I abhor the pretend comfort of gyms. My alternative is much worse.
Weekday mornings, my wife and I are up at 5:50, wishing we could hide behind our excuses. Our destination is a nearby gymnastics academy, where we attend workout classes that are held before the facility opens for training. The hour-long sessions are similar to those at other fitness bootcamps, yet ours seems to lack an expectation of polite behavior – and that works for us just fine. We sneer at the uniformity, the schadenfreude, and the peacockish know-nothings that inhabit the world of franchise fitness.
Kooks of a different stripe are the smart-asses our alternate choice tends to attract. We get misfits, irregulars, and the godless.
Fitness buzzwords and cheerful slogans don’t get thrown around our class, but insults, gripes, and taunts certainly do. Some of us do manage to refrain from using the word “retard,” which is interesting, because as ethnically, culturally, and socially diverse as we are, it’s the only taboo word no one seems willing to reconsider. And nothing beats “fatso” for the most commonly heard.
And it’s still better than a gym membership.
Jimmy, our master and trainer, conducts the classes on a huge expanse of carpeted, spring-loaded foam where, later in the day, kids will practice their floor routines. Our warm-up consists of jogging around the carpet in a big circle, but since the typical age range in our class is about 25-50, there’s always a slow-lane for the bad knee gang. Monday mornings find most of our bootcampers stiff and grumpy, and our running circle looks more like a conga line of broken toys than sinewy, half-naked poseurs. These people aren’t trim, tanned, and tiger-blooded; they’re argumentative, arthritic, and abusive. A woman in our group is a reality show casting agent who’s repeatedly said we’re the best pool of potential recruits she’s ever seen.
For instance, we’ve got a Colombian mother and daughter who only speak to each other in low whispers and in Spanish. They’re perfectly nice, but there’s something joyfully sinister about them too. We sometimes try to make ’em laugh out loud just to see if we can.
Then there’s our middle-aged high school football hero who updates his Facebook page with near-daily pictures of the artery-clogging food he’s pitching down his gullet. He told us a few weeks ago that he just learned how many calories are in a large Pizza Hut Meat Lover’s pizza, which he used to consume regularly all by his lonesome (let’s put it this way…you’d have to ride a bicycle for 9.5 hours to burn the calories). He’s a big guy with a big heart, and it’ll probably explode in a big way. He enjoys telling stories – sometimes about exercises he used to be able to pull off.
Another storyteller – especially in the middle of Jimmy’s tough Tabata workouts – is our self-described “cougar boss.” This operator owns a company that produces high-quality spanking fetish, mouthsoaping, and diaper videos; you can imagine how tall her tales can get…
“Slab” is an elected city official who looks like an escapee from promotional materials on diabetes among African Americans. The structural integrity of the gym flooring is sometimes called into question when Slab’s there and Jimmy assigns squat jumps. But he’s gentle and funny and we enjoy his company very much, even if he does need to take his health a bit more seriously. My writing “R.I.P.” and “Ask me about my pancreas!” in the dirt on his car windows obviously hasn’t worked.
We also have a successful standup comedienne who is indeed a very funny woman, but funnier still is her approximation of burpees (who knew there was a donkey kick involved?) Sometimes she shows up drunk wearing week-old clothes, but it doesn’t stop her from giving it her “all.”
Which may be partly why Jimmy claims to give up on us all the time. But we keep coming back, making him show us how to do exercises we’ve been doing for two years as if we’d never seen ’em before. We wheeze and complain our way through 55 minutes of hell, often more out of breath from laughter than our halfhearted efforts. We’ve nicknamed the class everything from “Das Bootcamp” to “Insult Workout” to “Bullshit Exercises Jimmy Got Off the Internet.”
We welcome newcomers. We’d never stand in the way of Jimmy’s new client acquisition efforts – though we’ve admittedly annoyed off a few. “Sagebrush Cantina” couldn’t figure out why no one related to her misplaced $5k watch, which she later found on her boat where she left it. She had a fake rack and butt implants. She wore pricey workout clothes too, but it took forever for the woman to figure out it was all lost on us slobs. (Jimmy says working out with us is like doing yoga with Amy Winehouse.)
“Dave & Buster,” a couple of plus sized waitresses, required smoke breaks during class. Another smoker, “Sons of Anarchy,” smeared her nicotine-craved face with so much makeup that by the time class was over she looked like Marge Simpson, shot in the face by Homer’s makeup gun.
“Mad Cow” was a litigious man who said he’d sue Jimmy and the gym owners if he ever tripped or fell over any of the equipment. Never mind that he was an easy 320 lbs. (down from 480), had bizarre-looking folds of excess skin, and not a muscle on him. One angry dude. He ended up having a small stroke, recovering, refusing anyone’s help, and never coming back. He became Mad Cow once his brain turned off and his body started moving in several directions at once. The remarkable thing was how long it took for his quivering flab to settle after he righted himself.
A young woman with a Wisconsin accent showed up once and announced she’d be competing in a series of upcoming beauty contests, the first of which was Miss Santa Monica. After that would be a regional event, then a state-level competition, and on to the Miss America Pageant itself. She couldn’t say how or why she figured her plan would work, but she did tell us how much of a slave driver her father was about her achieving these goals, and that certainly stood out! Before her first class was over, she’d shared that she wanted to become “Victoria’s Secret skinny,” which we all thought was a joke. Turns out it wasn’t. So the three women most likely to never be Victoria’s Secret skinny started talking like prison inmates planning a hit on a snitch. How Miss America could return cluelessly each day was a mystery, ’cause anyone with a leaf-eating Koala’s capacity for understanding danger would’ve gotten the hint. Not her. When she told Jimmy in front of people she couldn’t work out “real hard” because sweat would make her spray tan run, we pretty much tormented her ’til she finally ran out the door. Or maybe being overlooked for Miss Santa Monica exposed an embarrassing flaw in her endgame.
The whole thing is reminiscent of the exercise classes you find on a cruise ship sports deck. You know, the ones sprinkled with participants who force exercise upon themselves because going through the motions on a guided tour of fitness validates the recuperative elements of time away from work. One or two have just come from the buffet line, bearing their own oxygen supply and sporting mashed potatoes on their collar. Others are fresh from holding court at the pool bar. Assemble these sinners on Royal Caribbean anti-stain carpeting, drop some Bomba Estero, and you’ve got a packed day room in a Pennsylvania crazy house circa 1922. They last all of four minutes once things get going, and while some may push it, most end up standing around telling stories, rolling about on the floor, or just plain wiggling.
Back on land, not all of us are this useless, of course. Some try harder than others, but none of us would rather hang around Squat Press machines, meatheads, or Megan Fox. Our workout peers, among whom we find our “zone,” are far better than what any gym membership would get us.
Plus, Jimmy’s a certified trainer who runs his business in defiance of fitness products and buzzwords that promise quick results. The academy’s “trampoline row” is off limits and we’re sworn to avoid trendy jump gyms. Sure, he endlessly blabs about dietary changes that can “reset” a person’s metabolism, the value of exercises that use your own body weight, and why you should always use heavier weights when you can. He likes the high intensity B.S. that none of us like, nor do we like him much when he says stupid things like, “They’re not lay-downs; they’re get-ups!” We tell him that every day, but he never fails to unlock the door for us.
And partly because of Jimmy-the-menace, we’ve learned that consistency matters even more than how many Boat Pose with Arm Flys you can do. Making the same marginal, interruption-laden effort 3, 4, or 5 days a week will yield results you can actually be proud of. We, too, value consistency over caliber, ’cause non-athletes like us aren’t discipline machines or single-minded insects of fitness. But we still want to respect ourselves.
We know we have no excuse not to push ourselves physically, and consistency is all it takes to start. Push yourself a little bit each day and the rest will come along too – so long as you don’t inhale processed sugar like you’re snorting coke.
Oh, did I mention Cougar Boss can also hook you up with some good blow?
Tags: bootcamp, burpees, cougar, Facebook, fitness, get-ups, gym membership, gymnastics, jump gym, Miss America, Miss Santa Monica, Pizza Hut, push-ups, Royal Caribbean, Sons of Anarchy, spray tan, Tabata, Victoria's Secret