In the mornings, there are usually about six people in the entire gym. It’s quiet. After a few weeks you even start recognising the regulars.
There’s the old guy, whose routine involves changing his shirt in the weight room (bet you a dollar I’ve seen more elderly nipples than you today) and then balancing uneasily on a swiss ball for half an hour.
There’s the moany guy, who spends a great deal of time on the foam rollers and then does some light benching. Doesn’t matter what he’s doing – whether he’s actually lifting something or just walking across the gym – he’s doing his o-face with a matching aural accompaniment. It gives an air of intimacy to the place. Like you’re in a well-lit sex dungeon.
There’s the helpful guy, who has one of those all-American grins that was made for a service job. When I first started going to the gym, he was all too pleased to point out where things were or to help me re-rack the weights. This was right up until the day I farted while doing lat pulldowns. I hoped we’d both just pretend it was the seat, but come on. Seats don’t make that sound. He knew it. I knew it. I re-rack my own weights now.
Everyone walks around with their heads held low, maybe a mumbled “g’mornin” as you pass. The only soundtrack is the faint whir of the ancient wall fan, as well as the dulcet tones of Petra Bagust nattering about how smoking is bad and her children are organic, or whatever she’s into this week.
Last week I couldn’t make it in the morning due to unforeseen circumstances (fine, full disclosure, I had a monster hangover and my bed was too warm) so I decided to go after work, and was horrified with what I found.
Gym bros. Everywhere. All of them barely 20, all of them in wife-beaters, all of them grunting. The air was thick with bodyspray and sweat and testosterone. And it was not in that sexy well-lit sex dungeon way. It was in that communicable-diseasey-swampy-men’s-locker-room way.
They are all flexing, and smirking at each other, and saying “squeeze it brah”, and what does that even mean? I felt completely indignant that they were all there taking up space and occupying equipment. This transformed into guilt, because I was doing the same thing, and I shouldn’t judge my fellow man for practices that I myself engage in. Then I turned indignant again, because they had the nerve to make me feel guilty in my own gym.
(It was complicated.)
I decided to just ignore them and do my workout. I would rise above the noise. I would be a bubble of zen. This lasted all of five minutes before I realised I was unintentionally frowning at everyone. Having used up energy already on all my earlier indignant mood swings, I decided to just embrace my anger. I stomped around from room to room, sighing audibly. The gym bros focused intently on each other’s bicep curls. I scowled. They said things like, “really tight, brah”. I scoffed.
Lucky enough to find a spare bench, I settled in to do some dumbbell rows. I hate dumbbell rows. You basically have to get on all fours and stick your butt in the air, and then, to add insult to injury, you have to lift up heavy things, lots of times. I always feel like a zoo animal presenting itself to its mate… while having the misfortune of needing to watch for predators AND babysit the cubs at the same time.
I lifted the dumbbell up and down, my eyes locked on the mirror, trying to scope out if you could see down my top from this angle or if I was getting away with it. The gym bros clanged their weights and grunted. Huffing and puffing and grimacing, I started to feel my indignation rise again. Girls are always complaining about being perved at the gym, right? And I’ve done my hair today, I’ve got my work makeup on, I’m on all fours, and these gym bros can’t bear to tear their eyes away from their swole guns to try and look down my shirt? Their respectful distance really started to annoy me.
I was halfway through my last set when I caught the eye of a gym bro, watching me from across the room. I felt immediately enraged. What, is he just at the gym to flirt?! I glowered down the mirror for a moment before remembering my desperate desire for attention only minutes prior and feeling bad for him. Then I felt angry again, because how was he to know I wanted attention? Most girls just want to be left alone!
(It was complicated.)
Never going to the gym after work again.