Posts filed under ‘people watching

The aftermath

Well, I never expected a breakfast TV show to break into new frontiers when it comes to resistance training and the enormous benefits that comes with. The British media are currently worshipping at the alter of Tracy ‘No woman should ever lift more than 3lbs!’ Anderson and obviously a trainer likes to use their clients as an advertisement – cue a shot of Gwenyth and Madonna (by the way, this is the same Madonna that many people refer to in the sentence, “But I can’t lift more than a pencil, I’ll end up looking like Madonna!”)

“Teeny arms! Teeny arms!” Tracy yelped a couple of times. Not only do people want toned arms it seems, but also cachexia.

The resistance in the exercises came in the form of air. Quite a few flicking motions, my personal favourite came in the form where you take the position as if you’ve got a very fat person standing behind you, and you have to bring your arms back and flick your wrists as if you’re trying to slap their arse. Don’t take my word for it, watch and learn.

Then of course Lorraine and some random fashionista guy commented on the feature, and made the very important point that you obviously don’t want to become too muscular just nice and toned. Whatever the hell that means. I’m surprised Lorraine didn’t say, “Too muscular like Madonna,” but that would be mean-spirited (not to mention confusing) given who her personal trainer is.

Joke of it is, does anyone really think Michelle Obama got arms like that from uber high reps and no kind of weight on the end? I’ll bet she can bench press her husband, and I’d happily pay to see that.


Add comment March 23, 2009

Don’t tread on me

I’m quite self-conscious concerning personal space at the gym. This is because travelling on the Tube fills my quota of getting pressed up against a variety of odours and also because it’s not exactly safe to be arse-touching someone in the middle of their squat. In the free-weights area, you normally have to weave your way around or wait while someone is doing their thing, but it’s only for a few seconds and not a big deal.

On Friday I was just about to start doing some dumbbell chest presses, when a guy came along and almost knocked a dumbbell out of my hand with his arse. In a gym, I’d expect most mortals with a sense of gym etiquette would be, “I’m really sorry, didn’t see you/I tripped/I thought I saw a ghost,” because had that dumbbell landed anywhere on my face, I would have let rip once I had recovered from the rhinoplasty.

Instead, he just went about his business with his buddy and they did dumbbell flies only throughout their entire workout, grunting in a manner I’ve seen in various flavours on the labour ward. I couldn’t be bothered to say anything, I figured this is the type of guy who won’t eat fruit because, “OMFG, sugar!” But will happily chow down a tub of Superdoopermaxigainermuscle powder with added dextrose. Fairly certain it wouldn’t have happened if I looked like Oscar De La Hoya.

In the same session, I encountered a PT who was training two guys who were new to the gym. I asked how long they were going to be with the stepper: to my delight, unlike some patrons he didn’t snap/scoff/roll eyes and he told one of the guys with him to take the equipment over to me. The latter was a bit excessive, but I was touched all the same.

I’ve told B that once we have our own house complete with garage, that shall be our home gym. The answer is always,  “But where will the car live?”

The car can graduate to the garage once I can lift it.


I still have a horrendous case of the DOMS from Friday’s session, and it shocked me when I thought about how much strength I had lost. Some friends of mine run a company which offers pole dancing classes, I’m tempted to try something out a little different, and I think pulling yourself upside down and hanging there using your thighs is a neat little party trick.

1 comment February 22, 2009

Gym manners 101: putting your weights back

It never ceases to amaze me how lacking in manners some people can be. I’m not exactly foaming at the mouth a la Daily Hate, nor am I reminiscing over how the Golden Age is over (I don’t think it ever existed) but… I often wonder whether my gym would benefit from those ‘A little thought from everyone’ posters often seen on London’s public transport.

Whatever people’s goals are at the gym; everyone is there for a primary purpose – to use the facilities. A workout can go much more smoothly if everyone cooperates and work together for the environment they’d always like to see when they go in.

This didn’t happen yesterday. I walked into the freeweights area and was stunned. Discarded dumbbells – everywhere. Pieces of tissue wiped with sweat left on the floor. Both Z-bars loaded and not in use, just shoved at the back. And the icing on the cake? Two guys deadlifting with the Olympic bar – they then unload the bar, leave it in the middle of the floor and walk off to do some ball work.

I was fuming. It’s really dangerous, especially if a dumbbell rolls in your direction and you can’t see it while walking. Not only that – and while I doubt this is the primary intention – the arrogance sets forth the message that, “Your workout isn’t that important, so I’ll let my laziness cut into your time while you tidy up for me.”

I went and spoke about it to one of the gym managers. He agreed with me and said that people tend to tidy up more when the gym team are around cleaning up. I said that it shouldn’t be part of their jobs to clean up after others. He said if I see it, I should just tell one of the team. Again, I don’t think it needs to be like a school environment ‘telling’ on other people. My boyfriend’s old gym had a poster up saying: “SEX! Now that we have your attention, please put your weights back!”

While I hate confrontation, I think I’ll just brave it and say something. I’ve done it before and it’s worked, it’ll give me more peace about it than I had the other day (although saying that – my anger led me to have an absolutely blinding workout!) It’s just a shame that I have to in the first place.

If that doesn’t work, the clean + press using the offending person as the barbell is looking better all the time.

Add comment October 30, 2008

On the couch

I’m a few weeks into my psychiatry placement and it has proved far more revealing than anticipated. I always knew that dealing with mental health issues would always bring back some memories of my own flirtation with depression (one less subject to revise, hurray!) but I feel like I’m on the cusp of stepping over the boundaries of professionalism.

I have always been able to do empathy, while keeping any sympathies to myself. However, on occassions in talking to depressed patients and hearing their own experiences and how closely they mirrored my own, I’ve noticed my eyes start to well up, and I find myself pulling out all the stops to avoid making it known that I might be starting to blub. Luckily I’m a medical student and for the most part I’m invisible so no one notices.

We had a patient come in to discuss his experiences of bipolar affective disorder and he described his depression as ‘the world being grey’. This was very close to my own perception at the time, although I’d say it was more like the world being misty, and that daily life was a compromise between accepting the wade through the mist, and the fight to get out of bed every morning when I felt there was a heavy weight bearing down on my chest.

I generally have no problems with the way my treatment was handled: meds (citalopram + propranolol) and CBT. My first few days of citalopram were interesting. A small wave of nausea passed over me, then 20 minutes of absolute euphoria – a couple of times I turned the radio on loudly and danced. My dreams were hugely vivid and I would sleep like I was experiencing sleep for the first time in my life. After a few weeks, getting out of bed no longer became an issue, I don’t think I even noticed it happening.

I do wish I had started exercising sooner. When I first presented to my GP, the depression was not mild enough to be treated with exercise, but I think I would have benefited greatly further down the line, especially when I was on the line between being well and relapsing (I had one relapse where my meds were increased – 2 weeks after that, I saw a different GP by chance who was very keen on knowing when I was going to stop and she thrust some leaflets in my direction. I take it she hadn’t paid close attention to my notes, I’d be more worried if she had). These days exercise works wonders on my mood, and the day I stop getting pleasure from it, something would be wrong.


Yesterday at the gym I saw a man spray his bench with Dettol wipe it down. I was shocked.

All the new freshers have started to have a look around. I don’t think the girls would take kindly to a sweaty yours truly dragging them to the freeweights room and evangelising on the benefits of resistance training.

Gubernatrix is back! *does dance*


Now that I’m in year 4, the NHS has started to throw large sums of money at me. I don’t have to pay them back either. This could prove rather dangerous, especially as I have taken the attitude that I should be rewarding myself with pleasure at least once a week (masturbation not included). For me, pleasure involves spending money, or gardening. I should probably buy an allotment.

Add comment September 24, 2008


I’m currently training with a friend on my firm: she’s an endurance type and has taken part in Ironman triathlons. We begin together by warming up on the treadmill. 3 minutes later, I jump off to go and stretch. She keeps running. I go into the free weights area and lift heavy crap. I top up my water. She keeps running. I go and do an abdominal workout. She keeps running. I cool down, stretch and mouth/signal to her that I’m going to shower. She keeps running. I shower, change and wait for her in the seating area. STILL RUNNING!!!!111one

She recently has been making noises about doing some weight lifting. Me = happy bunny.

Add comment May 15, 2008

Get ’em while they’re young

Another interesting encounter on the voyage through Whole Foods came upon seeing a couple of cute children playing around. One must have been three; the other one looked no older than two. The two year old started running towards the counters where people were getting food, and she stood underneath the railings where customers slide their lunch trays on. Then using an impressive overhand grip, she was attempting to pull herself up! Obviously she didn’t, but I was pretty impressed to see such a young human do something so functional to everyday movement – climbing and pulling yourself up. K and I thought it was appropriate to give her a mini round of applause from across the table.

Add comment May 3, 2008

Feminism and gymming

For a while I’ve been trying to articulate how I feel about weight training and how that relates to me as a feminist. I thought how I feel about other men at the gym would help. Generally at my gym, the guys are pretty cool. Most of them put their weights back, say hello, ask me if I’m done with something rather than taking it (take heed, that fitness instructor) and are always open to alternating on equipment if the place is busy. In all my time there, two of them have said how much they admire seeing a woman doing weight training. It was a nice thing to hear and was very sincere both times (despite my boyfriend saying they were trying to sleep with me. If I was open to their advances, it would be a good place to start).

I’ve never directly had any negativity. Sometimes I get stared at, especially if I’m doing lower body work like deadlifting or squatting, but it’s not something that overly bothers me. I’ve had a couple of guys having a look in my direction and have a snigger with their workout buddy, but I don’t take it personally as I think underlying anxieties can manifest in picking out the person who is most ‘vulnerable’ to that. As a short, geeky looking lifter with an extra x chromosome in relation to theirs (unless they have Kleinfelters syndrome) I’m an easy target. Other times, some guys seem to respond in a panicked, “What are you doing here?” look on their faces. Again, I think the free weights room is a place where guys can put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform, especially when you see the guy next to you grunting with an extra 5kg in each hand, so seeing a woman (and a woman who can lift heavier) may exacerbate that, as they may have assumed their ‘sanctuary’ has been invaded. Then again, this is me thinking in a very narcissistic manner, it could be absolutely nothing to do with me and more with them worrying that they left the house with the iron on.

Back to feministing, and I recently saw this piece on The F Word, “Push-ups – exercise of the patriarchy or the feminist?” I ended up getting into a long winded discussion on whether lifting heavy weights causes damage to the female reproductive system (I’m screwed if that’s the case; a retroverted uterus *and* strength training damage?!) but I’m still trying to think about what the piece was saying.

I agree with what the author of the original piece is saying:

Here’s a newsflash about why women have a hard time with push-ups: We don’t do them. We don’t do other kinds of weight training that would build the necessary strength. You could be relatively fit, but that doesn’t mean you would go out and run a marathon with no training unless you are crazy. You generally have to practice anything to be able to do it. So what if some men start off having an easier time with push-ups? (And, by the way, I know from training experience that plenty of men are not automatic experts.) There’s no reason women can’t knock out a good set, and do them well from the feet in time.

I was never taught how to do a proper push up. I learned that from reading the step by step guide at Stumptuous. At school, we were girls, and girls did girl push ups, on their knees, and never told to strive for something better, or something to make us stronger. I hated doing push ups on my knees. I felt weak – I was weak and it looked pretty silly too. It took me weeks to be able to do 10 push ups in a row without ending up face first in the smelly gym mats. After time, I was able to do 20, and then I started doing them with my feet elevated. I’m waiting for the day I can do them while in a handstand position.

When I think of the inherent question in the article, I’m finding it difficult to see how it could fit in the mindset of being an exercise of the patriarchy. In my mind, patriarchy isn’t a room full of white, middle class, middle aged businessmen howling away at ways in which women can be oppressed. I see it more as an invisible force that keeps women from getting to positions of power, and prevent men from getting out of positions of power (I’ve heard male nurses being ridiculed for being in a ‘nurturing’ position). As far as I’m concerned, it harms men as well as women, which is why I’m a feminist. I don’t want a son of mine to be called ‘girly’ for liking the colour pink, just as I wouldn’t want a daughter of mine being called ‘manly’ for doing strength training.

If push ups help me to develop in a way that helps me to feel confident, at ease with myself, boost my self esteem, make me physically as well as emotionally stronger, I don’t see that can be given a label to something which I consider holds us back.

It would be nice however to get out of this gendered assumption that men go to the free-weights room to ‘bulk’ and women stay in the cardio area and on mats to ‘tone’. Women in men vary in many different ways, but in terms of musculoskeletal structure, there’s little difference. And there are so many reasons why women should do some form of strength training, but sadly, so many don’t out of this fear of ‘turning into Arnie’ (funnily enough no one says, “I want to run, but not too much, I don’t want to turn into Paula Radcliffe!”) When I lift heavy weights, I don’t see what I’m doing as ‘masculine’. Yes, I can get competitive, have a desire to lift and look strong, but I don’t believe these are or should be exclusive to men.

A woman once told me she didn’t want to go into the free weights room because, “All the men are there and they know what they’re doing and I’ll feel really stupid.” It’s sure intimidating at first, but the truth is, some guys don’t know what they’re doing. Some are so anxious to stack on weight and be something they’re not, they do things with incorrect form, to the extent they’re wincing or rubbing the affected body part afterwards. Some guys only do bicep curls and the chest press, nothing else. It might not be right to say, but because women are not expected to be strong from the outset, there’s less pressure, so more time can be spent on getting things right with lighter weights, or just the barbell and then moving up.

Lastly, it would also be nice if women could occasionally be less cruel to each other. We’re saturated with criticism of other women’s bodies, especially weight; it would be nice to cheer each other on, rather than looking a person up and down when they’ve walked into the gym, or saying how certain exercises look, “butch,” and “manly.” I often wonder how men and women would interact with each other if there was an even split in the free weights room. Would there be competition for the attentions of the other, or would people just knuckle down and get on with their chin-ups?

Add comment April 8, 2008

Do gyms have a duty of care?

Yesterday, I met up with a good friend of mine for an early supper Hummous Bros (I recommend the hot spiced apple juice) and we had a long natter about a number of things which I’m confident will end up in a long prose of musings.

I met K when we were working for this place and we soon became friends. K is vibrant, fun, full of energy, compassionate and randomly bursts into dance when the feeling or music grabs her. She’s very smart, has a background in psychology and I’m sure she can secretly read my subconscious. She also lifts a lot of heavy stuff, so she’s one of the few women I can have long meaningful conversations about weight training and nutrition.

The conversation took a turn towards people we frequently see at the gym. K started talking about two individuals she sees; a woman and man. The woman comes to the gym everyday. She spends hours on the CV machines. She reads a newspaper the entire time held close up to her face and doesn’t make any eye contact beyond that. She brings in a packet of chewing gum and chews through it while training. After she is done, she goes to the changing rooms, and vomits until there is nothing left to vomit. She has done this for every single workout, this is her ritual.

The man she sees she describes as incredibally thin, and uses the bike for an hour, then runs flat out on the treadmill for another hour, after which he is full of sweat, literally hanging off the treadmill or clinging onto something and choking in lungfuls of air very loudly.

I’m not sure if I have described either of these people very well, it’s often difficult to convey words well on the internet, however, I trust my friend’s judgement, she works with very vulnerable members of society on a daily basis. When we worked for ‘that place’ she had a way of knowing who was going to need some extra help and care, and I believe many women walked away having a better experience than they would have done if no one had said nothing and just sent her through the process.

She said, “If I was running a pub, and I see someone’s had enough, I could refuse to serve them. How this doesn’t seem to work at gyms, I don’t know.”

I asked K if she had done anything about it. She had. She went to speak to the manager at her gym. Both of the individuals were well known to the manager, and all of the staff. She explained how concerned she was, and had asked the manager if he had taken any steps to speak to either of them, he hadn’t. Then he said, “Well, to be honest, you can only really admire someone like that [the man].” K knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere, and left feeling pretty pissed off.

“Admire? That was all he could say to me?! Breena, if you saw this man, no one in their right mind could say they’re in admiration for him, he is so thin and what he is doing to himself is not healthy. I don’t know if there is something metabolic there, or psychological, but if he walked into a hospital, you would want to admit him.”

I asked her if she was going to say something herself: “You know, l really want to. I really want to approach both of these people and just have a chat with them. I really don’t talk to anyone at my gym and I think I should, even if it’s something like, “Hi, how are you doing?” But, I know that if I try and say anything to either of those people, I’m most likely to get, “Mind your own fucking business.” And they’d probably be right. The thing is, if it’s a member of staff, they at least have that small position of authority and knowledge where they have a right to come across and say they’re a bit concerned.”

I thought about my own gym. There are definiately a couple of individuals there who I believe are ill. But it goes beyond that. I’ve seen people do highly dangerous things with equiptment yet, the instructors have done nothing to intervene. I recall seeing a young man deadlifting with very poor form, poor enough for him to be wincing after his sets and clutching and rubbing his lower back in pain. There was an instructor in the area, he saw what happened, and walked off, as he was done rubbing WD40 into one of the machines.

Again, there was nothing that could have stopped me from saying something. But I’m not that confident in approaching people, especially when it comes to unsolicited advice, and as a woman I don’t think I’m likely to be taken that seriously in the free weights room. Plus, thinking selfishly here, it’s not my job to be concerned about that, it’s theirs, and it goes beyond the duty of showing someone how not to fall of the treadmill so they don’t injure themselves and sue. Not tarring them all with the same brush, at my gym there are a couple of brilliant instructors who intervene when necessary, it happened with me once, and I was greatful for the advice I got, as it made my workout more effective and I progressed quicker than I would have done had I stuck to the same thing.

Back to K’s gym, and I asked her what she thought the instructors should say. “It’s never easy to tell someone you’re concerned about their health if they’re not willing to see it themselves. But I see no harm in an instructor going up to someone and saying, “Hi, I’ve noticed that you’ve been a member for a while, would you like to come in for a health assessment?” So at least some dialogue has been opened and you can spend some time with that person going over their goals and having a chat, if they want. But standing by and doing nothing, to the extent where you’re burying your head in the sand and saying that’s something to admire – that’s wrong.” 

I’m inclined to see things from my friend’s perspective. However, I know from experience that if a person is unwilling to seek help, anything you do or say won’t make much difference until they seek it out themselves. As a medical student, I sometimes spend more time with patients than the team does, and I’ve had patients give me information about their lives which has rung alarm bells with me. I’m not a doctor yet, but I believe I have a duty of care to that person, so with their permission, I take the information that has been given to me to a more senior member of staff, and their care can be adapted to the new information given. It’s not a case of me being ‘nice’ or wanting to stick my nose in, I believe it’s my responsibility. Back to the gyms and in the meantime, I don’t see any harm in making an attempt to reach out and get to know your clients. Fitness instructors aren’t trained therapists, doctors or experts in eating disorders and such and such, but surely they have the expertise to discuss fitness plans, nutrition and physiology in a dispassionate manner without sounding preachy?

All sorts of people come and use gyms for a variety of reasons. Some will be successful in their quests, others will not. However, especially in my own gym, I’d like to see more of the instructors taking an active role with their clients, who all pay good money to use the facilities. Please don’t walk past when you see someone doing something stupid or dangerous. Please don’t get in the way of the machine I’m using and have a chat with your buddy, the security guard who came in for a natter. And please don’t close yourself off in your office for hours on end, looking through Facebook.

2 comments April 6, 2008

Gym Voyeurism: Pretty

I must admit, I spend my resting between sets checking out what other people are doing. Or what they’re not doing. It’s a habit of mine, one I don’t wish to break just yet, as I think the gym is often the perfect place to get voyeuristic.

One particular favourite of mine was in today. I like to call him Pretty.

I’ve only seen Pretty on a few occasions, but each time I see him, my heart silently misses a beat, as I wonder what kind of adventures he’s about to get into next. Well, this of course, is untrue. Unfortunately, he’s entirely predictable. For this reason, I can’t take my eyes off him.

 Pretty has very pretty hair. He must straighten it with straightening irons, because it really is that straight. And he likes to fiddle with it, while beaming at his reflection in the mirror. The only exercises Pretty does, are bicep curls. But when and where he will do them next, nobody knows! I’ve seen him curling in the squat rack. He curls in the corner. As long as there’s a mirror in front of him, he’ll curl. That isn’t the best of Pretty. When he is done, he likes to 1) play with his hair, 2) flex his muscles in the mirror, or as I discovered with joy today, 3) he lifts his arms slightly, gives them a little flex, mouths something at them (grow, my pretties?) and then proceeds to give them a little ‘tap’ with each hand.

 As if Pretty couldn’t get even more delightful, he goes above and beyond my estimations. He leaves all his plates and weights out. I’ve never seen him put anything back. Someone almost tripped over a rolling dumbbell of his once.

 So really, what’s going on in my head when I see Pretty? Pretty makes me feel pretty damn sadistic. I tend to lean more towards masochistic, however, there’s something about this calibre of gym goer that just makes me want to cast off the bondage tape. I’m hoping that like Samson, all of his strength is in his hair. The sadist in me is telling me to tie him up, sit him in front of a mirror, and cut every little strand off, one by one, in a painstakingly slow manner. He can then pick up every little morsel of hair, as a stark reminder of the importance of picking his mess up off the floor. I don’t know exactly what I would say to him, as I’m still growing into a role of dominance, however, I’d like to do it wearing my lifting gloves. And burgundy high heel shoes.

Add comment March 19, 2008

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