The Great Workout Pretenders
You see them all the time: women on treadmills, stationary bicycles and air gliders who never seem to break a sweat when they exercise. Well, here’s their secret revealed: they don’t. Meet the Great Workout Pretenders.
Pay a visit to Celebrity Fitness in Bangsar Village after 6pm on any Friday, and chances are you’ll get to meet Rebecca*: a 29-year-old sales executive who is also an avid fitness enthusiast. Rebecca knows all the rules of exercise — what to do and for how long, when to do it, warming up and cooling down. She knows how to calculate the optimum weight that you should use on the gym equipment based on your Body Mass Index. She even knows all the correct names for all the different types of machines they have there: stairclimbers, air gliders, stepmills and the dreaded thighmaster.
Rebecca is no personal trainer, nor even a gym instructor. She can’t run for anything longer than five minutes, the cellulite on her thighs is appalling and she has a hard time just carrying her (admittedly, very well-equipped) gym bag to and from her car. In fact, the fitness knowledge she possesses is about all she has to show for her weekly gym sessions. She is a by-product of today’s trendiest lifestyle pastime — exercising — and is a part of a growing fraternity of fitness glamour seekers, the exercise frauds, the Great Workout Pretenders.
“I’m not the only one, you know?” Rebecca defends herself haughtily. “If you think that everyone who goes to a gym regularly actually gets a proper workout, you’re wrong.”
No, Rebecca’s motive for visiting the gym is far simpler: popularity.
“I work in a cosmetics company, where all the girls look pretty good,” Rebecca says. “They workout quite a bit — jogging, swimming, cycling, stuff like that. I just didn’t want to be left out.”
It all started when one of the girls in the office met a bicycle-mad guy who went on long bike rides every weekend. She started dating him pretty seriously, and before long the two were an item. There was nothing to it but for her to get her own bike so she could go with him on his excursions. Not that she minded, of course: now she could brag about all the exercise she was getting to her office mates.
Soon, all the other girls were taking up some sort of fitness interest — aerobics, gym workouts, swimming. Rebecca was one of those who signed up for a gym membership, determined to not be left out of the fitness craze that was sweeping through her office.
Sadly, the exercise bit turned out to be a little tough for her. But that’s okay, because she’s figured out how to stay lazy and be with the ‘in’ crowd at the same time: become a textbook-expert. Now, Rebecca can give anyone a lecture about proper posture when lifting weights or just how much you should stretch your sartorius (that’s your thigh muscle). How could anyone suspect that her exercise routine consists of little more than walking around and chatting with other gym members?
According to Irene Nazira Lee, a FISAF National Training Provider and Reebok & Fitball Master Trainer, the ‘glamour’ of working out in a big, trendy fitness centre came about due to the high cost of club membership.
“There are now so many fitness centres in the city that membership rates have become more competitive and the younger crowd is able to afford their fees,” explains Nazira. “With the commercialisation of franchise establishments and workout programs come strong marketing strategies to sell more — fitness has evolved into a fashionable ‘trend’, and being seen in such a centre means you are ‘trendy’ and ‘in tune’ with the times.”
People like Rebecca are not strange at all to Nazira Lee.
“They exist in the majority of gyms,” she says. “They get onto the machines and usually manage to find someone to engage in idle talk with. Or, they workout quietly while checking out the crowd. Workout intensity usually depends on who’s watching. Sometimes they do put in some effort so it may be unfair to say they do not really workout at all.”
There’s obviously more to being a Workout Pretender than fame. Rebecca says that gyms are hotbeds teeming with eligible bachelors who are (most of the time) healthy, often wealthy and always interested. Some are Workout Pretenders like her, some are plain ol’ Gym Creeps, but many are The Real Thing… and they look good.
“I call it my little hobby — watching guys in tights sweat it out,” giggles Rebecca. “I’ve got a couple of dates from my gym outings, but nothing that has ever evolved into something more serious. I’m hoping it will one day, though!”
Nazira Lee says that having friends is a great motivating factor for exercising, as it can be quite intimidating — not to mention lonely — to work out in a gym where you do not know anyone.
“Some people have access to gyms within their residential premises, but they still join these trendy centres for the social activity,” says Nazira Lee. “Parents would generally prefer that their children spend time in a fitness centre than night clubs; some corporate sales persons may see the fitness centre as a good place to meet potential clients or to network with other professionals. If I had to hang out anywhere or kill time, I would rather do it at a fitness centre… even if it meant spending just fifteen minutes walking on a treadmill!”
Of course, women like Rebecca are looking for neither business nor exercise. But they still come away feeling rejuvenated, especially if the fitness centre has all the frills: saunas, spas and steam baths.
“Many centres offer additional facilities like these where the holistic wellbeing of a person is addressed,” continues Nazira Lee. “It is obvious that the therapeutic effect of being in a fitness centre addresses not just the physiological but also the psychological aspect of keeping fit and healthy.”
Fools rush in
But whilst some people fool others knowingly, others fool themselves unknowingly. They’re convinced that they are getting the workout they need, even if their foreheads just barely perspire. Rebecca knows of one such woman at her ex-workplace: a plump administrative clerk who claimed to exercise every morning.
“She was, you know, podgy,” Rebecca says guiltily. “We just could not understand it. When she announced that she had started swimming to lose some weight, we all applauded her. But the months went by, and we just didn’t see any improvement at all. If anything, she was getting heavier.”
Rebecca and her colleagues could hardly ask her why she wasn’t losing weight, so a couple of girls dropped by her condominium one evening for a visit. They went to the pool, said hello, and observed their friend’s ‘exercise’: she hung about in a corner of the pool the whole while, drinking in the sunset, looking around her and occasionally flapping her arms in the water. Her leisurely dip ended after about half an hour — there was no fat-burning going on so far as Rebecca could see.
“All that time lazing about in the water would give anyone a healthy appetite,” reflects Rebecca.
Nazira says that with folk like Rebecca’s ex-colleague, sometimes even the act of getting yourself into exercise mode is enough to make you think you deserve a trophy.
“Usually, it is an accomplishment just to get yourself into a gym — they probably think it is already an achievement to be there. Sometimes, the gym is their sanctuary from their home or office, or an escape from daily stress such as traffic jams, house chores, or being home alone.”
For Rebecca’s friend, the swimming pool was a sanctuary from herself and her weight problem. But that wasn’t helping her solve her problem, although she probably felt a lot better about herself. Whatever your definition of a good workout — twenty minutes on a Stairclimber, a five kilometre jog, thirty laps in the pool — just remember that fools and their money are easily parted, and pretenders never stay fit.
Now, where are those Nike’s I bought last year?
The Top 10 Ways to Get and Stay Fit
Kathleen A. Clancy, M.Ed., a certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant suggests these ten ways to getting fit… for real.
- Choose a Body.
- Run a Marathon.
- Join ‘Em.
- Flip Flop.
- Doctor’s Orders.
- Hang out with Fitties.
- Clean It Like You Mean It.
- Dress the Part.
- Take Charge.
- Change with the Seasons.
The body you live in is largely a matter of choice. Look at yourself — you chose this body. Choose to accept it or choose to change it.
Take part in things like the community marathons or bike tours, though not as a serious contestant. There is always a demand for volunteers at water stops, start and finish lines and everywhere in between.
Take a look at what other people in your circle do for activities. Maybe your friend plays tennis. Why not get out there and play with her? Does your partner bowl?
Meaning, your metabolism. Many people do their exercise in the morning and tend to consume more calories in the evening. The problem is that your metabolism gets progressively more sluggish as you head into the end of the day. Take advantage of this natural tendency by having a solid breakfast and saving the situps for after dinner.
Fitness is about taking care of yourself. Start with a general check up — you may get some much-needed motivation. If you do pursue fitness after that appointment, you might actually look forward to going back for a follow-up.
Take a good look at your unfit friend, the one who snacks, the one who smokes, the one who drinks too much. Now, ask if he/she will join you in making a lifestyle change. If your offer gets a flat reception, it may be time to take a closer look at the friendship. If it doesn’t irritate you too much, spend more time with a friend or co-worker who always looks great, eats healthy and exercises.
There are definitely days when you will not get exercise. On these days, take a mundane chore such as laundry and do it with gusto. Go for the new speed record in toilet scrubbing. It lacks glory… but you get some exercise and your work is done more quickly and probably more thoroughly.
If you join a gym or take up walking don’t show up in a giant t-shirt, paint-spattered sweats and your hand-me-down sneakers. Show up clean, in comfortable, new exercise garb. Save these clothes only for exercise. They are your exercise uniform. If you look like a person who exercises, you will feel like a person who exercises.
If you become responsible for other people’s exercise, then you’re more likely to show up yourself. Get a couple of friends together and start a walking club. Better yet, get certified to teach a fitness class and you can even get paid to exercise!
Your routine usually falls apart come the monsoon season, right after Christmas, the end of the semester, whenever. Your life begs for a change sometimes — let it happen! Plan to drop your exercise routine and change your diet when these changes are due. Just when you are starting to run out of steam, you can take comfort in the fact that you are halfway through. This applies to gym memberships, too — no deal is good if you’re not going to use it. Sign up for no more than three months at a time.