Well, it’s 2015 and you’ve probably been to the gym or fitness club already to kick off the New Year. That means you’re basically insane like the rest of us.
Because we all know the definition of insanity, do we not?
That pretty much describes gym workouts. In fact during research for this article (which involved the intense effort of Googling the work Insanity) we learned there is now officially a brand of workout called INSANITY that offers to give you the results of a year’s worth of workouts in just 60 days. That sounds pretty insane.
It’s funny how we go about it. We all have our “routines” at the gym. We do them with dedication to the manner in which we’ve been taught or learned by watching other people.
Some of us even hire trainers to put us through the paces. Think about it: trainers are people who go to school to learn how to instruct people on how to do insanely difficult things. Over and over.
Of course most of us need this type of instruction because if left to our own devices, we would do insanely stupid stuff rather than insanely smart stuff. Trainers are there to keep us on the smart side of insane. Or possibly they stand just far enough on the smart side of stupid to charge you insane fees. It’s quite difficult to discern the difference on these issues.
Growing up as an athlete during a period when it was not really fashionable to use the gym for strength work, learning to be productive in the gym has been a long evolutionary process. These included many adopted exercises that become part of a routine. Some are taught to us by trainers. Others are learned by copying gym rats. Or were they lab rats? No, gym rats. Ah, what’s the difference.
My problem with the gym as a distance runner was always simple. For most of my career I was so frighteningly lean (re: skinny) from running 80-100 miles a week there was no purpose in going to the gym. You cannot build muscle on your body while doing that level of mileage. It bleeds off your frame like vapor from a jet engine.
Now that I’m older and slower, I actually add a little muscle now and then. But a tricky layer of subcutaneous fat hides any hint of a six pack on my belly.
But when I ride and run enough to make that fat go away, my arms and torso naturally thin out and I look like a man out of place at the gym. My Under Armor shirt does not stretch around my biceps like those other insanely beefed up and ripped out guys at the gym curling 70 lbs. per arm. I’m happy to curl 25 lbs and not rip my biceps out of their lean sockets.
So it seems as if my life will always be a perpetual cycle of these insane back and forth swings from lean and fit to slightly fat and stronger-looking.
See, if I’m thin enough to climb hills well on the bike, I look like a tire pump with pipe cleaners sticking out the sides when I’m at the gym. And if I’m strong enough to add bars on the bench press machine, then I’m heavier overall and can’t run as fast in a 5K or 10k.
Sure, there are triathletes who swim and bike and run and have these amazingly balanced bodies that look like Greek gods or goddesses. But here’s the thing: it’s a well-documented fact that triathletes really are insane. This is especially true at the Ironman level, where 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running requires even the super elite more than 8 hours of continuous travel to complete.
Basic triathletes require double that amount of time. They start and finish in the dark. In between they typically cook like eggs on a skittle and thank God when the sun goes down. And having attended several triathlons now I can tell you that not all the bodies out there are sculpted and fit. There are fat and thin and awkwardly lopsided people completing these races. They squeeze into their wetsuits for the water and bulge in their trisuits during the bike. Then they do everything they can to move their feet across the finish line that is typically, teasingly, flirted with during the first loop of the triathlon run.
My neighbor does triathlons and he once lost track of where he was in the race and finished one whole running lap early. His time was 30 minutes faster than anyone else in his age group and he was disqualified. But he did not seem to care. “I was happy to be done,” he laughed as he told me the story.
It seems as if we’re all doomed in this tarsnake battle of performance versus appearance. Athletes training for peak performance must make sacrifices in order to be best prepared for their endurance events.
People more concerned with appearance can build and sculpt and feed their body with proteins that build muscle. But how useful are those muscles for real athletic performance?
It strikes me that women in particular must deal with this insane engagement of performance versus appearance. A female cross country athlete in high school will often train 50- 60 miles a week. That level of training leads to a very lean physique and can often result in loss of some treasured boobage in order to achieve racing weight. It’s true for women athletes in all sports and at all levels it seems.
Buffed and beefed
Fortunately the world of sports seems to gaining a measure of sanity about meeting these odd criteria for what constitutes beauty and healthy. But you might not know that from the insane hours (and money!) some people spend at the gym.
It’s all so obvious and yet unspoken. The men want pumped up chests and arms, six-pack abs and a half stubble. Women want a tight ass, cellulite free legs and nicely toned arms. The rest is pretty much the result of genetics and a decent diet. And perhaps a few enhancements. God Bless Us All. Every one of us.
But let’s be real: Going to the gym is all about looking good while doing endurance sports is about doing your best. Getting a body you can be proud of is a happy byproduct of all that work.
The health benefits of strength and cardio work are the quiet benefit of all this insanity. Older folks working out at the gym quickly learn that lifting weights is a literal lifesaver. It helps posture and breathing and weight control. That helps you remain vital and strong and even bolsters your immune system.
While this whole gym fetish is an insane proposition of sorts, you’d almost need to be crazy not to go work out. There’s so much good in this insanity.
So Greetings and Happy New Year from the gym, where only insane people and those who look like them go nuts working out.