Saturday, July 24, 2010

Exercising and mental gymnastics

I recently commented on one of the longest Facebook threads I have seen and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. 

To my loved ones involved in the discussion (and everyone else) - this is not a dig about personal choices; it's about the world we are somewhat stuck with.  So here goes...
"Soooo.. why is it that when I'm friendly to someone at the gym, they automatically assume that I want to spend my entire workout talking to them when I obviously have to remove my earplugs every time they say something?"
Being more of a loner myself, I have a huge amount of empathy here.  It can be really difficult when someone else ignores obvious social clues that you're not open for conversation.  And there were plenty more empathetic comments from people who'd obviously been there.

I have never done the Walkman/IPod thing during my exercise because I like my mind to wander meditatively and I like to look around me.  Takes my mind off the sweating.  So, going past my own automatic introverted response, my personal devil's advocate asked
"...isn't it nice that people want to talk instead of just being in their own heads?"
But apparently, at the gym, it isn't!  The firm response: while they are positive social butterflies in other areas, they are at the gym to work out and conversation is a distraction from that.  They even discussed antisocial techniques to discourage approaches.  And I can totally understand a need for focus - this is your health!

But how did we get so far away from balance in our lives?  So many people have such a large disconnect between daily food and daily action that they pay significant money to rent space in a building so they can get in a car, drive to the building, then move their bodies with the help of machines, many using valuable electricity.  And a large majority of these people find it much easier to get through the pain of the experience by using earphones to limit their world to their favourite music - so much so that another person trying to make conversation is an unwelcome intrusion.

Some people take this outside too.  Today, when running alongside one of Auckland's top-rated views (Rangitoto on a sunny morning), I noticed people wired in, turned on and dropped out of their surroundings.

As I've said before, I don't use the gym now.  So I compared my own preferences during my exercise - how would I feel if a stranger walking or running near me struck up a conversation and continued to chat?  I can only speculate, because it has never happened.  One major difference between exercising outside and in the gym is that people are actually moving.  Moving at different speeds, in different directions, away from each other.  In the gym, if you're 10 minutes into your 20 minute workout on the crosstrainer and some desperate saddo decides to chat you up mercilessly, you're trapped.

Gym body work has no other purpose except to maintain or regain health...and of course that in itself has value.  But this lack also makes it unique.  You're not making anything grow, or making anything cleaner, or building anything, or getting any Vitamin D or fresh air, or learning that your neighbour planted three new trees and the house down the road is for sale, or making anyone else happy, or learning skills useful in other areas, or even usually having much fun in the process.  
  • The gym is the exercise equivalent of processed packaged food - or perhaps the hamster wheel in our virtual cage?
And yet this is genuinely a preferred choice for so many people, because nothing else fits into their lifestyles.  The popularity proves a need is being filled.  A recent study shows that even standing helps your health compared to sitting during your day.  And so many of us in the knowledge economy must sit to complete our work.  Beyond micropauses, the standing workstation is an interesting variation that I haven't adopted yet. 

Partly in commitment to the discomfort that led to this rant, and to goals 1 and 3, I am giving up a personal luxury we have enjoyed since being DINKs - our weekly basic houseclean.  The dark side to Nadia's increased time at preschool is a further drain on our budget.  I can't come up with any easier way to increase our bottom line (and get a bit of free exercise on the side).  Goodbye, outsourcing! 


  1. Ok I can see how you feel. I am the same way when I go to the gym. Don't know why, but people always seem to want to talk. It's usually when I am in the middle or right when I first start. Are they really bored? I am there to work out and work out only... Now I am male so you being a female have it a little different. If its male's that want to talk to you? I mean come on let's be real the work out cloths on a female seems to put us in a transe...think that's funny? Well see for your self. I don't have any advice on this one, just wanted to comment.. good luck. No Pain , No Gain!!

    I am also a followere of your blog, please visit my blog, comment, and follow, thanks Jess

  2. LOL! Hadn't thought about the "male trance" issue... I know that when I went to the gym I was bored, which is one reason I'm sure it didn't work for me. With exercise you have to find something you love to do, I think.

    I have an idea for a gym that I would love to go to and I think others would too - I guess I'll have to keep it a secret until I meet a venture capitalist :-)

  3. My gym used to be VERY social...I worked at a gym many years ago, and it was terrible, because when I worked out, EVERYONE wanted to chat with me!! These days, I do not work at the gym I do in-home training...and I keep the ipod on, and try to keep the social cues up that I am all business.

    I make a living off people that DO NOT go to a I get where those ppl are coming from, and it's everything you have said and more :-)

    Thanks for visiting The Fitness Dish!

  4. I just started working out, so I can't speak from experience... but I'm hoping my workout time will provide me a chance to think deeply. The rest of the day I tend to be distracted and worried... hopefully that hour of "taking care of me" time will serve my body AND my mind.

    As for gyms: pfft. Hate 'em.