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Feel The Burn (of shame and embarrassment)

Medieval torture rack

"Sorry, there's a 20 minute wait for this one."

Everyone knows I’m more adept at linguistic gymnastics than I am at the physical pursuits (unless I’m terribly drunk and you tell me “yes, of course you could totally be a cheerleader”, in which case, stand well back and grab yourself a camera) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t ever set foot in a gym, it just means I haven’t set foot in a gym for over ten years and even then, I’m not sure you can class using the spa pool and sauna as “working out”, more’s the pity. Anyway, just because I don’t waggle weights around in front of sweaty strangers, doesn’t mean I don’t know what goes on in these places and it certainly doesn’t stop me from having an opinion on them [collective cheer from audience].

I used to say that gymnasiums were nothing but torture chambers. This was based on the fact that they are rooms lined with lots of barbaric looking machinery that medieval executioners would have loved to be left alone with for half an hour. Now, well, I still call them torture chambers but this is based less on the equipment and more on the strange behaviour one is forced to endure in one’s quest for a pert buttock and a six pack you could store CDs in.

For the record, I am all in favour of exercising. I just prefer to do mine like a civilised person. At home. In front of the television. I also like to roam the streets hating tourists which is a cracking bit of cardio (nothing gets the blood pumping like a 5 mile walk fueled by inhospitable rage) so please don’t for one moment think that I am going to suggest you are wrong for entering the sweat and blood stained portals of a work-out arena. Each to their own, as the old woman said as she puckered up for the bovine backside.

For the normal person out there, the desire to go to the gym is fuelled by a healthy amount of self-loathing, felt every time they look in the mirror at wibbly bits that can no longer fit inside the average item of clothing without the aid of a girdle and some Vaseline. The normal person will want to get in and out of the gym as quickly and invisibly as possible, with as few people seeing their huffing puffing lumpy bits, and with some small miracle meaning that they come out of there with a miniscule shred of self-esteem still intact. That’s the “normal” person. The trouble is, they aren’t the only ones using the gym.

For some anthropological freaks, this isn’t merely an opportunity to increase health and fitness levels, this is a chance to wear tighter-than-tight, shorter-than-short designer Lycra outfits, to top up their fake tan, comb their glossy flowing locks and drink in the admiring glances of well oiled muscly beasts. And that’s just the men.

These muscle-bound exhibitionists aren’t there because they saw une handle d’amour (I’m trying to make muffin-top sound sexy, do you like it?), they haven’t had more than 3% body fat since they hit puberty. It is my theory that these people actually work out at home before leaving for the gym, just to make sure they arrive looking as lean as the proverbial butcher’s pencil. This also frees up enough time once they are actually at the gym to strut, flex and lunge their way across the front of the mirrored wall so everyone can see their perfect physique from all its best angles, allllll oooof theeeeeem. I actually recall seeing one such oily steroid junky pull out a hair brush (not a comb, a full on brush) to stop in front of every gym bunny in the place and coiffe his mane with full tri and bicep rippling action. It was like watching a camp horny gorilla waggling his willy in front of the (unimpressed) troop females.

The scantily clad, fully made-up female flaunter does the same amount of showboating across the floor but she seems to include far more bending in front of her unwilling audience. It’s as though she’s scared her shoe laces are untied and needs to continually check them, lest she trip on the running machine. How very sensible of her.

When these life-sized Kens and Barbies aren’t thrusting their intimidatingly muscular crotches in your face, they can be found on the one piece of equipment in the place that you would really like to use in your mission to wobble less. There is generally a little sign next to these torture devices stating that nobody should sweat on them for more than 20 minutes at a time. You stand, you wait, you check the clock, you wait some more and still they bob around up there, sweat-free, fake tan and make-up still perfectly in place, and that’s just the m… damn, I used that one already, didn’t I? What you’re forgetting is that the rules don’t apply to these godlike creatures. You, with your pot belly and shapeless tracksuit must abide by the laws of the common man. These untouchables know that they are a superior race and that everyone is happiest when they can watch how a Power-Plate should really be used, by someone with a real set of thighs.

So, you’ve spent an hour in the gym, 17 minutes of that time actually using the equipment, you feel just the right amount of humiliation and inferiority to make you want to do this all again in a day or two but first you must shower in order to wash away the smell of defeat and shame. Guess who’s in the changing room?

The changing rooms at gyms were designed by someone with absolutely no sense of nakedness, either that or a deliciously cruel sense of humour. There is absolutely nowhere to hide in those places and so your only option is to unveil your least favourite physical failings for all to judge. If that isn’t bad enough, there they are; Ken/Barbie, still flexing, still bending, but this time, naked.

The “normal” person gets dried and dressed, head down, in under 2 minutes. The plastic gym doll will air dry, lunging round the changing room until all droplets of water have evaporated from sheer embarrassment. Then the dressing routine. You and I would start with undercrackers and build up from there. Not so the gym freak, as clearly that would prevent us witnessing pure perfection in all its glory and so they begin by drying their hair (still naked), putting on their watch (still naked), jewellery (naked), socks (you get the point), find their car keys, check their phone, book an appointment with their manicurist, think about discovering a cure for AIDS aaaaaand finally, some fabric touches their torso. Phew!

If you can stomach having a stranger’s undercarriage publicly thrust in your face after they’ve made you feel like a member of The Roly Polys for the best part of an hour, well, you’re a stronger person than I am and you should also consider a career as a gynaecologist. Personally, I’d rather just avoid paying for the whole humiliating and harrowing experience that is going to the gym and if I ever feel the urge to give it another whirl, I just follow 10 simple steps to snap me out of it. You’re welcome to try it too, and I won’t charge you the £1,000 non-refundable membership fee! 

1. Select a music channel on your TV/radio station that plays nothing but inane second rate dance music circa 2001
2. Position images of impossibly muscled, smug looking models in eye line 
2. Clear your laundry from the exercise bike/cross trainer that lurks in the corner of your spare room
3. Stand next to it for half an hour “waiting”
4. Give up
5. Do 45 seconds of hamstring stretches
6. Feign exhaustion
7. Head for the shower
8. Dry yourself in front of the window with the curtains open
9. Swear to do this again 4 times a week
10. Never do this again

Remember, you’re beautiful just the way you are, even when you wibble.

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