Taking the “work” out of “workout”

By Zack Hill

I used to hate working out. I dreaded the prospect of going to the gym, despised the act itself, and found that the famed “endorphins” did nothing but leave me sweaty, sore, smelly, and wondering why I’d just spent an hour of my life pretending to ride a bike. Because of this hatred, my goal of transforming my vaguely flabby body into a vaguely average one was in serious peril. In the back of my mind, an evil suggestion lurked. Maybe working out just isn’t fun. Maybe I’m supposed to hate it. Was it possible that every gym teacher I’d ever had had lied about the joy of working out? I shuddered at the prospect. No, my gym teachers were right. If there was a problem, it was me.

And so I continued my familiar routine at Ratner. I’d start by greeting the Ratner desk guy who, having taken a vow of silence, can only return your cheery “hello” with a half nod and solemn stare. I’d enter the weight room, which is at all times equipped with a water fountain, magazine rack, and two really muscular people who grunt frequently and dramatically drop weights on the floor when they are done with sets. Then I’d start my workout, exercising among a familiar crew: Weird Hairy Guy Who Sweats Too Much, Lady Who Looks Likes She’s Having a Heart Attack on the Treadmill, Jerk Who’s Managing to Do His Sosc Reading While on a Stationary Bike, and Man Who Doesn’t Use the Weight Machines All That Much But Sure Likes to Sit and Lean on Them.

The old routine simply wasn’t cutting it for me, though. Ratner was just a bit overwhelming—the lights, the constant motion, the presence of more than two attractive people at the same time. It didn’t seem that exercise was anyone’s priority. The gym was designed to force you to look at other people and for them to see you. I was looking for a true Platonic workout and was instead finding only the appearance of exercise at Ratner. No wonder I hated it—I was only going through the motions, not engaging in the serious physical activity I had been striving for.

I needed to find a gym with the same facilities as Ratner but that was completely devoid of people. I went to Henry Crown, eager to begin my life of true fitness. There, however, I had my worst workout ever. I gave up after 10 minutes, covered in sweat and filled with frustration. If Crown, whose existence most students consider a myth, couldn’t offer the inconspicuous, legitimate workout I was looking for, what could? I was prepared to swear off physical activity forever.

Then it struck me: My ignorance, and then my arrogance, had prevented me from seeing the true meaning of going to the gym. I had long noticed that the best part of working out is explaining to everyone you know that you work out. But despite taking great joy in frequently announcing to my roommates, “Boy is it cold outside, but I guess that’s what happens when you walk home after working out,” I always tried to hide from prying eyes when I was at Ratner. My problem was that I was too inconspicuous in my workouts, emphasizing the boring, hard part (exercise) and suppressing the fun, cool part (showing off). No one was watching me work out at Henry Crown. I felt scammed. Are calories even burned when no one is watching?

And so, I returned to Ratner, finally understanding. All of my friends were there, using their delightful quirks to ensure that they were noticed. I realized that the sights and sounds and motion at Ratner are just different ways of people announcing themselves to me: the dropped weights, the grunts, the steadfast refusal to use a towel despite the social imperative—everyone was saying hello in a beautiful language which I understood! Sighing dramatically, I began pedaling on a stationary bike, loudly ruffling the pages of my magazine, and making sure my iPod was too loud. Hello to you, too!

Thus, I finally began to enjoy working out. I may be late to the game, but I have discovered the true purpose of exercise, and I love it. If you need me, I’ll be at the gym or talking to someone about how I go on a regular basis.

Zack Hill, a member of the Maroon Editorial Board, is a fourth-year in the College majoring in NELC. His column appears every other Friday.