Gym Lyf

“Huuuuurrrggghhhhhh! Ffffff, ffffff, fffff. Huuuuuuurrrrrggghhhh!”

The primate stared into the mirror with sharp, unblinking focus. It tensed it’s hairless watermelon muscles until the veins were protruding so fiercely that one felt sure they would burst, releasing the coursing blood across the room in fits and spurts. It performed these actions with such a fastidious approach; this was not the first time it had occurred. Just as it seemed the elastic veins would finally snap, another movement – a rectangular device, swept from nowhere, and a swift clicking noise. It held the device under it’s arm, visible only to those adjacent to it, pursed its lips and gave one final squeeze of its curiously patterned arms. The girthy hand slid the device away, its legs bent and it dropped down to the familiar hunched stance. The arms hung idly as the brushstrokes of bizarre patterns relaxed and clearer images formed. It wrapped its hands around the bar, lifted its head and opened its mouth as it pulled the bar up. “Huuuuurrrrrgghhhh!”

Last week, I finally joined a gym. It seems that all people in Australia will join a gym at some point in their life, even if just for the trial week. I have resisted for more than a decade, preferring instead to use my own small set of equipment at home, deluding myself that the 2 months on, 6 months off approach was a lot more consistent with greater results than it was producing. The gym I have joined is huge, very close to home, has 24 hour access, and it’s only costing me $11 a week. This is a very justifiable price given the health benefits to come from using it 5 or so days a week. The equipment is also much easier to use, lessening the regular spasm injuries I would sustain using my equipment with poor technique, sans benches etc. at home. It’s all very exciting.

It’s also quite confronting. I have a lean, athletic build. I am very lucky in that regard; even when I feel overweight, and slow, in reality I’m only a few runs or workouts away from getting back to parity. This is probably also due to the wonders of youth. I’ve been warned for years by folk older than myself that the tipping point is coming – where you can’t eat poorly, do no exercise and still retain an above average natural fitness and physique. I’m 23, and it still hasn’t struck me. Not yet. But I can feel the looming shadow of this crippling condition chasing me, trying to run me down. The gym, I hope, will help me ward off the evils of beer guts and poor aerobic capacity for a few more years yet.

So on the first day of the trial I wandered into the gym with my partner. She went to the females only area, and I swam out, far away from the red and yellow flags, onto the floor with some other more experienced gym-goers. It was later at night, around 9.30pm, so it wasn’t too busy. All the equipment I needed was free. But there was the unspoken smoke of male ego and masculinity, and it was thick in the air. Big, strong men were throwing around some serious iron like they were the breathable light towel I held. As I mentioned earlier, I am athletic and lean. I can tone my muscles reasonably quickly, and put on okay size with consistent training over time. But I’m starting from a pretty low base here, and my bamboo arms and legs would’ve stuck out like the salad on the Maccas menu.

When you start up a new activity, particularly physical ones, people are quick to offer you their advice. Most of it is constructive, and helpful, but you receive so much that it all blurs into nothing. They are being kind, of course, but really the only way to learn is to get out there and throw yourself into it. One piece of advice was consistent about gym, though. Lift within yourself; be sensible; get your technique right. All very pertinent. But there is just something competitive, some inner demon person deep inside people – particularly males – that wants to grab a heavier weight than the person next to you and outdo them. Pride and ego, I believe it is. I almost laughed at myself when I stopped and recognised it. Here’s old mate, looking like Arnold, while stringbean self stands next to him. He was doing bicep curls, probably with 30kg dumbbells. I wasn’t even doing biceps that night, but something inside me wanted to grab the 40kg ones and crunch out 1 rep. I would’ve ripped my arms out their sockets trying to pick them up, and probably would’ve found a way to break my cervical spine had I tried to haul one up in the glorious curve of the bicep curl.

I shocked myself. I like to think my ego is relatively in check. I am on guard for it at all times. In sport, or contests, I am highly competitive. But aside from that, I think I’m pretty humble, aware that it doesn’t take much for life to cut you back down to the ground. Yet here I am, first night at the gym, surrounded by mirrors and Adonis’s, and all I want to do is show him I’m stronger. I’m not. It must be biological, animalistic. My consciousness won through, I shelved my ego, and have done since. Yet you don’t have to look far at this gym to see the egos burning through the mirrors. One man was clearly lifting too much weight. I don’t know what exercise he was trying to do, but he was swinging his arms up and down and throwing his back out with them, all while grunting and looking around at everyone. He just seemed in pain or like he needed to do a poo.

Then I started noticing the selfies. Constant selfies, and not just from the women. Some, nay more than 50% of the men who I’ve seen at gym with me are so in love with themselves and the mirror that they spend more time taking pictures between sets than actually working out. Most of these people are at what I subjectively deem the ‘grotesque’ end of muscular build, where the muscles are all piled up on top of each other and they walk around with their arms out wide and a strut deserving of people who do things that matter, like perform life saving surgery, rather than people who can bench press 160kg a few times. These people are the ones I lovingly refer to as ‘gym wankers’.

All of this is subjective, though. Some people find that look attractive. Good luck to them. If it keeps them happy, off the street and they are kind people, good on them. It is a shock to the system, though, to see the shameless selfies and love of thyself. Maybe reign it in a bit, folks. Otherwise, the gym is great and the feeling after working out is very addictive. Hopefully it keeps me in adequate condition so that if the mighty Bloods of Aquinas need a mid season fill in for the magoos, I can do a reasonable job with my silverback gorilla arms and pecs.

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