisfaction on stubbing one, the fact that I look particularly cool holding one… there’s no downside. Well, more cancer. But otherwise: I [heart] cigarettes.
But now I’ve stopped. And now I’m going to the gym five or six times a week, because there’s no point being an ex-smoker and *also* being the size of a house. I’ve never been a member of a gym before, not a lift-weights-run-on-a-machine-do-sit-ups one, anyway.
This means I have only just discovered that there is a hidden sub-class of human being: people who go to gyms.
I was fully expecting a certain type of gym-goer. I would meet, I thought, and be sneered at by great big muscly men with tiny willies who spend hours in Holland & Barrett of a Saturday deciding on which huge tub of whey protein looks the most masculine and butch. And the gym does have a couple of them, but they’re harmless because they’re too busy hating the other men like them to notice the men who aren’t “competing” with them for the title of World’s Most Masculine Man With Added Masculinity And Some More Manness Added Just In Case Anyone Doubts You’re A Man award. (BTW, these men are also sexually agressive toward women. The rest of this sentence writes itself, doesn’t it, ducky?)
What I actually found was fascinating. The following mainly concerns men, as I mainly notice men. Give me time and I’ll get just as judgmental about the women too.
It’s a council gym, rather than an expensive and intimidating private facility, by the way. This skews the following list and influences the first option particularly.
- Category One: dying people. The hour each day I spend there is spent in the company of one man who has recently had a stroke and is trying to strengthen his left arm. If Labour hadn’t’ve made physiotherapy hard to get, he’d have help in his goal. Fortuneately, the Tory-LibDems have made sure that if he has another one, he’ll die through neglect and being economically inefficient. There’s also a man whose granddaughter brought him round to see the place and has never been seen since; he mainly wanders about bewildered and scared. Finally there’s a woman who occasionally appears, but each time has worse track marks on her arms; the gym is someone’s do-good idea of helping her rather than just prescribing her heroin and solving the problem at both ends.
- Category Two: men (always) who have had a cardiac incident or have been warned about one coming. They either do lots and look exhausted all the time or do the bare minimum and look exhausted all the time. Again: more support than a gym membership is needed.
- Category Three: women en masse. You do get boys (defined as males younger than me) en masse (testosterone makes them display like chimps). Never men (too homoerotic). You don’t get girls en masse (too bitchy). Women en masse: lots. And they do everything en masse. Five of them, all on the stationary bikes. Five of them, all on the steppers. Five of them, all on the treadmills. Five of them, all on the machines. All on the lowest setting, all mainly chatting, all taking lots of breaks. Always en masse. Total wattage outputted: fuck all. They’re there to socialise.
- Category Four: stick insects. These people run to a particular machine and spend upwards of an hour adjusting every element of it – weights, seat height, reach, speed – until it’s perfect for them. Then they do two, maybe three reps on it, wipe the sweat off, swig their Harrogate Spa water and go weight themselves. There are about a dozen men at my gym who do this, and one woman. All need help.
- Category Five: I Am Better At This Than You. Oh, spare me from this person. You can spot them quite easily. They get on the machine next to you, rather than the next-but-one, ignoring the Urinal Rule. Then they set their machine to the same as yours, plus 1 – 1km/h faster, 1% more gradient, 1 point more resistance, 1 weight more. And match your reps. This way, no matter what happens THEY CAN BEAT YOU. These people are either of the same age and sex as you (depressing but I can kinda see the ‘logic’) or are (a) boys in their teens or early twenties; in which case, just pee around my machine, it’s quicker, and anyway I usually do longer on it than you can manage, Mr Acne, so NER; or (b) women made entirely of muscle who, I think, need to show a man a thing or two; fair enough, but please don’t pick this particular short, dumpy unfit poof in future, because you’re only proving things to yourself.
- Category Six: the spot reducer. Like my entire family on both sides (bless genetics) I have concentrated most of my excess weight directly into my belly region. Ideally, the gym will help me tighten that area and let me see my willy again. I will never have a six-pack, nor will I ever be describable as “thin”. But I might be able to get back into those sex schoolboy shorts I bought 6 years ago, so that’s all I care about. And I’ll do best at that by having an all-round workout that touches everywhere; if I just did abdominal crunches, I’d end up with great big muscles with a happy layer of fat over them. So I pity the spot reducers. One guy in particular. He’s pretty enough, and younger than me. He has great hair, although the bleach job doesn’t suit him. The ear piercings are very sexy, the nose barbell less so. He’s lythe and tall and I wouldn’t kick him out of bed. But he has an amazing, disproportionately large arse. And all his workouts are aimed at it. He’s failing badly at reducing his arse, because all he’s doing is building muscle behind where genetics have decided to put his body fat. Between exercises, he looks carefully at his huge arse in the mirrors, perhaps hoping to see the signs of reduction kicking in. He wears tight lycra to facilitate the day when his arse stops looking like he’s shoplifting pillows and starts looking like his ideal arse (by this point, his ideal arse will be one you could fit in a thimble – ugh). Of all the people at the gym every day, he is the one who will remain least happy with himself.
As to which category I fit into, well, I can’t judge myself. Perhaps Category Seven: unfit bloke surprised to find himself at the gym and enjoying it. Of course – of course – I’m far more selfish and narcissistic than that and I fit in a different Category Seven, devoted to people who are judgmental pieces of shit. But I’m happy doing what I do and don’t fit easily into any of the categories above. So I’ll keep staring at Category Six’s arse and hoping, for his sanity, that it does shrink eventually.