I don’t know who Jack Rivlin is, but…

I was sorry to read about his traumatic encounter with the svelte Turkish Snatch-woman last week. I should explain: Jack was in a ‘hi-tech’ gym seeing if its gadgets could get him fit without him putting in any effort; fitness-alchemy, it’s called – turning a potato into a nugget of gold. Then he wrote all about it here, and it made me think.

Staying fit – or, indeed, getting fit – is commendable, but the picture he paints of the ‘gym of the future’ is saddening. Desire for the body-beautiful and the body-pornographic might be modish, but it’s depressing to think we are reduced to such ambitions; and fitness is a task we should resist delegating to someone else, and certainly not to a machine – it’s all a bit matrixy, reducing free-willed humans to clones of the machines or, perhaps worse, untermenschen of the jack-booted ‘trainer.’

I sympathise with his view that the traditional gym is ‘boring.’ It is. It is also true that the bunker-like atmosphere and the sweaty stench of unwashed jockstraps is pretty unpleasant. Though if he could ask the machine to play music other than Lady Gaga, perhaps a bit of glory-rock, it might help to electrify his feet on the interactive treadmill. But it won’t help that much, because gyms are irredeemably poor places to get fit unless you are a professional sportsman – which I take it Jack is not.

I can also see why he might think the new gym-for-betas is a step up from the embarrassing weight room frequented by the perma-tanned meatheads he derides so callously. Though you might try talking to them a bit, Jack. Perhaps your intellect intimidates them; perhaps they simply don’t have the confidence to carry-off your physique-of-the-chicken without succumbing to acute embarrassment. Perhaps the weight room is their prison, in which they are trapped in a never-ending routine of pumping iron in the mistaken belief that the perfect body which they seek is the key to their acceptance in society?

Some people, of course, respond better to the demands of exercise if it’s fun, especially those who wish to delude themselves they are not, in fact, exercising, but are still deriving all the benefit. Making it communal also works, though only if everyone’s torso is similarly toned and they can all have a right laugh about how pathetic they all are at the end. Whack-a-rat! is great, as is exercising with an ironic smirk; this last one lets you pretend you weren’t really trying when you fail to complete the last stage of the Marathon des Sables on your computer simulator.

But I notice that, by the end of the session, the author seems converted; though he might regret his breezy declaration: ‘I’m going every day.’ We’ll see, Jack. My guess is he isn’t really the sort of person to make a habit of going to the gym. For most people, the gym is a fad; and when we get older and see the folly of our youth, we simply stop going and never mention it ever again.

The thing most saddening, however, is not the ‘gym of the future’ – though how about a gym of the present? – or, indeed, the gym of the past. What is most disheartening is the implication that keeping fit, healthy and well-exercised, whether meathead or pigeon, is somehow dependent on going to a gym. It is not.

Need we remind ourselves the economy is still pretty sluggish? The cost of living is going up; the property market seems to be entering another bull phase (in London and other pressure points, certainly); fuel costs are rising above inflation (though we can debate the reason for that); and winter is upon us. There are already enough reasons to feel a bit sad without going to the gym, especially as it costs money we probably don’t have.

But keeping lungs and legs working is still a good idea. So, what to do about it. First, recognise that gyms are not the only – or even the best – way to satisfy this requirement. And second, recognise that there is a great outdoors out there, where you can do things to exercise the body, and keep your money too.

Before you say you haven’t got the expertise, how much expertise does it take to go for a walk or a run around the park? You might also say you are far too busy to do anything more strenuous than walking up and down the stairs. For ‘busy’ you might mean lazy and don’t think you could possibly drag your lumbering carcass around the park on your own. In that case, phone a friend and drag each other around.

There is another way: get out there into the countryside, onto the bridleways, into the municipal parks and onto the towpaths. Feel the wind blowing through what remains of your hair, go down to a safe bit of the river (not near locks, sluice gates, weirs, dams, rapids or other dangerous bits) or, even better, the sea and jump some waves. Haul yourself up and down a tree twenty times, get your belly in the mud and do some press ups, roll over and then do some sit ups. All the fitness equipment you will ever need is out there and it’s free. And if you need that extra bit of help on the motivation front, strap the Rocky soundtrack to your ears.

That’ll do the trick, Jack. And no sign of the Turkish Snatch-woman or the weight-room meatheads anywhere.


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