True stories from Hemenway Gym.
I don’t know how you convince yourself to go to the gym, but my preferred technique is self-deception. When I use the elliptical, I always enter my weight at 300 lbs. Factoring in my massive size, the machine calculates I’m burning more than 900 calories in 30 minutes. Hey, it keeps me motivated.
At the Hemenway gym, I find myself surrounded by Harvard Law students. Sometimes it looks like the exercise room is a courtroom. Yet people manage to leave their pencil skirts, glasses, and massive sized books. All except for one man. He’s big, he’s buff, and you can’t miss him because of the loud grunts he emits during his workouts. Sometimes he graces the gym with his dance moves, all while on the machine. He’s always at gym when I am, so either he’s stalking me or he’s just there 24/7.
Now, I’m a creature of habit — I always use the same elliptical machine the way I always sit in the same seat in lecture. I guess this guy — let’s call him, I don’t know, Muscle Milk Mike — is the same way, and his machine of preference happens to be the one right next to mine. Awkward.
During our odd mutual workouts I’ve noticed him glancing over at my machine, taking in my amazing numbers, trying to process them in his tiny stegosaurus brain. One day when he was finished with his workout, ineffectively wiping sheets of sweat off his display, he suddenly barked, “Hey, I got a question — what settings are you on?” I barely looked his way and replied nonchalantly, “I usually keep the incline flat and set the resistance to 6.” He seemed relieved. “Oh, well then that machine must be broken. I got mine at 25, but I keep looking over at you and wondering, jeez, how the hell is she burning so many calories?” I nodded politely, considering the conversation over, and went back to my book. But Mike wasn’t finished: “Okay if we switch machines next time?” he asked.
Next time? What, we were in a relationship now? Gym-dating? One of the top selling points of this health club with its pre-Alzheimer’s types taking their mechanically-enhanced constitutionals was that no one knows me; I don’t have to interact with anybody beyond a casual “thanks” to the nice lady who dispenses towels. But now Muscle Milk Mike was threatening to pierce my little fortress of cardio solitude.
I’m really not competitive by nature. I now work out simply to release stress or get some endorphins. I’ve rejected the notion that in order for me to succeed others must fail. Through nearly all of my years of school — including a cutthroat college application process perfectly designed to pit friends against friends, late nights in Lamont trying to perfect the P-set — I’ve truly believed the mantra that I should rate my performance against my own goals, not compare it with the achievements of others, despite what curves tell you. Perhaps man is competitive by nature — survival of the fittest and all — but I could rise above this primal instinct. Couldn’t I?
When I arrived at the gym the next day Mike was already there — of course — and he was using my machine! Sweat rained from his pores and veins bulged in his neck and forehead. Clearly he saw it as his solemn mission to demonstrate that this machine — formerly my machine — had gone haywire and was awarding bonus calories for no good reason. But on another level he seemed to see it as a rematch — against me. He even managed a weird little smile when he saw me, as though to say, “Ha, I can do it too.” As I watched him strain to equal my impossible totals, I wondered if the law would somehow hold me accountable for his inevitable cardiac arrest. Luckily for me, I am surrounded by lawyers in Hemenway.
Now, I could have ignored all this. I could have simply slipped on my headphones, snapped open my book and forgotten there was a loud, smelly, unpleasant man blocking me from my preferred machine. My machine was a new dance floor, sweat basin, for Muscle Milk Mike.
I could have chosen a different exercise and thus declared myself above this petty rivalry. I could have remembered that in war the truly victorious are those who choose not to fight.
Instead, I mounted the next machine over and punched in 3-0-0 lbs.
Caroline Silber ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) will try not to have you prosecuted for aggressive gym behavior.