Competition Music!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We’re better than you – and we know it!

So, I recently wrote a guest-post for Helen's blog about child-birth. Following the raving success of my musings, I requested a guest-post from Helen, and here it is...

We’re better than you – and we know it!

I started going to gym about 6 months ago, took a break while I ran up and down mountains chasing lizards and then started again after I went scuba-diving and realised that my arm muscles have almost completely atrophied to a point where I was unable to pull myself up and into the boat. To my credit, it’s a pretty high boat…

I like gym. Maybe it’s just my masochistic side that loves being exhausted to a point where I can barely climb the stairs to the exit (whoever designed the place was a moron), and maybe it’s that I love turning in my ipod and ignoring the world around me as I run until I just can’t anymore. But as the weeks go by, I can’t help but notice the different people who go to the gym. And while it was fun to invent back-stories for them at first, now I find myself allocating them to groups:

Soccer-mom gym bunnies: these are most common if you go to gym midmorning. They are the type to have perfect manicures, matching gym outfits and running shoes and hair that is blow-dried into perfect pouffyness after every session. They tend to travel in packs and between dropping Soleil off at violin and picking Kyle up from karate class (in a gigantic SUV that is never going to go more off-road than parking at the local mall) they are seen running side-by-side on treadmills chatting about their personal lives in rather strident tones. I’m never sure which annoys me more: that they are so loud about what should be private; that their private lives aren’t interesting enough to warrant eavesdropping or that they never seem to sweat. Either way the unspoken competitive streak is there: they are always best friends as long as whoever their gym-buddy is doesn’t lose more weight than them.

Early morning high-achievers: I run into these guys a lot because they tend to go to gym either before work (at around 6am) or after work (around 7pm). I don’t mind these people as they tend to be driven, focused and above all, silent. They arrive early; do their gym routine as quickly as possible before showering, blow-drying hair and applying makeup at lightning speed and then rushing off to work where I presume the PA will have a cup of coffee waiting. I think, on some level, we all want to be like them, as long as it doesn’t come complete with a midlife crisis, stomach ulcer and high blood pressure.

The ex-early morning high-achievers: I feel quite sorry for these guys (they’re always male). These are the people who used to be high-powered yuppies, but years of long hours in the competitive business environment as well as family braais and rugby on the weekend leave them with a lovely beer-gut and the stamina to play 9 holes of golf, but not too much more. Then they hit middle age, realise they are going bald, buy a sports car and try very hard to get their secretaries interested in them. I hate to admit it, but whenever I drive past an oldish man in a sports car I feel the urge to cough ‘Midlife crisis!’ at them and giggle while zooming off. Fortunately I’m not that immature. Anymore anyway. So at the gym these guys still feel as if they are 25. They compete with everyone – not in the macho bodybuilder way where they know they’re better and they show off because they can, but in a rather sad, masochistic way. For instance, they still never ever use any equipment without adding extra weights. Even if they are doing a circuit behind the toughest weightlifter in the country, they will add weights. Of course this means that they usually can’t do anything with any level of control and they end up jerking and dropping weights everywhere. They’re also usually limited to about 2 reps per machine in order to avoid an aneurysm, but they make up for this by glowering at everyone around them and puffing their chest out if they see anyone lifting less than them (although ‘lifting’ is a bit of an overstatement…).

A new generation of stage-mothers: These are the soccer-moms at a whole new level – once the kids get too rebellious for ballet lessons or something they start accompanying their mothers to the gym. I’m not talking about the little kids who go to the play area, or about the bored kids who wander around and poke at anything with buttons (I mean machines, get your minds out the gutter!). Generally these are the pre-teen daughters who are being trained into eating disorders and compulsive exercise regimes at a nice early age. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t be more supportive of mothers who teach their kids to be healthy and exercise regularly, but these mothers take it to the extreme, effectively living vicariously through their kids. As long as the little darling can run on the treadmill without being propped up, she will continue and therefore be fitter, thinner and altogether better than everyone else’s kids. Unfortunately most other others get this idea too, and so, if you go to gym in the middle of the afternoon you will see row upon row of bobbing blonde ponytails as the kids exercise while their mothers glare at each other and feel obligated to point out every single flaw in every other child (in a very subtle stage whisper) to their own spawn. After gym they will go and get smoothies and go and have pedicures together, in training for the next generation of overachievers who will probably end up as soccer moms.

The macho-men: much like how girls find it difficult to go to the bathroom alone, men find it difficult to go to gym without an entourage. Of course there is always the slight issue of who is in charge, and who forms the entourage, but that’s all in the friendly spirit of competition! These guys go to the gym in groups of three or four and take turns throwing weights around while making macho grunting noises. These guys range from late teens to late twenties, and as time passes the friendly competition becomes more and more intense. Sometimes the guys are really keen on getting in shape and they work hard and appreciate the accountability of belonging to such a group, but as far as I’ve noticed, there is quite often at least one member of the group who lies to feel macho. I’m not sure if this person goes to gym on his own, secretly, or if he just has a high pain threshold, but he’s always pushing the others way out of their comfort zones. This group has an unspoken rule that whatever one of them can lift/bench-press/leg press or whatever, they can all lift. So the scrawny little guy who invariably made friends with the others over an exciting game of D&D and who gets winded throwing the dice more than twice in a row… well lets just say that it’s not pretty to watch him gritting his teeth and straining… on the plus side, people like me get to watch the mach guys and picture them in twenty years time, with receding hairlines and the onset of a beer gut, trying desperately to regain lost youth… yes, they are well on their way to becoming ex-early morning high achievers!

The normal people: I know this post is coming across as bitter and cynical, but I think a lot of that attitude comes from seeing how uncomfortable the various stereotypes make the regular people. They don’t necessarily try, but the macho groups, or the soccer-moms in their designer gym gear can really make the man on the street a bit unhappy. These are the people who wear an old tracksuit and takkies, who actually sweat while exercising (and not in the tough, projectile-type sweat of the macho men either), who take breaks to catch their breath, who stand with their heads tilted, staring at the newest piece of equipment, tying to figure out if it’s a leg-machine, arm-machine, ATM, or a bench to rest on. These are the folks who occasionally feel so intimidated that they try to break out of their routine, where they invariably end up setting the treadmill at 30km/hr on an incline and go flying backwards (true story, I saw it last week!). So normal people, I salute you! Keep tying, and then, one day, when you bench-press more than the nearest macho-man, I will break out into applause as he tries to beat you and burst a blood vessel!

Zee Old Folks: These guys are the terror of most gym-goers (according to 100% of people surveyed, which was basically the last 5 people I spoke to. Thanks guys!). They aren’t too bad while exercising, they tend to do their own thing, usually involving swimming or walking. They aren’t necessarily ancient, in fact the mental image I have while typing this is of a 50-something woman. The reason that the image is burned into my brain? Because these people are the terror of the change room. Yes, the people who you would probably never want to see naked, are the ones who finish their workouts and then proceed to walk around the change rooms stark naked.

This is the scenario: you finish your workout and go to change or take a shower, but then you realise that there is a middle-aged naked person standing in from of your locker, having a conversation with someone across the room. This makes me very uncomfortable, because I hate to interrupt a conversation, don’t want to stare but am uncomfortable making eye-contact with a naked person. At the same time, tapping a naked person on the shoulder… awwwkward… my response is usually to go and wash my face, maybe go to the bathroom and come back later. This doesn’t usually work though and eventually I mutter “excuse me!” while staring at a point about two feet to the left of their head. Then you grab your stuff and go and shower quickly, avoiding looking at another one of zee old folks, who will be showering with the shower door open. WHY???

Then you get back from the shower, usually walking next to the person who was showering with the door open, to find that they will walk, naked, while CARRYING their towel. Seriously, not only is it a lot kinder to wrap the thing around you, it’s also more efficient ad you can carry your shampoo without dropping it and bending in front of me! You go and get your clean clothes out of your new locker (the talker is still standing in front of the one you used before) and try to change while staring at the floor. In the meantime the talker and the showerer will have started a conversation, and one of them will be standing with one leg up on the bench while rubbing lotion all over themselves. As by then I’m usually trying to tie my shoelaces, this will be at my eye-level. Once you are dressed you do not stop staring at the floor, while gathering everything and escaping.

I guess I will stop there, leaving you folks with that fabulous mental image. Have an awesome day!


  1. He he, I loved this post!! So very true, and I really started to miss Old Eds when I read this. I also loved going to gym, partly 'cos of the workout (especially the spinning, stretching and yoga classes and watching Anderson Cooper) and partly because people watching was tremendous fun. I must confess to being one of the early-morning over-achiever types and tended to have spinning buddies who also fell into that category, but was friends with both the soccer mom gym bunnies type, (who were hilarious to watch as after each spinning class they rushed down into the change room to reapply their make up), and Zee Old Folks type, who were super people (but have fortunately never interacted with any of them in the change rooms ;) ). All of your descriptions of the different types of gym-goers are great snapshots though, as were the anecdotes of what the 'normal people' would see when they venture inside a gym.

    Wow, a very nice post, I really enjoyed reading it, so thank you Helen :)

  2. Thanks Athena! I'm glad you liked it! i also feel I must point out, that as much as everyone i spoke to lived in horror of ze old folks, you are the first person who actually seems to have made an effort to get to know them. So you re a really nice person!

  3. And people watching is always fun!

  4. This post actually made me consider joining a gym - for both the fitness aspect and the people-watching opportunities! There's just 1 small catch - I would know 85% of the people there (it's a Jewish thing. Friends of mine do very little "gyming" other than craning their necks to check out who is/isn't at gym)! I'll consider it though...