Exercise: Sweating in style

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Expensive gyms confuse me. Sure, back in college I used the gym when I was trying to lose the Freshman 15/High School 50, but that was mainly because a year in central Pennsylvania is comprised of a six-month sledding season.

So when I received a gym membership through my place of work this year as part of a benefits package, I was deeply appreciative, but stubbornly avoidant. The place is a chic center on the west side of Los Angeles where pretty people go to work out without perspiring. For that reason, I was reluctant to go – the reputation is intimidating for a guy who looks like he should be weaving baskets rather than doing Swiss ball crunches. I love trying new things despite the fear, so I decided to suck it up and give it a shot.

I have not been back since.

This is not the old man. I already have the unfortunate mental picture. (Photo via Wikipedia)
This is not the old man. I already have the unfortunate mental picture.
(Photo via Wikipedia)


Chic Gym was a perfectly decorated facility with perfectly decorated people, perfectly decorated showers, and after I entered, one grizzled man wearing paint-stained shorts and a six-year old t-shirt.

The front desk full of fit people greeted me and went through the usual sign-up stuff. Then I was ushered to the side by the person who would treat me to a complimentary physical fitness assessment.

Amid my flashbacks to 8th grade Phys. Ed. class and my 19-minute mile, I heard this from the instructor: “We’ve got changing rooms back and to the left, and then we can get started!”

“Oh, no, this is it,” I said, pointing to my body like a doctor circling masses on an x-ray.

“Ah. Okay.”

The instructor must have assumed I had just come from an acting audition where I was vying for the role of Deadbeat Uncle Gil. The immediate wardrobe mistake put me in a weird headspace. I informed the instructor that I was short on time and would have to reschedule the assessment for later in the week and that yes, I meant later in the week and not “never.”

I took some time to explore the facility and see what it had to offer. While awkwardly scoping out the stationary bikes, all I could notice were the people, each of whom was fashionably dressed, with the latest workout gear from head to toe – form fitting shirts, spotless shoes, fitness watches. I spent some time on the rowing machine but couldn’t help feeling out of place.

Eventually hitting the showers, I found a kindred spirit – an elderly man shaving his face in the washroom, completely naked. All the young guys with high cheekbones gave him weird looks as they walked past. How dare this wrinkled, old man stand proud and naked in the place where we wash our hands with $28 bars of soap!

He just didn’t give a damn, that’s how he dared. He looked nudity in the face and said, “Yes we can.”

The man was there for one reason and one reason only – to exercise. Why decorate something that’s supposed to be getting strained in every direction? He didn’t care what he looked like next to the fully clothed guy tweezing his eyebrows. I admired his resolve silently and left the gym, not sure whether I’d ever be back.

Undo your cardio with butterdough sugar bricks! (Photo by author)
Undo your cardio with butterdough sugar bricks!
(Photo by author)


In the months since I’ve thought about that old, naked man several times (let’s pretend that sentence never happened). There was something remarkable about his unwillingness to care, but I still couldn’t bring myself to go back to the gym.

Then, last week, emails from two separate fitness programs arrived in my email. One was from the aforementioned gym. The subject line read, “Sweat in Style.” The second email I got was for a one-hour fitness class comprised entirely of butter churning. That’s right – Amish traditions have been appropriated for exercise.

Out of those two mailers, the former immediately seems more normal than the latter and when I first read the description of the butter-cise, I laughed it off as quirky L.A. Then I started to think about it some more, and in comparison to the Stylishly Sweaty models of my member gym, it actually made sense.

Sweating in Style is all about the form, and butter-cising is about the function. The end of Churn Fitness (not the actual name) gives you homemade butter created from cream and brawn. It’s a workout with a tangible payoff.

This was the light bulb – people who run marathons or lift barrels over their head on a regular basis experience gym results in a tangible way. They finish the race or can lift more barrels. So what was the tangible result for me that actually mattered? Ripped abs? Perfectly formed triceps? Those are functionally useless.

I’m among the camp of people who need one of two fitness styles – one where you have a long term goal or one where you have an immediate result; a 10K in February or a cord of wood from chopping down a tree. A style where function matters more than form.

That’s why Chic Gym is no good for me – I’m not as secure in myself as the old man and I’m not image-based enough as the Stylishly Sweaty. At Chic Gym, I care too much and I care too little in all the wrong ways.


In the end, gyms themselves are not the issue – it’s the bastardization of fitness to the point where you need to look sexy doing it; where the stress is on form instead of function.

If you find pleasure in exercising for the sake of exercising, I have nothing but respect for you. If you don’t, maybe you’re in the same camp as me and you need to be in a place where the exercise is the means, not the end. Maybe you need to set a goal of being a great rock climber or maybe you need to spend two hours chopping down a tree to warm your house.

I guess all I’m saying is that everyone I know is receiving butter this Christmas.