Bernard Allen
Bernard Allen

Gyms don’t have to be the exclusive domain of Neanderthals

I worked as a training instructor in a gym for a couple of years once. I was studying at the time and it was a convenient way for me to do something I knew and enjoyed for some living money, while side-stepping the usual waitering jobs that students usually have to settle for. Or is that waitron-ing? Service person-ing? I’m never bloody sure these days.

Years of experience tells me that there will be quite a few Thought Leader readers who flinch slightly at the above admission. “Oh, so you were one of those jock types weren’t you? You and your ilk dunked my head in a toilet repeatedly, you bastard.” Or “personal trainer and a writer eh? Isn’t that a bit of a clash?” are the sort of responses I’m used to. That and “so you were one of those guys who stood around talking to women in the gym hey?” The last one I can’t deny. Although in all fairness it is a bit difficult to serve a client without speaking to them.

As much as I know those responses don’t apply to me and are actually rather ignorant and presumptuous, I still understand where they’re coming from though. They’re coming from the fact that many exercise enthusiasts are so focused on the physical that they lose sight of everything else. They come from the fact that most gyms are brimming with narcissistic meat-heads. And yes, they also come from the fact that the respondent had their head flushed in a toilet at school a few times (figuratively or literally).

I can’t help but shake my head when I walk into my local gym. It’s a number of years since I worked in one myself, so my level of exposure has changed somewhat. I can simply slip in, do my thing, slip out again and not be affected by it as much — in theory. But in reality the whole thing still works on my nerves. From the inane music that is virtually guaranteed to be repeated at any given time I enter the gym, to the hordes of incredibly vapid people posturing themselves as if the very meaning of existence is a single-digit fat percentage, it’s an annoying experience overall.

I am also nearly completely convinced that there is an invisible sign above the door to the place that reads “Neanderthal intonation ONLY beyond this point”. The sign is of course unfortunately facing outwards and not inwards. There must be one. Why else would seemingly educated men (and women) start dropping their intonation the way they do in the gym? To make matters worse, they put a “Seffrican” spin on their Neanderthal dialect. The mosquito-like buzz of phrases like “Howzit bru? How much can you bench press hey? Kif” in one’s ear is quite special, to say the least. I suspect that one painfully inserted barbell might solve the problem. Temporarily at least, until the initial shock wears off and the same mosquito-like buzz returns with: “Hey nought bru, it wasn’t kif to put that weight up my arse.” The wounded henchman calling from the pit in Austin Powers comes to mind.

But for all that, I still can’t bring myself to throw the baby out with the barbell, so to speak. Rather, I propose that an alternative arrangement be made, which allows one to exercise in peace. A gym colleague actually ended up opening a one-on-one training studio for that specific purpose. Why should something inherently beneficial and fairly neutral be monopolised by a bunch of meat-heads? Exercise is a wonderful thing. And the benefits to a thinking person are enormous. Both mood and cognitive abilities have been shown to benefit from exercise. And the aesthetic benefits don’t hurt either. Which thinking people don’t want that? Seemingly lazy ones and ones with insecurity or jealousy issues from the buff morons they fell victim to somewhere along the line.

During my time working in a gym I learned to look past the stereotypes, to the people who I saw as being there for more “noble” reasons. And there were actually many. Some truly genuine, thoughtful people who became life-long friends. I learned a balanced approach that has stood me in good stead for life. Instead of lumping the pursuit of more thoughtful activities and the pursuit of physical health and fitness into separate categories, I see them as being together under the umbrella of human experience and being the best you can be. So, despite loathing the Neanderthal buzz of the average commercial gym with the fury of a thousand bodybuilders with their “posing pouches” (glorified name for thong) twisted in a knot, I know better than to generalise too much.