Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Gym

It's been a long time coming. This blog has been years in the making, well before I joined the online world of documenting my triathlon and life adventures. But yesterday, the deal was done, signed, and sealed. I could take it no more. No more I tell you! I'm talking about - of course - the Gym.

What is it about this place that makes people do the things they do?

Maybe I'm a little sensitive because I'm a multi sport geek, who despite her football player shoulders and big-boned physique, never felt quite at ease in the gym. Or perhaps I feel odd because I'm usually one of the only girls: the gyms that I frequent are all on military bases, filled with muscle-clad, serious people (mostly males) all devoted entirely to their PT regimen(physical training, for all you non-military-speak folks). Maybe because I'm a g-i-r-l and I feel more than a little self-conscious at times when guys stare at me - what do I expect? I've got a rack (not prominent, but there!), and I'm usually one of a very few women in the place. Perhaps it's because I don't bench press much over 60 pounds, while most of these guys do twice or three times that. Or the real kicker - I don't grunt and groan like the rest of them. I swear that some of these guys sound as though they're giving birth (but that doesn't necessarily indicate one's ability to lift a heavy amount of weight. Some of the biggest grunters actually having a surprisingly "light" load, compared to others.)

While at the gym on Monday and then again last night (just doing a post-workout stretch and quick core work, something that I always intend to do, but never quite get around to doing it. So needless to say, I was very proud of my core work, even though it was a quick 10 minutes.) - I was making a lot of mental notes and silent observations. I don't want to judge, nor do I feel it's my place to judge, but some of the behaviors and actions that I noted were simply too much. So here we go - I hope you enjoy.

First and foremost, what's the deal with people leaving their weight plates on the bars? Please! Give me a break!! If you can lift it, you should put it away. End of story. Finished. Finito! Then again, lots of people don't like to bother cleaning up after themselves, so they leave others to do what they should have done in the first place. Thanks a lot jerk! I really enjoyed lifting and putting away your 130 pounds that you so conveniently left on the bar. And oh, by the way - I'm not busy, I have all the time in the world to clean up after you, asshole. So thanks buddy, next time could you lift a little more so I could get stronger while I put your stuff away? And I'll remember to personally thank you when I see you walk away to your next weight station after leaving all your weights on the bar. If you're strong enough to lift it, you should at least have the common courtesy to put it away.

130 pounds may not be a lot to you, my strong, narcissistic friend; but to me, well, that's my body weight, give or take a few pounds. How would you like to put away 240 pounds of weights that you didn't lift? Yeah, that's what I thought. But oh well, I guess that you missed out the pre-school lesson "a place for everything and everything in its place". Bummer for you, dude. Life is going to be tough if you keep this up. If you lift it, put it a-w-a-y. Enough.

Next - my chest doesn't have eyes. Just because I possess certain anatomical features that you don't have, doesn't mean you have free range to stare all you want. It's a little disconcerting. Creepy, and quite honestly, weird. I'm not a different species, I'm not pink striped with green polka dots, I can't predict the future and I can't do the splits - so if you're going to stare (which I can't help), at least do it discreetly. Or not at all. Let's face it - my struggling to bench press 55 pounds can't be all that appealing - not when you've got your friend next to you who sounds like he's practicing Lamaze breathing. So be a good friend and help out your buddy with his weights, before he kills himself trying to out lift and outperform everyone else in the gym.

What's the deal with people only working their upper bodies? What is so appealing about the "triangle" look (big upper body, shoulders, narrow waist, and minuscule legs)? I can't quite figure it out. Being naturally bigger on top, I've never been all that fascinated with the body builder upper body, and the endurance athlete look on the bottom. If you're going to go for the "Arnold" look, why not apply the same work effort throughout your entire body, not just to your chest, biceps, triceps, and upper back? I am amazed by the physique of some of these guys - incredible muscles, amazing muscle tone, and they obviously care a lot, because building and then maintaining that bulk is no easy feat. However. Just because you've got it on top, doesn't mean you should ignore the bottom. I see so many busting biceps and rippling chest muscles that are accompanied by little teeny-weeny calf muscles. The calves are important, they are our friends. They serve an important function. Like if you need to run or walk, your calves will be instrumental to your success. Otherwise, how else will you get your over-developed top half anywhere?

And another thing - just because there's a punching bag in the corner does not mean you get to enter the room, friends in tow, and boast about your hitting strength. And when you decided to show your strength, the aggression really isn't all that much of a turn on. Something about a punching bag getting pummeled by an overly-developed, boastful guy, who looks my way every few seconds, and whose grunts reverberate through the room, just isn't that much of a turn on. And besides, I'm married. And guys who like to beat the crap out of anything just don't cut it. Although, it was a little funny to watch this "experienced puncher" hit the bag and yelp out in pain. Next time you go after the bag, make sure to wrap your wrists, my friend! The three amigos departed shortly thereafter.

Ah - the rowing machine. As a former rower (and still a rower at heart), technique is important. I'm a little too shy to go up to someone and give them a few technical pointers - unless they look really friendly or look as though they're about to hurt themselves. I've mentioned to the gym staff that maybe it would be helpful if they put up the technique charts that come with the rowing machine. Thus far, I haven't seen any helpful charts. Perhaps the staff get a kick out of people making weird folding and rolling movements on the poor erg (ergometer aka rowing machine)

Talking about machines... is it so hard to ask people to wipe their sweat down? Let's be real - we're at the gym. We all sweat (okay, most of us), and our bodily fluids - as gross as that sounds - we all do. Just like the helpful book in my Mother-in-Laws bathroom cheerful states "We ALL poop!". But the bathroom (thankfully) is very different from the gym. And while you are (usually) the only one exposed to your own, ahem, waste, when you spit in the drinking fountain and don't wash everything down with a steady stream of water, it's plain disgusting. Especially because everyone else sees what you've just so blissfully discarded. So, if you flush the toilet, at least have the common courtesy of wiping down your sweaty machine or washing all of your spit out of the fountain. Again, pretty gross. At this point, I'll wipe the machine down before and after my workout. Not that I'm trying to be miss-goody-two-shoes, but I just am fearful of, oh - super germs, bugs, viruses, colds, and yes - bodily fluid. Ick!

And one especially for the ladies (men aren't excluded, but most of them don't wear makeup - we are, after all, talking about military base gyms). A little bit of makeup, well I can understand. Lip gloss (it could be dry!), even a little mascara never hurt anyone. And occasionally a concealer stick for a "special spot" (aka blemish or childhood scar, we've all got them. Well, not Barbie, but most of us do) - but that's it. But what's the deal with a fully made up face? If you're in the middle of the work day, okay, I understand. But the running mascara, raccoon-like eyes, orange makeup that has sweat stains, and lots of lipstick just doesn't cut it. It screams Look at me! We've all had bad hair/face days, etc. That's why God invented the baseball cap. I find them particularly useful, especially when I'm going straight from the pool to the gym. My mission is to lift, get stronger, in/out, have a productive session, learn, grow, etc etc. I guess that spending more time getting ready to GO to the gym than I actually spend AT the gym just isn't on my agenda.

Phew! That's it. Just a few observations and things that I've noticed over the years I generally try to be a happy-go-lucky, glass is half-full kind of gal. (I'm not always successful, but I still try). So sometimes it feels better to get it off my chest, so it's off!

But wait. Just wait a darn-tootin'-moment...

Hold on.

Or is it, gulp, me?! Am I the one who stands out, alone from the rest, spandex clad legs, wicking running shirt, and my microfiber Oceanside 70.3 finishers cap? Am I the one who is different?

And then it hit me. All my life I've been trying to fit in, to meld with others, to hide in the crowd, head down, and do my own thing. But slowly, I've learned that being different is okay. I used to hate my name - when I was a little kid it was awful and different. Marit. Not Sarah, not Kim, not Jessica. Not normal. No one could pronounce it correctly - they would call me "Merit". The "A" is pronounced ah, as in ah-ha! Maybe that's why I felt different for so many years. But now - now it's different. I love my name. I love who I'm becoming, flaws and all - because they're inherently a part of who I am.

So next time I go to the gym, I'll keep in mind that although these ripped guys and made up gals are doing their own thing, they probably all have their own issues as it is. And I won't be as critical - because as much as I look at them with a funny perception, they're probably thinking Who is that goofy girl, smelling like chlorine, lifting only 55 lbs, and weiring weird mesh hats? And that's okay. Because that's who I am. And lifting an extra 130 pounds isn't the worst thing in the world, it will, after all - make me stronger. But don't be alarmed if you smell the faint whiff of chlorine permeating the air. It's just the crazy triathlete girl, lugging heavy weights around, muttering under her breath and doing her best to march to the beat of her own drum.

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