Why I'm Quitting the Gym

A certain and specific dissatisfaction has been growing within me for the last 12 years. On one side of the coin is a love for fitness, sport, and the way tailored suits and slim fit T-shirts fit over sculptured shoulders and a toned torso whilst gazing in the bathroom mirror (or any reflective surface).

The other side, I hate going to the gym. 

I certainly recognize the vanity and narcissism in the first statement. But, I have always had great appreciation for the perfect male physique, a fact that my lovely fiancé can attest to. For me, such perfection is more embodied by Brad Pitt in Fight Club than Arnold Schwarzenegger in, well, anything. I stay fit, but my desire to achieve close-to physical perfection has been hampered by the tiny, small, and yet completely correlative absolute laid exposed here on the second side of that coin. 

I believe this hate began in high school. Adolescent athletes fueled by pubescent hormones pushed in to overdrive by Creatine gums, protein powder, raging sexual libido, and ripped fuel, populated summer workouts. Bench press and squat was king. Correct weight and proper form held no court as long as your battle cry while performing these basic lifts were adequate and equivalent to William Wallace’s death rattle in Braveheart. (Consequently Mel Gibson had great arms in that film, flinging broad swords and axes about the Scottish countryside obviously does a fine job of breaking down muscle tissue.)

The point is, I have since remembrance, been a quiet person. Screaming, yelling, over exclamation of “self” has always made me uncomfortable. 

If I may deviate briefly and once again toward narcissism I would like to inform you, dear reader, that these declarations do not come out of frustrations by someone who was “left out” or “picked last.” I was a starting varsity athlete in a 6-A high school for both the football and basketball teams, and competed for a state championship in football.  Again this is not a fact to indulge past glories—we lost the State Championship, finishing the season 13-1—but to implore the good reader that my meekness does not come from disability. I just have never been able to quantify the necessity of screaming at the top of my lungs in order to perform a physical feat.

College was a brief oasis for me athletically. The McLane Student Life Center at Baylor University is a Shangri La for former high school athletes. The center is filled with Basketball courts, volleyball nets, squash courts, and an excellent rock-climbing wall. Most wonderfully for me was the complete absence of screaming maniacs vying for the attention of the entire complex. That combined with an active intramural schedule brought me to the best shape of my life. I was running, playing, lifting, and competing. Competing for enjoyment and physical benefit not for blood and fleeting glory. It was the best time of my life up to that point, until all of that got in the way of my drinking and partying and flirting with co-eds.  So, after graduating three years later with an English degree and an extra 20 pounds of draft beer and late night pizza orders to carry across the stage, I was out on my own.

The next eight years were an absolute battle of mind over mass. Gym after gym came and went. I was searching for the perfect haven, but always finding the same dirty locker rooms perfumed by a rancid bouquet of Icy Hot and Tinactin, once again thrown in with those hormone-driven screaming maniacs that I had managed to avoid for four years. Now all grown up they had replaced Creatine gums with anabolic everything and the guttural ejaculations had become more intense. Wall after mirror-lined wall reflected cut off T-shirts, sweaty pot-marked deltoids, and tribal tattoos.

I attempted to flee these rooms once again by trying every workout class I could find: Boxing, swimming, yoga, rock climbing, trail running, spin. I was a renaissance man of gym classes and found satisfaction in none. 

My ultimate divorce from franchised fitness came some months ago at my local gym in Houston. I was there with my fiancé, and we were going through the exercises for the P90X system. Exactly 27 minutes into our work out, two men wearing logoed polos, the industry standard uniform for personal trainers these days, approached me. After an accusation of being a personal trainer and a demand that I sign a ‘warning’ stating that if I were caught training in the gym again I would be permanently banned, I requested a conversation with the manager. The man I spoke to was the head trainer and GM of the franchise, although by looking at his physique he hadn’t quite come to the chapter in the personal training guide about how to work out. After another 20 minutes of conversation I was exhausted by his apathy and lack of interest in the wrong that had been suffered by my lovely fiancé and me.  Leaving his office, I was done. I cancelled my membership and swore off gyms forever. Good riddance and who needs them. After all, now I had P90X.

After a few weeks of checking off the workouts in my P90X calendar without actually completing them I received an email from my fiancé. She had purchased us a trial week at a new CrossFit gym not too far away. CrossFit is one of the gym fads I had not tried and so I enthusiastically agreed to give this the old college try.

The first moments we stepped in to the slightly renovated loading dock that now housed CrossFit Urban Animal, I was in love.  Picture training in a scene out of Rocky. Exposed brick walls surround an open training space. The workout equipment looks medieval to the untrained eye. Rows of steel crossbars, floor-to-ceiling ropes, squat bars on racks like ancient weapons.  And, no floor to ceiling mirrors.

Our first workout was an introduction to the basic moves and dogma of CrossFit. During this initial session we were actually coached. Instructed on proper technique and weight.  I, being a lifelong athlete and student of working out felt I was above all this extra help, until about 10 minutes into the workout when my instructor, Jenna, politely came over and informed me how terrible my form was, and that I was using too much weight. She was right, swallowing my pride and bravado I listened to her.  I listened to her for no other reason than by her tone of voice and her look she truly wanted to help me, to coach me, to assist me in becoming the type of athlete that they were crafting at Urban Animal.

As we continued to attend classes we actually became closer to the staff.  Every class was started off with hellos and handshakes, earnest inquiries on how our day had been and genuine pleasure in seeing us. Even if the workouts hadn’t been brutal and exhausting and perfectly awesome just the culture and demeanor of the staff hooked me. I, we, are hooked. I have finally found my fitness oasis.  I am, forever, quitting “The Gym.”   

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