The door lock beeps, the light turns green and the door unlocks. Inside it is arctic and the hair follicles on my arms tense forming goosebumps. Five minutes into interval training on the cross-trainer and I’m appreciating the air conditioning as the sweat runs off me. The large exercise free chunks of my journey belie the fact that once started I love to exercise, get my heart rate up and feel the perspiration. Deep within the ‘loving on my body, there is a sense of contrition and purging the day’s languid pace and giving back to the body after having sat through two episodes of The Sopranos. (My body may not have benefitted from the time in the lazy boy with Tony Soprano but there’s something about his roguish ways I find appealing).
Five minutes into the routine and puffing grunting humanity fades away, I’m in the zone: I am so doing it. The only F word here is Focus and this body is giving itself to the max. Part way through today’s session I return to the gym of my school years.
I was the youngest member of the gym my father attended. Reg Parks Weight Lifting Gymnasium in the centre of Johannesburg. I attended three afternoons a week after school. I never felt out of place or that I shouldn’t have been in what was obviously an adult (mostly male) space. There was always someone willing to remind you how to do a particular exercise or show you the right way to bench press so you didn’t hurt yourself. It was affirming to be in the company of adults who didn’t see the awkward teenager but the person; who encouraged each other, happily spotted for each other without having to have teed up a gym buddy beforehand. The comeraderie was evident; people chatted to each other, made eye contact and greeted you when you arrived and left. We acknowledged each other.
Even by standards of the day it wasn’t an upmarket gym. In fact the most advanced piece of equipment was the stationary bicycle with a speedometer and a lever to change the level of intensity. There may also have been a pulley contraption for arm muscle work. Everyone wore polyester stirrup pants, what passed for tee-shirts in those days and track shoes. There were separate change rooms, for men and women, each equipped with a sauna and steam room.
The digital screen on the cross-trainer marked the end of the routine. Gym etiquette is not what it used to be, sadly. There were ten of us in the gym this afternoon, eight young bucks and two of us of a discerning age! After two weeks back at the gym I’ve figured a few things out in our modern gyms.
- The bucks hang out in the weight section of the gym while the women are on the cross-trainers, bikes and treadmill. Mate, your upper arms are very buff but those skinny legs supporting that beer gut is not a good look. Your body does not stop at your chest – get with the programme.
- It’s okay to work out without using deodorant. Today’s gym goers are doing it au naturel. Why is that? Am I the only one with vigilante olfactory cells. Last week a young female on the bike next to mine was so smelly I swear her body hadn’t felt water in a week and it wasn’t just the smell of sweat either. I had to move. Sweetheart, didn’t mama tell you that you wash your cookie at least once a day and twice if you’ve gotten hot and sweaty doing whatever. Is there a medical condition that makes one smell that bad? Do her nostrils or friends not realise there is a problem?
- Using the weight machine, set to 100kgs (as if) as a pick up strategy.
- Lounging on a piece of equipment while someone is obviously waiting to use it is no longer inconsiderate. In fact I’m the one being unreasonable by suggesting he might like to take himself in his too tight boxers some place else to look cool.
- Leaving wet patches on the equipment is totally cool in the 21st century gym. Call me old fashioned but mopping up someone else’s sweat is not my idea of a fun time. Are they pheromone marking?
My moving two bikes away, stomping over to the wet wipes to clean the machines down, having to remind someone that a queue usually means others are waiting, and that there is an entire gym for you and your tortured package to hang out in, my reactions to such inconsiderate behaviours, are entirely lost on this set. They seem impervious to others, there is no eye contact, no friendly banter. They’re plugged in and impervious to any notion of thoughtfulness for others. It didn’t used to be like this … in the olden days.