Friday, 16 August 2013

Catwalk Treadmills: The downside of the gym

Nothing beats running in the great outdoors but if it’s roasting hot, freezing cold or lashing down with rain, the gym is your next best bet.

Great things about the gym include TVs to keep your mind off the lactic burn, water fountains usually within spitting distance, and a highly reduced chance of encountering vicious dogs, commuter congestion or torrential rain. Disadvantages? Here’s my biggest.

Just last night, following a light cardio work out, I was sitting on the mat in the stretching area when what can only be described as a bulldog in a onesie joined me. On the floor to stretch out my glutes I diverted my gaze to my knees, turned my music up a little and wedged my headphones in further.
But as I raised my head 30 second later to do the other side, I caught sight of Mr. Onesie perched on the mat beside me doing nothing but staring at his not-so lean mean physique in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, shoulders hunched forward, feral expression painted on his face as if about to whisper to his own sweaty reflection: “bring it on.”

Mirror, mirror

As a regular gym-goer it’s understandable that you like to keep track of your own appearance. No one should be shunned for being proud of a trimmed waistline or tight abdominals, but lately I’ve noticed that the gym is temporarily turning into a veritable catwalk for self-loving machos.

Girls in the changing rooms apply make-up pre-spinning class, plenty show off toned tummies in tiny tops and micro-shorts, and gym-bling is becoming an acceptable norm.

Guys, meanwhile, stride onto the weights floor with perfectly coiffed, just-gelled hair in crisp white wife beaters. They regularly spend several minutes staring at their studio-bronzed skin in the mirror after each lift, flexing an arm to check it’s still their or surreptitiously lifting a corner of their shirt to count the ridges in their belly.

At peak times - around 7pm on Mondays for example, when people are trying to undo their weekend vices - gyms in the city morph into strange social clubs in which it becomes acceptable to talk to complete strangers.

I once made the crucial mistake of entering the sauna during such a period and was almost immediately approached by a fifty-something “actor” looking for “someone to take for dinner”.  That was the keenest I’ve ever been to get to the ice showers.  

Dress to impress

I can’t remember when dressing to impress became normal for the gym but I blame the rise of designer gear. A quick Google search shows that if you really wanted to, you could spend no less than US$218,000 on a pair of Nike trainers, but on a more realistic note, even the high street has plenty of budget busting apparel on offer.

Californian designer Alexander Wang, who happens to be the creative director of Balenciaga, sells a simple small gym sack – the kind you get free when you buy something at SportsDirect – for a staggering US$675.

Sales of women's running gear grew from $275 million in 2008 to $350 million in 2010, according to SportsONESource, a research and analysis firm focused on the sporting-goods industry, and the figure has continued to rocket since.

Going to the gym has become about flaunting latest trends and styles and less about endorphins, performance and potential. It’s about attracting and interacting and undeniably, about a whole different kind of competition.

You do find elements of this in the parks and on the tracks outside, but unlike within the confines of the gym, you can escape it there. You might see someone eyeing their perfectly made-up reflection as they run past a shop window, but the faster you run the faster you pass them.

So if the gym machos and princesses really get too much, perhaps it’s worth considering how bad the dogs, commuters and rain storms really are.

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