I am going to California this summer and have only 149 days to sculpt my body into something that can hold its own against the super-svelte, ultra-bronzed Cayenne-pepper-and-bollocks-all-else devotees of Long Beach. Last year I went to Florida and returned two weeks later feeling like a total babe, despite a solid fortnight of pulled pork sandwiches, French fries and frozen daiquiris by the dozen. I suppose we racked up a fair bit of mileage trekking around the theme parks, but I’m fairly sure that the days spent wedged in a rubber ring floating around a lazy river – occasionally screaming ‘greetings, river guardian!’ to bemused lifeguards – didn’t burn a whole load of calories. Regardless, everything is relative and it was impossible not to feel a bit smug compared to the human blimps slowly coursing around the Orlando tourist circuit. I’m not talking about people who could probably lose a few pounds or drop a dress size. I’m talking about the people whose jaws are permanently engaged working through family-size platters of fried chicken; vast, salty sandwiches and malt milkshakes so thick it takes a full two minutes of high-intensity suction just to bring the stuff to the top of the straw. Four-hundred pound behemoths waddled around Universal Studios and SeaWorld, stopping every few hundred feet for a breather and a pretzel. In defiance of the numerous signs that told park-goers that certain rides couldn’t accommodate guests with “upper body dimensions” greater than 54 inches, many of these enormous people could be seen sucking in their guts in an attempt to force the restraint to lock over their monstrous girth, with varying degrees of success. Heavy, sagging buttocks spilled over the plastic seats outside fast food outlets, and the very largest of these gargantuan creatures could be spotted driving their ponderous bulks around the parks in motorised scooters. Did you even know back-of-the-knee cellulite was a thing? Because it is. I’ve SEEN it.
But while Florida and its world-famous parks draw in the man-mountains in droves, Los Angeles is known for its population of blonde matchstick people and buff young Adonis-types. I’m already getting apprehensive about baring my midriff in public amidst a sea of washboard abs. There’s always the possibility that television may be over-exaggerating and actually California has as many chubby people as the next state, but I had a dream the other day that a boat-load of tourists tried to board me after mistaking me for Alcatraz Island, so I’m not taking any chances.
The upshot is that I’ve decided to rejoin the gym. In Central London you can pay up to £120 a month for a good one with classes, which is a nauseating amount to spend on a room to exercise in, especially when you can run or cycle outside for free (and save a packet on public transport while you’re at it). That’s a Caribbean holiday, a year’s Council tax or 3600 Malteaser bunnies. Obviously spending £1440 on half a million calories worth of Malteaser may yield a different result to spending it on a gym membership, but you get my point. Gyms are expensive. I think a lot of people have started to get fed up of the high monthly outlay, astronomical joining fees (what are these for!?) and preposterously long-term contracts, and consequently hundreds of ‘no-frills’ gyms have sprung up all over the country to serve the people who want to get fit but don’t want to lose their shirt doing it. The Pure Gym I joined costs £20 a month and includes almost all classes, plus it’s in a really dodgy part of town so when I’m on the way I peg it as fast as I can to minimise the chances of getting stabbed. But although it’s a bargain, it’s also full of absolute fucking idiots.
People who go to the gym in the hope of ensnaring some muscle-bound hunk: NO. YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. On weekday evenings, the gym floor is swarming with girls who, apparently, got lost on the way to the nightclub and accidentally ended up on a cross-trainer, where they move too slowly to ever have a hope of breaking a sweat. I’ve seen sequins at the gym. False eyelashes. Back-combed beehives, lip gloss and lashings of mascara. These aren’t girls who are still wearing the make-up they applied that morning before work or school; these are girls who have applied a fresh coat of war-paint SPECIALLY for exercising in. Somebody needs to tell them that if you look good at the gym, you are not working hard enough. You should look like someone in labour (i.e. half-drowned in sweat and tears, not Ed Miliband, har har). And just like make-up is not appropriate for the gym (partly because it’ll turn you into a raging zit-monster, partly because it makes you look like a raging cock), it is also important to wear proper clothes. No Converse, no jeggings. None of those stupid hats urban types wear that make them look like they’re wearing a saucepan on their head. Also, unless you’re in a hot yoga class or running a marathon, there is never any need to wear only a sports bra. Nobody wants an eyeful of your sweaty muffin top when they’re trying to hold the plank position, and if you don’t have a sweaty muffin top then you’re a total arsehole for rubbing your perfectly toned midsection into everyone else’s face. Well done you, now fuck off.
It boggles my mind how many people seem to think they can improve their fitness while reading a magazine, texting people or chatting to their mates. Newsflash, vegetables, the gym is not some magical place that burns fat just by sitting in it. It’s not enough to just GO to the gym, you have to DO the gym too. Once I went to a spin class with my mother at her local fitness centre, where every single other person in the class was a fifty-something in designer sweatbands. During the class, I was pedalling away like a woman possessed. You know, like you’re supposed to. By the end I looked like someone had a poured a bucket of water over me. My mother and her friends, on the other hand, had spent the hour gassing away while their legs spun independently on the lowest level of resistance. On the way home I asked my mother why she hadn’t bothered to do the class properly. “I did do it properly!” she told me, “but if I do it any harder my legs hurt.”
…Jesus. Fucking. Christ. Man up, Mother!
Possibly even more annoying than my mother’s idea of spinning are the fat-bottomed girls who congregate around the water fountain and high-five each other after doing two and a half wuss press-ups. And even more annoying than them are the people who go to the gym not so much to exercise their bodies as much as their egos. The other day I was sat on the chest press, which is positioned directly opposite a full length mirror. Unless you close your eyes, there is no way you can get out of seeing your reflection. It’s pretty grim. Unfortunately, there was also a very, very thin girl sitting further back across the gym floor on the hip abductor with a white-blonde bob and wide, heavily-lined eyes. And she would not. Stop. Staring at herself. Every time I looked up to start a set, there she was. Gazing adoringly into the mirror, completely and utterly captivated. My housemate, who spends a lot of time lifting heavy things for fun, tells me the situation is even worse in the free weights area. More and more you’ll find guys in wifebeaters curling their biceps while staring lovingly at their engorged muscles in the big mirrors. (Side note: WHY!? Why are these men so obsessed with their biceps!? Maybe they weren’t cuddled enough as children and are now overcompensating by becoming the best at ALL THE CUDDLES.)
At least the birds aren’t actually putting themselves in any physical danger though. After all, you’d be hard-pushed to sprain anything by standing more or less stationary and pouting, but a lot of men at the gym get into this passive-aggressive, competitive weight-lifting mentality. Increasingly you see men make as much of an effort with their appearance at the gym as the women. Chaps, your noodle arms aren’t impressing anyone, but while you’re all calling each other ‘bro’ and trying to bench press 200lbs in your first week, all you’re likely to pull is a muscle. And for fuck’s sake, stop grunting. We let Venus Williams off because she can hit a tennis ball at 125 miles an hour, but you, YOU, are just doing some squats. Stop it. It weirds us out.
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