The Most Disturbing Thing I Ever Heard at the Gym
Why does this hurt your eyes?
For the past year, I’ve been mostly going to the same gym at roughly the same time every day. It’s a first for me, and what’s even newer is that I’m now on first-name terms with other gym-goers.
The group of about 10 to 20 people that always show up all know each other’s faces, and I’m beginning to feel comfortable with talking to others in between my sets. It makes my workouts a little more fun and the weight section feel much less intimidating.
And the best thing is that the men who see me every day know I don’t need help getting my plates on a barbell, so they don’t bother me with unnecessary and performative chivalry. I mean, I wouldn’t be lifting them if I couldn't handle them, right?
Speaking to people you don’t really know does provide for some interesting situations, when people confess to things you would rather not know about them.
Well, This Is Disturbing
One of the people I talk to the most is a man in his mid-forties. He’s really nice and polite, and always checks up on me, telling me he’s missed me if I go to another gym for a couple of days. After I got my Covid vaccine and wasn’t feeling okay to work out for several days, he was worried about me.
And honestly, since he’s gay, I’ve always felt much more comfortable around him than other men. He’s non-threatening, which is important when you’re squatting in skimpy clothing. Married men are sometimes fine, too, but Argentina is the land of infidelity so it’s not a great guarantee of non-sleaziness.
A couple of weeks ago, we were talking about work, and fitting our workouts into our daily schedules.
“You only work out during the week, right?” He asked.
“Well, I sometimes come here on Saturdays, as well. Especially if I had to miss a workout during the workweek.”
“You like it?”
“Yeah, it’s much calmer,” I answered.
“I don't like Saturdays,” he said. “I don’t like the people.”
“Oh, but it’s fine. As long as you show up early or at lunchtime, there’s room.”
He looked uncomfortable. “No, I mean, I don’t like the kinds of people who come to the gym on Saturdays. Everybody’s so out of shape, I don’t want to look at them.”
Mythbusters, Gym Edition
Let’s dispel a myth here. Two contrasting ones, actually.
Myth 1. People don’t look at other people at the gym.
They do. Everybody looks at everybody. There’s nothing else to do when you’re recovering between sets, or when you’re doing cardio. You look around. It’s completely natural.
I’ve seen some weird things at the gym. Like a person reading a full newspaper on the treadmill, which seemed super uncomfortable. Or a guy reading a big old book on the history of medicine between bench pressing sets.
Weird things at the gym usually involve reading. I sometimes do really easy recovery cardio sessions reading a book, but I do use a Kindle. Just because, you know, newspapers and books are pretty uncomfortable.
I’ve also seen someone lean on a paused treadmill watching full episodes of CSI on the TV in front of them. I mean, you do you, but I don’t think that counts as going to the gym?
But the thing is, what they do is none of my business. It might grab my interest for a couple of seconds, but that’s it.
So yes, people will look at you. They’re bored, and if you do something that’s a little out of the ordinary, they’ll pay attention to you.
Oh, and I did run into football legend Diego Maradona a couple of times. And I did look, but I tried not to.
Myth 2. Everybody stares at other people.
Even though everybody looks around, most people don’t care about what you do a the gym or what you look like. Honest.
Especially in the weight room and around the big boys, who are generally the most intimidating people at any gym. You see, these are the people who are generally really focused on their own workouts.
Some people do stare, and others sometimes make you stare. At another gym where I go once or twice a week because it’s close to my office, there’s a screamer.
I understand grunting. When you’re lifting heavy weights, it’s necessary to let a little bit of sound out. But this guy doesn’t grunt. He fully belts out a scream with every rep, Adele style.
I think it’s because he likes the attention. This is probably the kind of person who looks at others, too. I try to stay as far away from him as possible, because my AirPods can’t keep his screaming out.
But no, most people don’t care about what you do, at the gym or elsewhere. They’re doing their own thing. And if they do care about you, it’s because of their issues, not yours.
Why Do You Even Care?
Now, back to my gym acquaintance and how messed up his comment was.
In case you didn’t know, beginning to work out when you’re a newbie is tough. You don't necessarily know what you’re doing, you don’t have the right form, know all the exercises or in which order or with how much weight you should perform them. And to top it off, you might be out of shape and not feel your most confident.
Beginners and women, especially, often find the gym a really intimidating place. I used to hate going there, but I finally managed to convince myself that people who are in shape are just people like me, nothing special. That my not being in shape wasn’t something others cared about. I forgot about how our bodies always seem to exist for other people, not is.
Even though I’m in pretty good shape now, I’ve been really disappointed after hearing that comment. I mean, at least this man has the decency to stay home when he’s uncomfortable, but still.
Why do some people feel that other people’s existence hurts their eyes? Why do you care? And why should everybody look the same?
Going to the gym is hard, and not everybody has the time and energy to do it every day. Even if you only work out on Saturdays, that one day is better than nothing. And most importantly, you have a right to go to the gym like every other person.
I hate to throw in the cliches to finish this, but sometimes they’re necessary.
Health and fitness come in many shapes and sizes. Being skinny doesn’t mean you’re healthy, and it certainly doesn't mean that you’re a better person.
This story was originally published by me, on Medium.
About the Creator
Taru Anniina Liikanen
Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Recovering political ghostwriter. Fiction, relationships, politics, bad puns, popular and unpopular opinions. Occasional dinosaurs, because dinosaurs are the best.
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