Native species of the Gymnasia highlands

Who goes to the gym in platform flip-flops?

Ever since I was old enough to realise that my physique resembled a blancmange in high winds, I have been a regular visitor of my local gym. The humiliation of exercising publicly is too much for me; I don’t want old people on park benches regarding me with sardonic dismay, I would much rather seedily sweat away on a contraption among other light-shy cockroaches like myself. I am fond of my gym like one might be fond of an old but slightly smelly family dog. It’s the cheapest gym around, which means that the machines tend to make interesting noises and all the televisions are playing Jeremy Kyle and the mirrors are sellotaped together, having been smashed long ago by an errant dumbbell. It means that directly opposite the exit, like a nightclub opposite a rehab clinic, sits a Burger King. It also means that rather than being full of aspirational young businessmen drinking Evian and blonde Scandinavian types, the place teems with a strange mix of people, few of whom seem to really belong in this low-budget robot room with its high-volume dance music and brick-headed personal trainers. 

I am a mid-morning gymgoer and have had the opportunity to observe and become familiar with the kinds of species that tend to roam the gym floor when the sun is out and other, perhaps more predatory creatures, are nesting in their habitats of paid employment. But in my occasional evening visits it is interesting to see that there is an entirely new range of species which come out into the synthetic light of the fitness studio once the sun has set. These creatures are equally fascinating to observe not only in themselves, but also in the ways that they differ from the daytime gymmers in both their behaviours and appearances. 

Diurnal Species

Overly friendly and chatty people who don’t seem to realise both of you are trying to exercise
Entering the gym this morning, my heart sank as I saw a familiar face. I had met this man once before: the crazily-smiling middle-aged dude who was next to me on the cross trainer a while back during the holiday before my last term of university. I was whirring away whilst trying desperately to read through Moll Flanders on my Kindle, propped up on the crosstrainer dashboard, as a ridiculous attempt to combine two of my most hated things – exercise and revision – in one agonising fell swoop. Cue complete stranger who takes this demeanour of total fury and concentration as an invitation to have a nice old chat:
“Hello, what’s your name?”
Oh god, please don’t be doing this, I have ten minutes left of this to do – “Urr…puff…Rosie…”
“That is a beautiful name.” 
Ah. He’s that kind of crazily-smiling, middle-aged dude.
He asked me what I was studying, and what I was doing for my holidays. I mustered the last filament of friendliness I had left in me to ask him what he did. He was a businessman, who liked to go boating. 
“I have many boats.”
“…Lucky you…”
“So I suppose you are fluent in German?”
“…Yes…” 
“Err…Wo wohnst du?” 
So many people, on finding out that I speak German, instantly wheel out the three questions they remember from secondary school German; I can never tell whether they’re trying to catch me out and prove that I’m a fraud, or whether they want me to clap my hands with delight and give them a gold star. Needless to say, I cut my workout short. 
These creatures are predatory, despite their friendly appearance. They hone in on the figure who is most out of breath and least enjoying themselves to make an attack. It’s like the awkward conversationalists at bus stops, except at this bus stop you are simultaneously trying to give birth while they ask you about your weekend.


Retired men ‘staying in shape’
These silver foxes are determined that they will die before their killer abs do. There is a sixty-year-old who wears a red lycra short bodysuit and does thousands of crunches until his thick head of hair bristles with the effort. They jog along beside you on the treadmill and occasionally but regularly cough violently sideways in your direction. They are devotees of the weights machines but only spend about half of their time using the weights and the other half sitting at the machines having a long fisherman’s chat with the other retired men ‘doing weights’ around them, making sure no-one else can use the equipment and disturb their jovial bonding ritual. 

The unnervingly omnipresent tiny bodybuilders
The other part of the gym’s male population is the tiny bodybuilders. These are oddly short, oddly delicate men who stay at the gym for hours pounding away at their bodies, presumably in an attempt to grow lush fields of rolling muscles where there are merely gentle hillocks. One almost suspects they believe that if they pump enough iron they will grow a few inches in height. These men work out in strange and foreign ways; they strap parts of their bodies to bits of the weights machines which usually accommodate other bits of the body and use them to carry out strange, convulsive new exercises which I’ve never seen before. One man, who I like to call Gino because he looks like a fifteen-year-old Italian pizza-boy, is short enough that he can stand on the seat of the shoulder press, velcro his wrists to the hand grips and use it as a surreal squatting device. Another boy, who is undoubtedly starting puberty, flings himself about on the weights so they smash about with unbelievable volume and tries to do his reps so quickly that he repeatedly hurts himself and emits yelps of pain. It’s like watching Daffy Duck trying to do a Rocky montage. If these men all simply shrugged their shoulders and accepted their slight builds, they could join together and form an indie band.

Scary android-women
Full-body Adidas spandex. Worrying tattoos. Mahogany-tanned, aging skin. Pulse meters, pedometers, calorie calculators and other useless exercise tamagotchis strapped around their limbs. These women are training to be the next Terminator. They can whip you with their ponytail so hard your neck will snap. 

Teen Girl Squad
Teen Girls come to the gym in packs. They work out in twos or threes, wearing tank tops with “Yeah!” or “Miami Beach Party” printed on them. Their favourite machine is the exercise bike, because they can sit at them for the whole hour, pedalling at the kind of trundling speed even an infant on a trike would find laughable. They exercise in Primark leggings. They chat about stuff and things and swap iPods as they work out and text people called ‘Shaz’ or ‘Jaya’. I am old.

That one lady who doesn’t use the exercise bike
There is a lady who comes to the gym and sits on the exercise bike. She wears a skirt suit and spends her time talking to people on two mobile phones simultaneously, one at each ear. I am not sure what she is doing.

Me
I don’t know what these other people all see me as. Possibly a Teen Girl – I have after all been paying the child’s rate for membership for about eight years now – although I suspect I am more regarded as a misanthropic anomaly, or a young woman who has to exercise in order to hold off the effects of a terminal disease.

Nocturnal Species

Post-work work-outers
These are the most common gymgoers of them all, but only begin to emerge mid-afternoon as temperatures start to decline and 5.30pm has passed. The gym is their final weary port of call before home and dinner and booze, and they just want to get it over with. They keep it short and sweet and are too fagged out by the whole situation to bother with real gym outfits, opting instead for jogging bottoms from Tesco and any pair of trainers they had knocking about from taking the dog out over the weekend. I want to embrace these people and hand them a giant, delicious steak-and-kidney pie on their way out, and wish them a lovely evening’s rest. They look like they need both of those things.

Indoor walkers
Mostly middle-aged ladies with curly hair, these people enjoy the gym because it is a relaxed and low-key affair. All they have to do is walk gently on the treadmill for a while and see their friends. They look overjoyed to be there and have a whale of a time talking to each other and watching the early-evening telly. No-one knows if this is actually exercise or why they pay a huge amount of money just to walk slowly on the spot for a short while; this species is still under research.

The Spin-class swarms
In the centre of the gym floor is a forest of tangled yellow standing bikes. As soon as the sun has set, wiry women and driven-looking men mount these bikes and suddenly the speakers in the gym begin playing club anthems at an eardrum-tearing volume. The spin instructor bellows his commands like an apoplectic army major and the spinners themselves cascade fountains of sweat from every surface of pulsing red skin. These are highly aggressive, combative periods, and the other creatures in the gym stare constantly at these people with narrowed eyes and blackened stares, hating them for bringing their cacophany and masochistic athleticism into our world of futilely optimistic effort.

Me and my mum
Our gym outfits are stained and older than some of the other people in the gym. We have a specific type of clairvoyant communication where we can, in a single moment of eye contact, say to each other, “Can we go yet?” I read my Kindle and my mother props a bit of the paper on the machinery. I love the cardio and mill my stubby legs about on the treadmill at a slightly inappropriate speed until my mp3 player falls onto the conveyor belt and is whipped with a tremendous smack against the back wall; my mother loves the weights and is gradually trying to build enormous and slightly incongruous biceps on her slender arms. I don’t know what species we belong to, but it’s too hilarious for me to care.

Rose T

Jill of all trades: writer, illustrator, designer, editor, web designer, craft maniac

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