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It’s the New Year, So When Can I have My Gym Back?

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

The couple is standing over by the abs chair, studying it intently. The man and the woman are middle-aged, perhaps a little older, and each is wearing a faded, loose white t-shirt, long baggy shorts, and stiff, new-looking sneakers. His wire-frame glasses have slipped down toward the end of his nose. Her hair is frizzy and she looks generally rumpled.

The man is holding a piece of paper, and they both consult it, several times, while looking hard at the abs chair. They talk back and forth to each other, then finally the man nods. He looks at his wife – it seems clear that’s who she is, the couple just seems to match – and hands her the paper. Then he approaches the chair, puts his hands on the armrest handles, and steps up into it.

Tentatively, feet on the lower bars, he turns to his left, leaving his hands on the handholds, and rotates toward the padded back of the chair. He lifts up on his tip-toes, tries to twist and fully press against the back, but of course he can’t, not with his hands the way they are, gripping the opposite handles.

I’m standing just across from the couple, about 10 feet away. I’m with Brett, my regular training partner, waiting for him to finish his triceps pulldowns, after which it will be my turn. I’ve been at this gym for about 18 months, and I have regular gym friends, a regular training partner, a regular schedule, and a regular workout routine. This gym and its varied equipment are familiar and comfortable.

But I recognize the couple and their dilemma. That was me, not so long very long ago, and I remember it well. I was fortunate enough to be dragged around the gym for the first few months by a friend with 30 years’ weightlifting experience. He knew what he was doing, and he showed me. By the time his schedule changed and kept us from working out together I knew enough to keep going, and not be completely lost in the gym.

Most of the time, my Gold’s Gym is filled with people who know what they’re doing, regulars who move comfortably between machines and equipment, who have their routines and their weights in their heads and who don’t stand and stare and try figure out how to work everything. But it’s January now, and the gym is full of Resolutionists, people who got memberships and shiny new sneakers for Christmas and now, in the spirit of the season, are beginning their long-delayed exercise routines.

“Don’t worry,” my friend Luke said last January, when I was frustrated by all the extra people milling about and taking up space on the machines. “They got gym memberships for Christmas, they started coming at New Year’s, and they’ll give it up for Lent.” I had laughed then – ha ha, I’m a gym regular now, and entitled to roll my eyes at confused new members! – and darned if it didn’t turn out to be true! So now I know, and I feel gentle and tolerant towards the new people in here, people who are slowing me down and moving stuff and leaving weights in the wrong places … but who are either genuinely trying, or who will be gone soon enough. That was me once, and I stayed and improved and got healthier, and I hope it sticks for some of these newbies clogging up the place.

So now, today, I am watching the couple out of the corner of my eye as I do my set. OK, I decide, I’ll help them. I’ll walk over there and smile encouragingly and offer to show them how to use the abs chair. It’s a risky thing, offering assistance, because people don’t always appreciate the suggestion that they don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes they are embarrassed, and sometimes, “No, no, I’m fine,” they tell me irritably, waving me away. But this couple is obviously inexperienced, and I’m old enough and un-muscular enough that my help might be accepted. Yes, I decide, I’ll try.

But by the time I finish my set (“thirteen … fourteen … fifteen”) and move the pin back to Brett’s heavier weight … hey, where did they go? The man and his wife have scooted away. I look around the free weights room, try to find them, see what they’re doing now, see if they need help. Wherever they are, they should be easy to spot.

The couple seems to be gone, though. I don’t see them anywhere. I am partially relieved – yes! Clear out! Leave me my gym! – but I am disappointed, too. Used regularly and effectively, the gym is the tool to better health, better fitting clothes, and better self-confidence. I hope the couple and all their machine-hogging Resolutionist friends stick it out.

Well, OK, I think, looking around at the gym, full with so many people that there is even a line at the water fountain; maybe not all of them. Some of them can stick it out, but I still wouldn’t mind having my gym back.

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