Lately, I’ve been reflecting upon 30 years of going to gyms. This generally happens when I’m at the gym. Going to our local gym semi-frequently affords me the time to think about and reflect on the time I’ve spent in gyms, at this stage of life.
Living close to a Planet Fitness gym is nice. It’s about three parking lot distances away from my door. It’s convenient and easy to go, without even getting into a car. It also makes me often feel lazy for not going on a regular basis. At age 47, going on 48, I’m painfully aware that I should be going religiously, as I did in my teens, twenties, and even early to later 30’s.
It’s funny how our motivations change as time passes. Thinking about how different things feel during my visits to the gym is often humorous. Here are a few things that have come to mind lately, during my workouts.
Gym, at age 18: “I hope my Nike cross-trainers match my Nike tank-top, Nike basketball shorts, Nike gym bag, and Nike socks.”
Gym, 30 years later: “I hope these 3-year-old ASICS running shoes have enough tread left on them that I don’t fly off the treadmill.”
It’s funny that when I was young, single, and looking, I cared about what EVERYONE at the gym thought. Even though very few ladies or none at all were looking in my general direction. 30 years later, I’m just hoping nobody makes eye contact with me or God forbid, speaks to me. I do tend to notice when another middle-aged man is working out in heather grey sweatpants and hiking boots, and I think, “My Brother”.
These days, my biggest concern is making sure my socks match in length. Or if my Tom & Jerry t-shirt makes for a good workout shirt. Do I even use my favorite t-shirts to work out in? Or will they end up stinky and pit-stained if I wear them too often? What the hell, Just Do It.
Gym, at age 18: “All right. Chest, Tris, Shoulders, super-sets, burn-out sets, drop-downs, and 45 minutes of cardio to end it. I can do this in 2 hours.”
Gym, 30 years later: “I hope I don’t tear my shoulder from its socket, doing 40 lb. chest presses on the Nautilus machine. And damn, I think I have to poop.”
The workouts the first few years were so intense. Correction, the 2nd and 3rd years were. The first year was pretty embarrassing and pathetic. My younger brother by two years was benching 45 lbs plates on each side of an Olympic bar when we joined our first gym. I was trying to move a stack of machine plates totaling 70 lbs if I was lucky. But I kept with it and worked hard. I had to stay consistent and catch up to my younger brother. Eventually, I did and surpassed him, as older brothers SHOULDN’T have to do. Playing catch-up to a younger sibling sucked about as much as it sounds like it did.
The next few years, I benefited from working out with a number of friends, and we pushed each other to do our best. Eventually, we all grew up, got busier with life, and became less reliable. I was always the one of our group who tried to get my workout buddies to show up, and usually was the one working out alone. But I kept at it with great consistency, often doing three or four sets of exercises per body part, 3 to 4 sets per exercise, for two or three muscle groups. Plus cardio after each lift.
At age 48, my motivations are a bit different. I like to do cardio first. I do a ten-minute warm-up on the treadmill to push whatever unhealthy, fat-laden food I’ve eaten the day before through my arteries, so as to be able to survive the lift I do next. I look at the empty treadmill next to me, and imagine tying a cheeseburger to the front of it, and sticking our portly little dog Mooch on it at 4.5 MPH. I giggle to myself and continue watching The Food Network on the TV above me.
I guess you can call what I do next a “lift”. I prefer to work chest and triceps one day, legs the next, and back and biceps the 3rd day after that. Often, these three lifts are scheduled a few days or weeks apart from each other. I once did them quarterly, I think back around 2018. Three sets of two exercises for two body parts, and I’m back to 2nd cardio. This is usually where I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe that’s just the light-headed feeling from 10 to 15 minutes of no-elevation treadmill speed-walking. I go toward the light.
Gym, at age 18: “I have to bring my 60 grams of protein powder with me, make a shake, and drink it within 5 minutes of completing my lift.”
Gym, 30 years later: “This double quarter pounder has a ton of protein, perfect for pre-workout.” *Tosses Mickey D’s bag in the garbage, as I walk into the gym.
They say that your fitness results are generally 20% workout efforts and 80% diet. I think that’s pretty spot on. And it truly sucks. As an Italian who loves to cook, drink red wine while I cook, and considers himself a foodie, I’d prefer the ratio to be the opposite of what it actually is.
I love to make Dad’s spaghetti, it’s a weekly thing in our household. Eminem’s mom’s has nothing on mine. Our kids also love the house specials, like baked ziti, lasagna, fettuccine chicken Alfredo, red or white sauce ravioli, and Italian meatloaf. Salads and veggies are both about as rare as sightings of Chef Boyardee and Spaghetti-Os, in this house. It makes it hard to hit fitness goals when you get 300% of the recommended dietary allowance for pasta each day.
In my younger days when vanity reigned supreme, I tried all kinds of healthier eating habits and trends, as well as supplements. I once ate nothing but plain baked potatoes and tuna fish with salsa for lunches and dinners. I also only had egg whites for breakfast that month. The marginal difference it made to my abs was truly uninspiring. I was disappointed that I couldn’t wash laundry on my abs. Nobody was lining up around the block to eat sushi off those abs.
I tried supplements like crazy, too. I once tried to purposely eat 5000 calories a day when I read that you had to gain 10 lbs to be able to add an inch to your arm measurements. I tried weight gainer protein and ate everything I could get my hands on. I blew up from about 185 lbs to at least 230. Just like that Weight Gain 4000 episode of South Park, where Cartmen purposely gained all that weight to be a BEEFCAKE! I was lifting a lot heavier weight and thought I was looking GOOD.
My brother came to town to visit, and promptly asked me why I got so fat. That burst my bubble and I gave up on becoming a genetic freak. I bought Hydroxycut the next day. Not the kind they sell these days, but the good stuff. The original formula that used to have ephedrine in it. I was as jittery as an extra on Breaking Bad. I started eating for one, instead of two. It turned out I wasn’t pregnant, I just looked like it. I dropped 30 lbs in a month and had to buy new clothes for the 2nd time in 60 days. I’m probably lucky my heart didn’t explode.
Gym, at age 18: *steps on the scale. “YES! I gained another 3 lbs of muscle!”
Gym, 30 years later: *steps on the scale, message pops up: “Only one person at a time, please.”
Weight goals for the gym sure have gone in the opposite direction. I weighed 155 lbs when I first started going to the gym. I was an 18 year old with the muscle tone of Jell-O, arms like Olive Oyl, and a potbelly courtesy of Nintendo. I gained 20 lbs of muscle the first year or so and definitely looked better and felt better about myself. Slowly adding a couple of pounds of muscle each year for a while had me looking and feeling better. I’d be disappointed if I didn’t gain a little weight each month.
Oh, how times have changed. During prolonged periods of inactivity and time off from the gym, I’ve mistaken myself for Jabba the Hutt when walking by mirrors. My double chin started getting cold in the winter, so I bought it a sweater. Thank god beards have become somewhat fashionable over the years, in a homeless-chic kind of way. I went to counseling to deal with some of the negativity of this inactive lifestyle, and my therapist taught me that I was being abusive. So I apologized to my scale, and promised that I’d never stand on it again.
I’m still avoiding the scale for the most part. I’ve learned that half the battle is just showing up to the gym. I do enjoy the time I spend there. The hardest part is not making a dumb excuse to skip going. (“What if the dog gets lonely while I’m gone?”) I find that it’s easy to spend an hour working on my heart health and hopefully looking marginally better. I may never weigh under 200 again or eat baked potatoes and tuna fish for a month straight, but I’m definitely happier with a life of balance and being realistic about my fitness goals.