I’ve been fascinated with gym culture ever since my first visit to a Vic Tanny exercise facility in the early 1980s. On that evening I saw women walking around in Jane Fonda inspired leotards, leg warmers and terry cloth head bands. I saw guys with permed ‘dos sidling up to the juice bar to flirt with the aerobic dance instructors.

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My boyfriend at the time had a lifetime membership to Vic’s and dragged me along in hopes that I’d sign up, too. That way we could be joined at the hip for yet another activity. While I was naturally svelte at the time, in no way was I in shape. I learned this as quickly as it took my smoker’s lungs to deflate under the unrelenting demands of my Nazi training instructor. I regretted every drag I’d ever taken on my Marlboro Lights as she  kicked my sorry little ass — clad in a club-issued and very pilled navy blue leotard — around the stations. If she was trying to get me to sign up, she was failing miserably. I avoided health clubs for a few years.

Eventually I came around.  I’ve had memberships in just about every type of facility:

  • the women-only places that have monthly food parties (I know, right?)
  • the recreation center aerobics classes
  • a Punk-rock fitness club that meets in bars and encourages you to bring your own hula hoop
  • the co-ed places where the men and women work out on separate days
  • the co-ed places where the men and women work out together but are so hopelessly crowded it’s more like the men and women stand around together waiting for the treadmills.
  • one of those new no-frills 24/7 operations. This is where I go now.

No matter where I crunch and curl and do my cardio thing, I see the same stereotypes:

Hans and Franz: The tag team workout buddies usually show up after their tanning appointment. They wear some variation of the Borat unitard. They show too much nipple and have perfectly waxed brows, backs and chests.  They hold court in the free-weights room, emitting a constant stream of grunts, groans and wet gasps before letting loose 200 pounds of metal, which always drops with a  thunderous crash to the floor. If you close your eyes, they sound just like a porno soundtrack.

The  sidecar: Most often it’s one of Hans’ or Franz’ girlfriends. Sometimes it’s another guy. Either way, the sidecar arrives with his or her bulked-up partner but does not exercise. Sidecars position themselves close enough to hand their partners towels and bottled water. They may get up periodically to have a smoke break, buy a fresh bottle of power juice from the vending machine, or  look outside to monitor weather patterns. Mostly, they cast looks of admiration and approval at the partner’s bulging muscles.

The marathoners: Found running indoors in the colder months when outside running is too treacherous. There is no dilly-dallying with these folks. It’s all business, which is generally an hour or more on the treadmill.  They wear all the right gear, including their commemorative T-shirts from charity runs. They are totally free of jiggly body fat. Sometimes they do crazy things like run backwards — or skip sideways — on the treadmill just to show off. Their cars have 26.2 sitckers on the back window.

The New Year’s resolution newbies: They arrive in droves and in earnest, with super large water bottles and  iPods loaded with motivational tunes. They’ve just chugged a shot of wheatgrass and bought a box of Power Bars in bulk. They carry a fitness journals and make notations after each activity. They have a look of desperate determination in their eyes. They’re all gone by February 1st.

The escapist: This type wanders in looking bored, most likely seeking refuge from the wife/husband/ kids/cats. Their workout attire is as half-hearted as their somnolent pedaling on the recumbent cycle. Their visit usually ends within 30 minutes, 25 of which were spent at the magazine rack. It’s also possible these people are trying to make good on a gift membership.

The clueless: They are at the gym as a guest or on a one-day pass. They show up in totally inappropriate exercise clothes, try to run on the treadmill in Crocs, lift weights in surfer shorts and flip-flops, and screw around with the machines and equipment until something jams or makes a loud noise. Eventually they give up the ruse of exercise and  claim a piece of equipment as their personal props and dominate it for 30 minutes while recapping the latest episode of “Battlestar Galactica.”

Finally, so as not to appear all high and mighty, I’ll throw in my own category:

The middle-aged housewife who fancies herself as some kind of exercise nut but who should really ditch the shorts for a pair of exercise capris because have you seen how her legs look in that flourescent lighting? That’s me, guilty as charged.

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