Twas the week after New Years and who should appear? In the gym, scads of folks who’ve been hiding all year. Who are these new people crowding up my gym floor? Can’t recall ever seeing quite so many dumbbells before.
It’s no secret how the saga of the public gymnasium unfolds at this time of year. With the New Year comes the pressure to set new goals and create resolutions. Resolutions arise out of guilt from eating one’s way from Halloween candy, through Thanksgiving dinner, through Christmas cookies, and then waking up hungover and more globular on New Year’s Day. Brave Resolutionaries fighting their very own personal Resolutionary Wars think to themselves: the gym. The gym will solve everything. New year. New me.
The problem, of course, is that the way our calendars and psyches collaborate means that we all end up at the gym at the same time. These gyms, built to handle a reasonable amount of people, all of a sudden look like a Black Friday Sale, fittingly, on steroids. The teeming throngs of people spill out the door, leaving many gym regulars on the outside looking in.
Here’s where I admit that I’m part of the problem. I burned myself out on running and exercise some time at the end of autumn. I started a new job and got caught up with social obligations. I de-prioritized the gym, but I still showed up there intermittently to make a cameo appearance when I wasn’t forcing myself to run outside. On the sporadic visit last fall, the gym was always busy, but there was room to move around and stretch out, the wait for an exercise machine was rare, and the negotiations with others for right of way were cordial and polite.
Now when I arrive with my new set of modest goals (which include looking not horrifying onlookers if I want to run shirtless this summer and/or not having to buy new pants next week,) the gym is basically Thunderdome. Every treadmill and bike is occupied by a lovely lady, barely breaking a sweat, with an US Weekly in hand, watching one of the million Real Housewives franchise shows, ensuring that they are burning as many IQ points as calories. The locker room is full of fist-bumping bros who throw their jackets in lockers without locking them, so I can check every single one looking for an empty one. I count this as exercise.
There are fit, muscular men who are there all year long, but they seem extra cocky when others are there to draw comparison. (Some of these men may actually live there. I’ve never been to this gym when these men aren’t present. Do they have jobs? Can they all make a living just from being jacked?) My emotional roller coaster careens as such: Is it great to watch these guys because they are so attractive or do I just feel awful about myself when I compare myself to them? As my id and self-consciousness go toe to toe in battle, I find myself in the paradoxical position of being somehow both the scrawniest and fattest person in the room.
Couples occupy machines, and generally hang out in my way. Trainers encourage their charges to give a mathematically dodgy 110%. After I finish my workout, I feel pretty good about myself. I bundle up and walk home, grudgingly admitting to myself that I’ll probably be back tomorrow. One of these days, as it happens every year, I won’t have to wait for a treadmill again.
I sprang off my treadmill and lurched towards the door. A thought occurred to me, so I turned to the floor. And they heard me exclaim with the force of a jet, “It’s so crowded in here. Is it February yet?”