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Why can't gyms be more fun?

Why can't gyms be more fun?

Artwork by Mike Hanly.

The modern discourse on exercise is thus: you are either doing far too much or far too little. The Western world is supposedly facing a unique crisis in which children born today are predicted to die at a younger age than their parents, largely because of a rise in obesity-related illnesses.

Meanwhile, the “go hard or go home” mantra has become our generation’s “keep calm and carry on”; only the war we’re choosing to fight is one against laziness, where bodies are the battleground and Instagram the public service announcer.

And yet, we now live in a world where driving to the gym to do an hour-long Pump class is supposedly better value than walking to work everyday, or using your arms instead of your car to transport groceries home. But apart from anyone you follow on social media who uses the hashtag “legday” (isn’t everyday leg day?), does anyone actually enjoy the experience of going to a gym of the Les Mills/Next Gen/Anytime Fitness chain variety?

Almost every friend I talk to describes being a member with a hint of resignation: “I go there, but I don’t talk to anyone because I’m not one of them” – one of them being “Nike-clad gym bunnies”, which they inevitably morph into after the subliminal effects of working out surrounded by “Just Do It” singlets kick in. Either that or they’re “only members for the classes”.

But I’ve tried the classes! I’ve signed up for multiple gym trials over the past five years – I’ve even had sessions with a personal trainer – and each time concluded that I must be the problem. I don’t like exercising so hard that I can’t walk for three days, even if it means I can use the hashtag legday. I don’t like being advertised to by every surface of the building I’m in. I don’t like feeling inadequate in comparison to omnipresent music videos. Given the choice between going hard or going home, I’ve always taken the second option.

There has to be a better alternative. Of course, if you’re into a particular sport, have a generally active lifestyle anyway or have the patience for yoga and pilates, there is. For me, when the weather allows, it’s running outdoors. There’s nothing like it on a good day. The flat, winding path of Tamaki Drive providing a natural reward for days when stamina comes easy in the form of the city viewed from afar; feeling like you’ve earned your place atop Mount Eden; the shaking of Te Henga sand from well-worn running shoes.

But Auckland’s a hilly place, and it can be hard to find time in daylight hours to indulge in the luxury of a run. The yoga industry comes with its own set of capitalist hypocrisies, and team sport isn’t for everyone.

For those scenarios, I want someone to open an alternative gym. It probably has to be hipster because that seems to be how things enter the mainstream these days.

Can it have art on the walls instead of motivational quotes? Can it be well-designed with softened acoustics? Can the instructors be kind ENFPs who simply suggest bicep curls rather than enforce them? Could live bands accompany spin class? With a hipster at the helm, all manner of TED Talks, educational podcasts and art zines would be on tap to enjoy over a leisurely cycle in a terrarium-filled conservatory.

Okay, maybe that too is a nightmare, and of course, the nature of any kind of club would mean that this too would soon become its own little cult; exercise seems especially to engender it, probably because endorphins are an addictive drug. But it would nice if we could find a rational compromise between going hard and going home. When we do, I’ll be Instagramming the hell out of my “go moderately and then go home” poster.

 

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