Getting pumped at the gym


When describing my physique it would be fair to liken my body to that of a Greek god. Specifically Hermes, god of lanky smartasses.

Looking at my slender form you might think to yourself, "I bet he has trouble opening shampoo bottles," or, "All the stuffing fell out of that scarecrow." I wouldn’t call myself weak per se, but I do get winded holding a conversation.

With a mind to at least partly addressing that, Flo and I are trying out going to the gym this week. She has been using the gym at school and, since I would probably stick out if she tried to sneak me in to the Smith College weight room, we got a weekly trial at a local gym. I’ve never exercised for its own sake before, so she is showing me the ropes.

My last job was for a company that managed a series of weight loss and health subscriptions. Unfortunately, despite a year of helping people give up on New Year’s resolutions I didn’t retain much. I remember you are supposed to do most of your deep stretching after you exercise, though, I didn’t do that this time. I know you do a series of "reps" which make up a "set" and three-to-five "sets" make a "match." I’m fairly certain those are all exercise terms.

Our emphasis was on strength training as neither of us has much weight to lose. Flo tells me many women avoid these exercises out of a fear that it will make them bulk up too much. I understand because I too often find myself avoiding things because I’m afraid I’ll be too good at them. It’s why I don’t practice my guitar as often as I should: I’m worried no one will take my writing seriously if I become a rock god.

While I would enjoy having the physical strength to flip a grilled cheese sandwich one handed, I was intimidated about going to the gym for several reasons, not least of which was wardrobe. You have to wear special shoes and have an outfit intended for absorbing sweat. The weight room patrons were split between the loose T-shirt and basketball shorts crowd and the people who went in for form-fitting suits of space-age polymers. I ended up in the former group, though I was in the minority as my sleeves had not been ripped off.

The weight room was comprised of free weights and machines. I started on the machines as the free weights require you to know what you’re doing while the machines all have handy diagrams showing how a dispassionate cartoon would perform the exercises. Machines in general seem to share a design theory with the soul-sucking device from the Princess Bride with which they share their name. They range in style from overly ergonomic ‘90s office chairs with weights attached to four sided weight stations that also exercise your ability to avoid awkward eye contact with the person on the other side of the station.

The walls of the weight room were mirrored so the free weights crowd could watch themselves lift their heavy objects. I get that this is because you need to keep proper form while lifting or your spleen will burst out of your back. In practice though, I saw at least one guy using them to practice his training montage such that I could practically hear "Eye of the Tiger" spilling out of his brain and a woman examining herself on each rise with a sense of rapture that Narcissus would have called a little much.

I sampled my way around the weight room, treating it like a buffet of heavy playground equipment. Unsure of how many of each exercise I was supposed to perform, I gave each machine one try until I got bored. With no real idea of how hard I should be pushing myself, I set the weight setting towards the lower end repped a few sets (rep can be a verb, right?) and then moved onto the next machine that I could figure out.

We worked out for about 45 minutes. The next morning I found that I was not hurting in places I didn’t know existed, which could mean that I didn’t work hard enough or that I’m immune to clichés. I didn’t hate the experience enough to swear off it for life, and I didn’t turn into the Hulk from one day of exercise. I’ll try another day or two on my week pass and see if it’s something I can stand dedicating an evening or two for Š the rest of my life, I guess?


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