You have my blog mate and best friend Carla to blame for this post. We met a few Saturday mornings ago for coffee. Three and half hours later, we had covered everything from bone broth, her new obsession, to The Gilmore Girls revival. In between, I told her about some recent blows to my ego I had recently experienced at my gym.
Now you need a little back story. I adore Carla and it’s not that easy. She’s 24 years younger than me and she’s stunningly beautiful. And she’s skinny. I told you it wasn’t easy. Carla is the type of woman (perhaps not really human) who has never had a problem with her weight. She is the reason skinny jeans were invented. Are you getting the picture?
I love Carla’s laugh – it’s surprisingly robust for such a slender woman. And often when she laughs she can’t speak and she’ll sort of double over and wipe tears from her eyes. This was her reaction when I shared my gym woes with her that morning. When she finally caught her breath, she said, “You have to blog about this.”
So here we are.
When I stopped commuting for my former job in January, I gave up my gym membership in Greensboro because it just didn’t make sense. I live in Winston-Salem and it’s about a 40 minute drive. Like I need another excuse to not go to the gym.
I decided to give Planet Fitness a look because I kept seeing their commercials – “No Gymtimidation” is one of their tag lines. That sounded promising to me so I checked out the location just a few miles from my condo. I was prepared to not like it. My gym in Greensboro was really nice – so nice it was called The Club. And it sort of felt like a country club – nice leather chairs in the lobby, classy art on the walls and lots of shiny machines.
Well, if my old gym was Whole Foods, Planet Fitness is Aldi’s. It has everything that I could possibly need – just without any frills. The staff was super friendly and the price was right. I joined and as part of my membership, I was given a free appointment with a personal trainer.
I’ve never been keen on a trainer. I don’t respond well to being told what to do (understatement) and I really don’t want to have to talk to anyone while I’m working out. In fact, I wish they would make all gyms a “no talking” zone. It’s just awkward, right? At my former fancy gym I would often run into my friend, Bruce. I’ve known him for years and I really like him – except that he looks like a GQ model ALL the time – even when he’s exercising. Seriously, he makes Adonis look like a sloth. And his hair looks perfect even after his workout.
Invariably, I would be on the cross trainer looking like a sweaty troll and he would saunter up with his gorgeous smile and that chiseled hair and start talking to me. I would take my earbuds out and try to speak without gasping like I had a collapsed lung and have a civilized conversation with him. To this day he doesn’t know that even though my lips were moving, I was really just focusing on not falling off my machine.
When I arrived to meet my personal trainer, I was led into a room where four other women were seated around a table. Well, my “free” appointment turned out to be a group one. I really didn’t mind – the other ladies were nice – and older than me. Score. We made a little small talk and then our trainer walked in. That’s when things got real.
She was a no-nonsense young woman who looked like she could have been in the Marines. She started talking and barked, “Write this down.” We had pencils and paper at our seats and the first thing she said was, “Abs begin in the kitchen, not the gym.” This confused me but I was a little gymtimidated so I didn’t argue and I wrote it down. She went on to explain the connection between nutrition and exercise and then asked each of us what our personal goals were.
Goals? Jeez, I just signed up for some regular exercise, I wasn’t thinking about the meaning of life. Fortunately, I did not go first so I had time to scramble up an answer. I think I said something like, “Improve my stamina.” I don’t know why I said that – it’s not like I’m going to be climbing Everest or anything. Anyway, she nodded and seemed to think that my goal was worthy. She then showed us where to file our fitness plan so that we could record our reps (gym speak) each time we came in. I guess my file is still there – I haven’t pulled it. Again, I like the solo approach to exercise.
My first few times at The Planet (my homage to the coffee shop in The L Word that just makes me smile) I was very much aware that this was not The Club. First, there were a lot of older people there – yes, older than me. And I didn’t see anyone in a matching gym ensemble. I saw a lot of run of the mill schlubs like me. Score again.
I saw sweatpants – the bulky gray kind that you wear when you’re feeling puny and you’re going to be on the couch all day watching a Sex and the City marathon. I saw a lot of socks – not shorty gym socks – regular socks, even black ones. I saw some street shoes paired with shorts and a tank top. The more I saw, the more I liked. I knew this was a place where I could feel comfortable. I had found the gym version of the Island of Misfit Toys.
Planet Fitness bills itself as the “No Judgement Zone” and I felt a little snarky because I judged them for putting that extra “e” in judgement. For the record, the AP Stylebook recommends judgment – no e. But I’m not here to crunch vowels.
Planet Fitness should add another tag line to their marketing – No Narcissism. Yesterday, I saw an elderly woman with an oxygen tank riding a recumbent bike. And there are a couple of regulars who have clearly had strokes, walking with canes or walkers, but they’re out there most days just trying to keep busy moving. These aren’t the kind of people who are going to bore the enamel off your teeth by posting on Facebook about how many steps they got on their Fitbits today. Nope, and I find these folks to be heroically inspiring.
Now certainly there are some bona fide buff bods here working out but they are more the exception than the rule. On an average day it looks like a grown up version of the Audio Visual Club from high school. And I like it. Don’t confuse that with liking exercise. My favorite part of my workout is when it is over and I can feel virtuous and maybe a little smug. I know it’s good for me – like flossing – but I don’t enjoy it. I enjoy going to the movies. I enjoy sipping an iced macchiato. I enjoy taking a long walk in November and hearing the crunching of leaves under my feet.
That said, I’m pretty proud of myself. This summer I’ve been going to the gym five days a week. Maybe it’s the turning 60 voice in my head: Move it or lose it! Or maybe it’s just that I do appreciate some discipline in my life and the satisfaction of doing something I said I was going to do.
So I actually have built up my stamina and I was beginning to feel like I had some gym cred. And then one day a few weeks ago, while I’m pumping madly on the cross trainer, a man – a man visibly older than me – walks up and stands beside my machine. I could feel his presence and I turned to look at him and took out my earbuds and he exclaimed, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you were my wife. She’s built like you.” It’s times like these when I’m grateful for my 25 plus years in fundraising. I seem to always default to speaking to strangers like potential donors. I smiled at him and said, “Well, I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Meanwhile my inside voice was saying, “Don’t you dare look around to see what his wife looks like.” And you know what? I didn’t. I just figured no good could come from that.
A few days later I had recovered from that bruise and was feeling strong again after completing my 50 minute workout and was wiping down my machine when a woman behind me on a treadmill said, “Excuse me, can I talk to you?” My inside voice was saying, “Yeah, no” but my fundraiser voice said cheerfully, “Sure.” She then proceeded to tell me that she noticed that I had been sweating a lot on the back of my T-shirt. Really? Hello, that’s why they call it working out! She then began to tell me about something that another woman had shared with her in the locker room. Wait for it – the sweat belt. Yes, it’s a thing. She went on to explain that you wear it around your waist under your shirt while you’re working out and it increases your amount of sweating. Okay, why would anyone want to sweat more? She explained that it helps reduce inches from your waist. I played along like I was truly interested and then she did the unthinkable. She actually lifted her shirt up to show me her belt that she had just gotten a few days ago.
I managed to say something like “thanks for sharing” and made a bee line for the front door. Okay, and maybe when I got home I might have Googled “sweat belt” just for kicks. Wow. My search pulled up over 12,400,000 sites related to the sweat belt. That’s a lot of sweat and apparently a lot of mixed reviews on whether the belt is a good thing or not. Yes, it makes you sweat more and perhaps momentarily lose some inches that are most likely related to water weight but some critics suggest that it prevents your abdominal muscles from fully engaging, thus limiting the amount of calories you are burning.
Some of the sweat belts even come with a special “sweat gel” that when applied to your waist is supposed to make you sweat even more than just wearing the belt. In a word, gross.
When my dear wife got home from work that day, I told her about my Close Encounter of the Sweat Belt Kind and she just laughed cheerfully and said that I shouldn’t take it personally – that my gym mate was just sharing some information. My wife is a much nicer person than me. She also has a very flat stomach so I’m not sure she could exactly walk in my waist on this matter. Nonetheless, I took her advice and tried to forget about the whole thing.
So guess who I ran into a few days later at the gym? Yep, my sweat belt stalker. She tapped my shoulder while I was working out and asked earnestly, “Did you get a sweat belt?” I was so over it all by then but I managed to smile at her and said, “I don’t really think it’s for me. I don’t really like sweating.” She looked at me with a bit of disappointment and yes, judgement, and said, “Okay, but it’s really working for me.”
I’m sincerely happy for her but I think I just have to go with my gut on this one.