the gym sucks

November 20th, 2006

I can't think of a less fun and less rewarding way to exercise than the gym. When the gym first took off in Norway, I think a lot of people found that their needs were being catered to. That they didn't enjoy the traditional forms exercise and found their match. I was never one of those people.

The problem of the gym is that it's out of context. Why am I pretending to ride a bicycle when I could actually be riding one? Why am I pretending to be running when it's just a conveyor belt moving under my feet? I'm staring at a blinking monitor in front of me, which displays increasing numbers, and this is supposed to mean what? That I'm currently biking at 15km/h? I'm not, I'm sitting in this chair moving my legs aimlessly. "If you were actually biking, you would now be nearing 10km." There's nothing moving around me, it's just me sitting here pretending to be moving. What drives me to push myself when I'm exercising is precisely the natural elements - the sense of speed, the cool wind on my face, seeing things move around me. Meanwhile I'm moving my limbs in this big room and it's just make belief. There's bad music playing, there's a row of tvs bolted to the ceiling and there's a lot of sweaty people around me also pretending to be running.

Then there's the weight lifting. I don't know about you, but I've never had the urge to lift weights. When I was a kid it was exciting to lift heavy things, to see who could lift what and try to compete with your dad. But then you turn twelve and suddenly it doesn't excite you anymore. Before I ever tried it, people told me how great it was and I never believed them. And it's not great, it's pointless. Why am I lifting this? Because it's heavy? Give me a real reason. I don't know if you consider the machines as weight lifting, but there too you are just moving weights for no reason.

Going with a group is more fun than going by yourself, but the gym is inherently an individual form of exercise, so even though you can talk to them and make them laugh as they're trying to lift something heavy, if you want to be serious about it, the presence of others doesn't do much for you.

The fundamental problem of the gym concept is that it approaches exercise the wrong way. It's just numbers. Do I feel good after biking 50km? Yes, I do, but not just because of the distance, mostly because I was out there and I enjoyed the whole experience. I could have sat in a room and pedaled the equivalent, but what's the point of that?

I suppose you could say that exercise is about applying this much effort over this length of time to process this much energy. Some may define it that way. But that's not what sport is about. Sport is about pursuing some goal defined in the sport, and the exercise is just a side effect. Getting in shape is a by product of sport, it's not supposed to be the goal itself. The goal is to run faster or hit the ball stronger, and the fact that you have to expend more energy to accomplish this, is a consequence, not an aim. Sport is about expressing yourself physically, using your natural instincts, it's not a science at all. So why make it one? Why have a calorie counter on the display? I don't care how many kilojoules I've used today, it's completely beside the point.

If you look at exercise from the point of view of the gym, then it's really just an obligation to do this amount of work and go home. So you come in the first day, you do your sets, then you leave. You come back a few days later, you do your sets, you leave. Five years later, you're still doing the same thing. You're in better shape now, cause you've been exercising for a long time. But even though you are doing more reps faster, you're not doing them in a different way. You're lifting weights in the same way you did the first day, there's absolutely no development, ie. there's nothing to strive for. And after five years, your physical development has stabilized too, you're no longer improving your physical shape, you're just maintaining it. Thus exercise is no different from, say, washing the car. You wash it once, it gets dirty, you need to wash it again. Rinse and repeat. So where is the passion??

Still, for those who don't feel passionate about any sport, or they haven't yet played a sport they liked, I suppose the gym is a good enough alternative. Although I can't help to feel a little bit sorry for them.

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4 Responses to "the gym sucks"

  1. erik says:

    Most peoplel I know that are going to the gym are doing so because they want to improve their health and body. Look more physically attractive by having a flat stomach and good muscle mass. You'll struggle building noticeable muscle mass all over your body through playing a sport: unless it's swimming but even then you'll have to really go at it. A workout in a gym counts for much more on that premise.

    But the cycling, the running, the rowing... I guess people do it because those same people I just mentioned are in the gym anyway, might as well do some cardio.

    Myself, I would always go row on a canal if I had the choice. That rocks.

  2. ash says:

    Erik's spot on about why people go to the gym. Personally I only used the running machines because they were conveniently right there after I'd finished with weights etc.
    But I definitely think of gym as seperate from sport for all the reasons you suggested - it's far more to do with feeling good about yourself, both because of the health and weight/muscle thing as well as enjoying the actual exercise.

  3. numerodix says:

    Oh I know that. That's why I said in the opening paragraph that the gym fills a need that was there before it, and some people really like it that way. I just don't agree with that rationale and don't think I ever could. But that's exactly where the disagreement lies, when people tell me they feel so good after a workout, after doing something that gives me nothing extra, then I don't share their satisfaction when I do the same thing. I mean ash says you feel good about yourself for taking care of your body, but I feel good after washing the car too, cause I'm taking care of it. But that's all I get out of it, there's no other benefit.

    But about those who do it to improve body shape, I would generally separate them into two categories. A) Those who need to lose weight before bikini season and otherwise just need to stay in shape and B) the body builder type who adore looking at themselves in the mirror. For A), after you go to the gym for a while, you can easily maintain a good figure by doing sports or aerobics or what have you. For B), they're stuck paying way too much for the privilige of lifting heavy things

    Besides, it's a self perpetuating thing. I go to the gym because you and you go because someoen else does. In that sense I think it has a stronger flock mentality than sports do, cause there are so many sports to choose from, while there's only one kind of gym.

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