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How’s all that exercise working out for ya?

A guide to navigating the gym for the non-athletic

It’s all about the smooth ride.

I am, to employ the overused expression just one more time, built for comfort, not for speed. Before, however, you jump to conclusions about my physical aptitude, let me just say that despite being rather generously upholstered I am not uncoordinated. My dad is a natural athlete and my mother is a heck of a dancer, so I come from well coordinated, physically able stock. I would not, however, say the members of my gene pool are particularly hard charging, preferring as we do to confine our activities to those that are less taxing but also require a certain mental agility, such as golf, poker and Scrabble. The more demanding sports, we prefer to relegate to the TV. Nothing wrong with that.

In light of this, you can imagine my chagrin at being informed by Dr. Feelbad, diet doctor to the stars, that my daily waddles to the Cupcake Cafe and regular walking tours of Bloomingdales could in no way be construed as a fitness regime. He was very clear about this: In addition to removing every food I like from my diet, the price of a return to single digit sizes would be a minimum of two weight workouts and 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. Swell, I said, but I vowed to do it. My first stop of course was Bloomie’s (for sneakers and appropriate gymwear), and then, since I was already in the building, it only made sense to look in at the Magnolia Bakery, conveniently located on the first floor.

Improbably, I have actually come to suffer through enjoy my workouts. Within strict limits, which are:

At my age ALL yoga is hot yoga.

No classes.
I dislike sharing space with people who are sweating. In truth, I don’t even like to be around myself when I sweat. This makes yoga classes, which can be tightly packed, completely out of the question. I tried a few, and even the underpopulated ones invariably included a stinker, usually on a mat adjoining my own. What’s more, I have a tendency to fall asleep and snore during the little naptime at the end, which adds a general level of anxiety to the first 90 minutes of the experience as I fret about whether I’ll be able to stay awake and if I should or should not put a prop under my neck. Besides I can’t tell my chakra from my prana, and even if I could I’d never use those terms anyway. Is it me, or do they all sound vaguely pornographic? And since we’re on the subject, maybe I don’t want my hips to be more “open.” What does that even mean?

I know there are other classes, but there’s still the sweating issue, as well as the stamina problem. I’ve walked by the spinning room, and there is no way I’d last five minutes in that setting. The chafing of the bike seat, the horrible soundtrack and the military precision of it all would be too much. Stand up, sit down, now speed it up, crank it up a notch, go, go, GO! It’s like being force marched through an Easter mass by a speed-freak priest with music by the unholy trinity of Nickie Minaj, Rhianna and Lady Ga Ga. No thank you.

How about one of the dance-based classes?, you might ask. I think you know where I stand on Zumba generally. And anyway, I never dance in public until I’ve had at least four drinks, and then only if there’s a surf instrumental involved. When the instructors are all about twelve years old, there’s very little chance of that, you can be sure.


No flailing.
It has been suggested that I might improve the efficacy of my workout with the help of a personal trainer. I think not. There’s a slightly mildewy cloud of hopelessness that follows the trainer and student combos at my gym. Most of the trainers are weedy and unappealing, with the exception of Muscle Boy, the resident hottie trainer, but I’d never even attempt to work with him. There’s the whole Mrs. Robinson thing, and anyway being on the receiving end of pitying glances from a guy whose lips move when he thinks is not something I’m inclined to pay for.

Even if I could find a trainer, they all seem to employ this new system of flailing around the gym which I described in an earlier, satirical post. Whenever I see hapless mooks marching around the weight room while swinging kettle bells or walking sideways on the stairmaster under the knowing gaze of a personal trainer, I cannot help but suspect these “exercises” are more for the amusement of the fit than the physical development of the fat. No, I think I’ll just oversee my own work out with the help of a book and an occasional look at Pumping Iron, thanks very much.

No locker room.
I’ve heard that men are generally relaxed about the nudity issue and, if memory serves, I can say with some certainty that this is true. In all likelihood there are women who don’t stress over being seen in the altogether by other women, but then again, there are people who don’t mind dental visits or even high colonics for that matter. I fall into none of these categories, and so I prefer to handle post-exertion ablutions at home — alone, without any mirrors below chin level, and in a shower where if someone has peed, at least I know they’re family.


So what works?
The various cardio options are great because you can pop on your headphones and pretend you’re doing something else. I’m particularly fond of the elliptical machines because I can close my eyes while using them, which means even if people I know pass by I can legitimately avoid speaking to them. It’s embarrassing to have to stop your workout to hold a conversation, especially when you’re puffing like a steam engine after three minutes at level 1, or the wheelchair program as it is commonly known. To be avoided: the horrifying moving staircases. Yes, all cardio machines are in effect roads to nowhere, but these have a kind of Sisyphean gulag vibe that can easily turn working out into an existential crisis.

I also love the weight room. Really. The analog thrill of banging the iron appeals to me in some primal way. Again, it’s an individual thing, no group-think, just me and the dumbbells bonding in pursuit of flapless upper arms and a fat free back.

And finally, the one thing that makes it all bearable is the playlist. Now you’ll listen to whatever cranks your starter of course. I’ve developed a shameful habit of cueing up Florence + the Machine while on the elliptical — she’s kind of the Stephanie Meyer of art rock, but we all have our dirty little secrets. Generally I find that anything by the Foos (provided it’s at full volume) works exceptionally well at getting my thrash on, as do a host of other similarly loud musical selections.  Listen:

Makes you feel like you could almost wind the treadmill up to 2, doesn’t it?

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Interested in more slatternly fitness antics? Try these:

Sports for Girls

Satire: The jig is up

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