The gym

Dread, avoidance and the sagging-triceps machine

Ginny McReynolds is dean of humanities and social science at Cosumnes River College

There are about 8 million reasons I can think of to skip the gym, and only one that makes me go. Unfortunately, that one reason amounts to 30 pounds I’ve put on in the last two years. Recent vacation pictures, in which I could barely recognize my once-athletic body, forced me to find my ratty gym bag and beg my friend Kim to make me a workout program.

Then it took me another several weeks to build up the nerve to go. Driving around with that unopened gym bag in my car, my head was filled with everything from bad high-school flashbacks to scenes of big, burly guys laughing at my style on the adductor machine.

In reality, when I finally made myself go, techno music blasting over the huffs and pants of jocks running on treadmills, my fears were almost immediately confirmed. The moment I walked into the tiny women’s locker room, visions of gym class at Rio Americano High School, circa 1966, came to life. The only thing missing were the light blue, one-piece gym suits. As I inched my way past a nearly naked woman to get to a free locker, I kept my eyes on the floor. In a moment, when I was in the same state, I found myself fumbling through my bag to find some cover, all the while sure that everyone in the room was wondering how a person of my girth was allowed into the building.

Still, it wasn’t as bad as my old gym, one I quit two years ago when I apparently decided not to worry about how big I was getting. At that gym, I was constantly running into people I knew—friends, co-workers, even my therapist. There we’d be, in some stage of undress, attempting to have a casual conversation about how many reps we could do on the lat pull-down machine. Although at my new gym I’m mostly with strangers, this creates another reason for listing “going to the gym” as one of my least favorite activities.

As a person who likes to do things “the right way,” wandering around staring at machines that look as if I need to be double-jointed to operate them does not put me in my comfort zone. Yesterday I realized I was actually facing the wrong way on a piece of equipment designed to improve my sagging triceps. The muscular guy beside me, who clearly does nothing else in the entire world but work out, just cleared his throat, but he was looking at me, and I knew that look meant. “You’re doing that wrong, you idiot,” I knew he was saying in his head, even if he wasn’t.

I wish I liked the gym the way the perky young folks around me seem to. But, even with Seinfeld reruns to distract me, if there were any other legal way to look as if I were fit and trim, believe me, I’d be the first to sign up.