Visiting my regular gym a couple of weeks ago, I was alarmed to find some of the equipment missing and parts of the flooring ripped up.
Had they called in some kind of fitness feng-shui guru to imbue the place with positive vibes? Was it a sign of impending bankruptcy? Or were they simply renovating? It turned out to be the latter. And I was so deflated by the news that it ruined my session that day. I hit the weights with the gusto and enthusiasm of a death row prisoner tucking into a final meal of lumpy semolina. Whatever “improvements” were being made, this wasn’t a good development.
I chose that gym several months ago because of its scuffed decor, backstreet location and comically spelled posters on the wall, which warned: “HYGENE PLEESE BE RESPECTED FOR PREVENT DISESE”. I chose it because it was humble, devoid of muscle-flexing posers and definitely not a pleasant place to hang out and socialize.
Because these days, too many people treat the gym as a social venue. They strike up conversations with the person next to them on the treadmill and hang out at the smoothie bar. They go in pairs or groups, as if weight-training is a team sport. I hate these people. I dream of dropping 20kg weights on their toes and lacing their creatine powder with a super-strength laxative.
I go to the gym strictly to work out. Not to socialize, network or be seen in the latest kit.
And I’m never comfortable going to large, uniform McGyms with 50 cycling machines all neatly lined up in a row, Shakira music videos playing on the TV screens above.
I want them to be like something from the early Rocky movies. A bit sweaty. A bit worn-in. The smell of ancient leather from old sparring gloves hanging in the air. Certainly not like Ivan Drago’s futuristic affair in Rocky VII, which now seems very prescient given the technology found in gyms these days. I feel like I need an IT degree just to work out the settings on the treadmill!
Given the choice, I’d prefer dirt-encrusted logs instead of barbells, and I don’t get too offended if people leave smudges of perspiration on the benches. I’m deeply suspicious of gyms where everything is pristine, well-ventilated and smells of pine-tree air freshener.
My grandfather – a barrel-chested bull of a man and his neighbourhood’s self-appointed, one-man vigilante mob (not to make him sound too much like a gangster) — is 82 and still manages to work out for an hour a day in a makeshift gym in his garden shed.
It’s grimy, freezing cold in winter, and his dumbbells are over 30 years old and covered with more rust than an abandoned car scrapyard. He welded his own bench press together in the Sixties and he’s still using it. He’s only been to a modern gym once in his life and was appalled by what he saw. So he persevered with his own DIY, claustrophobic wooden shack, which stinks of oil, sawdust and decades-old sweat. And I look at some of the members of these gyms, with their fancy digital cross-fit machines, heart-rate monitor watches and anti-perspiration running vests and think: will you be as fit, and look as good as my granddad when you’re 82? Somehow, I doubt it.