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June 2022
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2014-06 To gym, or not to gym.....

James Column for the SligoWeekender

In the New Year, along with half the population of Ireland, Jim joined a gym. Up until now Jim's exercise consisted of walking and swimming, he'd struggled with countless reasons not to go to the gym - too old, too fat, too unfit, too intimidated, too difficult, too expensive, no time, not for me - but finally, vanity, narcissism, and the prospect of another upcoming photo-shoot won out, so he took the plunge. Feeling utterly intimidated walking through the gym door for the first time in my spanking new luminous green Nike trainers, I immediately shed the misconception that a gym is an establishment with assorted cardio and weight machines and multifarious devices to help maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, but rather a living stage with a Dramatis Personae worthy of any play or musical, the ideal vantage-point for people-watching addicts like myself. And as in any fine piece of theatre, some characters inspire, others intimidate, and many demonstrate what not to do. Without doubt my favourite character is the grunting foaming-at-the-mouth weightlifter, who's there when you arrive at the gym, and is still there strutting and posturing when you leave an hour later.

This guy has studied at the 'no-pain-no-gain' academy, and needs the assembly to know he's lifting the world's heaviest weights. In his head he's competing against Bulgarians for Olympic Gold. At the end of each routine the barbells are flung violently on the floor with a huge crash, and a blood-curdling horror-movie torture-rack scream, loaded with saliva and expletives (including the bad F- word). Surely if you're strong enough to lift it, you can put it down quietly? As he walks awkwardly away from the scene, with his signature bow-legged 'Hulk'-walk, showcasing oversized arms with bulging veins, I attempt (while observing my moobs and belly bobbing up and down in the mirror) to memorise the tattooed names of all his ex-girlfriends, or perhaps it is living proof of his polygamist lifestyle. In the changing rooms, as I witness Sir Steroid down litres of Protein drinks, I can't help but picture the endless pints downed later that evening resulting in the unwelcome bulging tummy on his otherwise rather perfect Charles-Atlas-upper-body.

Back in the gym there is the sweaty guy who leaves all the machines and surfaces wet and slippery, and doesn't care. There's the old overweight guy walking at just under 1 mph on the treadmill, burning just short of 100 calories in his 20-minute workout, but who you know will be consuming 1100 calories in his sandwich and crisps lunch within the hour. There's the narcissistic 'mirror' guy flexing anything flexible in the mirror as his eyes dart around to check if he has his audience's undivided attention. There's the perfectly sculpted guy on the neighbouring treadmill running at 20 mph who you want to trip up and ask why he's even here, telling him he's cooked, as he looks up at you from the floor with a pained expression and a sprained ankle. There's the unwelcome 'advice-giver', the 'social butterfly' who is there only to chat and mingle, the ogler, the cruiser, and the starer (Hmm, I'm beginning to think perhaps I fit into that category).

Of course, there's the fit 'n fabulous gym-bunny in her designer pink spandex sports-bra, with a bum like two hard-boiled eggs in a shocking pink luminous hanky. "Oi, Big Guy, if you wanna impress this 'chick', the only machine that will work is the ATM". Beside her is the 70-something lady mastering all the machines, who you can't help but feel should be strolling in a sylvan setting with her King Charles Spaniel, afterwards meeting her friends for coffee, and whose hard-boiled eggshave been scrambled, and lost altitude.

Since January I've 'crushed' countless miles on the treadmill, I've learned that bulking-up' doesn't mean post-workout binge-eating, and that a 'burpee' is not a rude noise emitted after your 'brekkie'. My pecs and lats are still somewhat hidden, my PB is still not that impressive, and I now realise that just because I don't post the results of my workout on Facebook that the workout does still count. But without doubt my favourite gym exercise is definitely people-watching and judging others. Hmm, I wonder what they're saying about me.