Eugene Onyegym

I am becoming a gym jilt. It’s not quite the plot of Eugene Onyegin, Pushkin’s classic poem and later Tchaikovsky’s opera, in which girl loves boy, boy rejects girl, boy screws up his life, boy meets girl again and wants her but she says sorry, too late. But sort of.

Constant Readers will remember that after twenty-three years — longer than most marriages last these days, certainly mine — I was pushed to the wall by the retooling of my faithful beloved musclehead gym as a “Planet Fitness,” the notorious gym chain for flabby people who don’t want to push themselves. It was Haydn’s Farewell Symphony executed by lifting equipment: first my beloved glute-ham bench (though it returned, went away, and returned again, disguised in the Barney-colored Planet Fitness livery); then the high pullover bench, then all the dumbbells over sixty pounds. My heart cracked when they carried the deadlift platform out the door; within weeks signs had been affixed to the mirrors proscribing deadlifts, though rogue lunks looked out for each other while they did them anyway, in the alcove behind the locker room entrances.

Finally the hack sled went. Hacks are currently the major leg lift that suits me most, not just a preference of whim: they actually fix the pain in my bad leg, at least for a while. Not being able to do them is like being told to enjoy an extra five or six hours of aching and wincing every week. Supremely bummed, I signed up at the Gold’s nearest my house, keeping the Planet membership so I could go back and see the homies of two decades every so often on chest day, which I could still manage to eke out.

Fast forward three years. Gold’s seems to have lost about half the staff that were there when I signed on. I never see my talented trainer friend any more. Every other time I come in someone tries to sell me something — overpriced protein powder, a workout program, a tee shirt. The proprietary “Gold’s Gym Radio,” which is apparently obligatory, is trashier by the month: frantic, shrill, barking techno-beat garbage that makes you feel like you have the hives. Periodically, it’s interrupted by one of only about four rotating ads for things like girly gym clothes and teeth whiteners, or a raffle for the prize of going to hear a concert in Los Angeles by one horrible sounding pop group or another. That would be bad enough, but the aerobic classes have their own soundtracks, which broadcast all over the gym, so that you get two channels of crap, one in each ear. I’ve already had to fling the aerobic floor’s double doors open once, like Bad Bart bursting into the saloon bar, and bellow at the instructor — it was the only way to be heard — to TURN IT THE F DOWN so the engineer could hear when I needed a spot with a five hundred pound sled.

And from ten till about one, the place is infested with screeching children whose segregation in a glass-fronted room does nothing to suppress their asinine, nonstop noise. When you are lunge-marching across the gym floor with a couple of eighteen pounders held over your head — it doesn’t sound like much, but try it — you do not want to be startled by some festering snot-faced little maggot exploiting the only power it knows it has, that of annoying hell out of adults by screaming at the top of its lungs. News flash: a gym is a place for people to work out. In the process they should not be afflicted with the sight, sound or even a remote reminder of the existence of children.

The second-rate warmup bikes have never been a good angle for my leg, either. Lately, I would have to downgrade that to “excruciating;” I can’t add any resistance worth mentioning without tears standing in my eyes while I pedal. Add Scrubbie the Wonder Boy, the personal trainer who kept trying to be my new best friend until I was driven to snap FU at him, and you have the ingredients for a total meltdown.

One morning last month, I realized I was stalling until the last minute to go to my gym, and then trying to get out of there as soon as possible. Wrong.

I rolled over to Planet Fitness, where there are no amenities, no sauna, no classes, and NO F*CKING KIDDIE NURSERY, said hey to the Minotaur at the desk, cranked the bike up to the “suck wind” setting, and heard the XM classic-rock station kick over into John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good.” Not what I’d listen to for choice, but it was the posing music in my one fairly lame competition routine.

I haven’t been back to Gold’s for a week. Someone may ask me. Or they may not really care. I just have to drop in every Thursday, to do deadlifts or hacks.

I

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Les Dames

The plate loaded T-row machine had apparently suffered some insult. They affix these things to the gym floor, through the mats, with substantial hex bolts, but all hardware fatigues at a certain point. When you hauled up on the crossbow-shaped plate arm, the whole thing rocked a half inch this way and that, just enough for an instability goose to the exercise. This can actually improve your training effect. Nonetheless I checked in with the management, who averred that they knew about the problem and had put it on the repair list and told me to be careful.

Uh huh. I went back and threw another ten pound plate on the load arm, only to be hailed by a large gentleman in a do-rag, with meaty, glossy, chestnut-colored arms emerging from a torn singlet. “Watch out, that thing ain’t level,” he warned.

I already had a 2.5 pound plate in hand. I have never had the slightest goddam idea what anyone would want with a 2.5 pound plate, but the slender part of its bevel slid seamlessly under the upbucked foot of the T-row apparatus, the perfect shim.

“Leave it to a woman!” cheered Do-Rag. “Fixed it!”

“Well hell I am always leveling furniture not to mention my commode,” I said, and cranked out a set.

“Leave it to the ladies!” he shouted again, and went off to do something dangerous, probably of an age to be my son had I ever been interested in such undertakings.

Gender politics in the gym probably isn’t the hill to die on. Besides, I have to say women are kinda extra practical. We gotta be.

Going into 2017 that kind of cheers me.

 

Two-Ball Pullovers

That is not really rude. Only I had a lightbulb moment at the end of my deadlift workout today — on a deadlift you can really feel anything that’s a bit tight in your rotator muscles — and jumped up off the Swiss ball I was using for an extension stretch. (You sit on the ball, flop backwards so that your back is arched but supported by the springy curve, and just loll, inching up and back to get different parts of your spine to spool out.) There was a rack of medicine balls just behind my head, which suddenly seemed like the perfect solution to my thirst for pullovers.

If you spend your days leaning into a massage table or pushing heavy rocks uphill pullovers are very good for you. People do them in all kinds of forms; hyperflexibility runs in my genes so I used to dote on a custom bench about hip high that used to dwell in my old gym before the place turned into a girls’ gym class from 1969. You could sling yourself over the thing crosswise and drop a dumbbell behind your head to the full length your arms would play out and it would still not hit the floor, which was always my problem with a regular crossbench pullover. The Swiss ball is higher than a standard bench if not so tall as my old beloved bench, and the medicine ball doesn’t dangle like a dumbbell.

I grabbed a twelve pounder, a little less than half of what I usually play with,  just to get the range. No clonk. It actually felt like work on account of having to maintain a grip on the ball that would prevent it from dropping on either the floor or my face at the extremes of the movement. The face end was especially ticklish. I did a nice 15-rep set, feeling my shoulder capsules open out, and filed the move for future use, sometime when I feel like trotting up front to get to the medicine balls with handles on them. It was already snowing like angel dandruff out there and I had overstayed my workout time as it was.

It’s a nice change from a gym that has no balls at all. Actually the old place does have one pair of the Swiss ones, sternly confined to a “stretching room” where there is no space to actually use them, but no one ever pumps them up any more.

Interior Decoration

They rearranged the fricken gym again. Between the shrieking yellow and purple paint job up front (which extends to the house-brand stack machines) and the way they keep moving everything around you wonder if someone maybe turned loose the second string from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy.

The latest piece of Feng Shui relocates all the old Nautilus Nitro equipment (still sanely black and white) to the rear part of the floor (which is also still mostly black and white, except for a few Smith machines with gold fairy dust embedded in their purple powdercoat). They didn’t move my favorite leg sled, and in fact now the only usable leg curl machine, which I like to alternate with it, is just at the opposite side of the floor. It shortens the commute.

Sled's sled, loaded for my final set. The place isn't really quite this purple.

Also while they were tarting up everything, someone went through all the dumbbell racks and adorned the rubber cradles with neatly printed white-on-black labels indicating the weight of dumbbell belonging in each one. A stern sign warns you that you will be canned from the club if you don’t put the dumbbells back where they belong. Perhaps I should bring in my paddle and offer some intermediate disciplinary option.

The migration of all the black and white equipment has left a yawning empty row up front. More cardio machines, I gather. In the end of the 19th century they used treadmills as punishment in English jails. Now we have people lining up to get on them. This is progress.

As long as they don’t fuck with my sled.

Fairy Dust

So I was nearly through my workout and walked over to where the glute-ham bench usually is and it wasn’t.

glutehamThis thing is my butt buster, end-of-workout chiropractor, and gratuitous showoff platform since I get the best bang from holding a 45-pound sewer lid while I’m head down on it. Back goes pop, thunk, crackle.  Not having it isn’t an option. Knowing that the Barney-colored corporate entity that assimilated my gym, kind of like the Borg, periodically snakes one or another “intimidating” piece of equipment, I turned to claw the scapula of our favorite trainer, the P-man, pointing in cold panic at the empty space.

“Oh shit,” he said, clearly as puzzled and horrified as I was.

“Oh shit,” said Lou, his training partner.

“Shall we all go ask the manager?” I said.

“Yeah, you should ask him,” said the P-man.

It turned out they were having it painted. There was some babble about it being scarred by plates banging against it but mainly, this place has been painting all the old equipment their signature shade of purple, powder coated with gold fairy dust fired into the finish. You know? Like sparkly nail polish?

I went back to report to the P man, who was getting even edgier because now we could see that six of the eight welded barbells were missing too.

As we stood there one of the gym functionaries appeared, as if on cue, to return them to their rack. Painted.

I shit you not, kimosabe.

Brucie

I have finally gotten a grip on the fricking Hammer sled machine. After Stiletto’s former trainer opined that I could have a quad sweep more like hers if I squatted low — which after a ridiculous three-year death struggle with a blistering hip injury, I’m finally ready to do — he added that I was “tall enough” to work on “Brutus, the Hammer Machine.”

Brutus? (OK, my car has a name, but you can take things too far.) I explained the catcher problem, he volunteered to walk me through it again, and after doing most of my leg sets and wondering if I should throw a rope through the men’s room door (was he chickening out, or just stuck on something?) I met him at the sled. Hammer, he explained as he demonstrated the movements, was notorious for screwy, balky catcher mechanisms.

Gotta love it. A name that’s practically synonymous with assbusting plate loaded equipment and they can’t find a design engineer willing to keep people from being crushed under it. We finally got it working — I had to stand on my head to scope the actual mechanism that holds the sled, but that was part of the solution. Fortunately, I am more flexible than Gumby, something of a freak talent, so I can deal with that.

It did feel damn nice. A day is wasted that you haven’t levered bodyweight-plus off every tendon attachment in your butt.

I clambered out of the machine and stroked the corrugated rubberized surface of the big footplate.

“I’m going to call him Brucie,” I said. “Then he’ll be nice and gentle to me.” The trainer’s stricken expression suggested deep-seated gender anguish; I like that in a guy.

I think I’ll lube it with a little Boy Butter, when no one is looking.