I could be wrong, but I think my gym may be a secret sect of the Catholic church.

There’s something distinctly unsettling about hearing grown men scream as they self-flagellate, bench-pressing weights the size of 4WD wheels while an impossibly chiseled/tanned/cliché-prone trainer barks orders nearby. Phrases like “110%! Push-it-to-the-next-level! Go-the-extra-mile!” echo ceaselessly throughout the room, beating off the walls like ancient hymnal texts. Slogans, praising “motivation”, “habit” and “discipline” glare down from enormous posters, imbued with pious solemnity, like the Ten Commandments of athletic divinity.

If you don’t fancy yourself the exercising type, have no fear — just have a little faith.

I’ve been to gyms before, but having just signed up at a new establishment, I have to admit, I’ve never seen devotion quite this … religious. The congregants are frighteningly full-on, literally muscling their way to the last available cross-trainer before pelting the gears up and puffing their way to taut perfection. Aerobics classes are competitive, with star-jump radii dangerously overstretched, and often culminate in loud expressions of existential bliss (that is, sporadic shouts of “WOO-HOO!”).

The feel-good adage — your body is your temple — might encourage healthy body image and improved self-esteem, but it seems some of my fellow patrons are taking the biblical undertones a little too seriously. Randomly yelping halfway through a kickboxing routine might be an expression of enthusiasm, but it’s got the rest of us wondering if you’re having some kind of cardiac blowout. If you fancy yourself an urban Attenborough, then by all means, a gym is a veritable Serengeti of sightings — the sinewy orange-bodied cougar is a dominant species, closely followed by the lithe and lanky treadmill hog.

Even the tanning solarium in the women’s room — a tall, cylindrical structure that glows like the TARDIS whenever an occupant dares venture therein — vaguely resembles a confessional box. Patrons emerge, if not enlightened, then certainly a couple of skin tones darker.

But you do get the occasional sinner. My personal favourite is a Latina siren — I’ve nicknamed her “Sedentary Selma” in honour of her Mexican lookalike — who appears at every Body Jam dance class during the week and rarely lifts a finger, except to primp her bouffant and pout at her reflection from the front row. (Which of the Seven Deadly Sin applies here I wonder? Vanity? Sloth?)

But like any communal activity, the seemingly innocuous gym class can be a powerful bonding exercise. Waiting for my last class to start, I noticed a girl standing nearby with runners were as white as Livinia Nixon’s teeth. Ha, I thought. A recent convert.

A few songs down, everyone warm and limbre, the girl was keeled over, bracing her hands on her knees and wheezing audibly. “Are you okay?” I ask. Cheeks ruddy and streaked with sweat, she turns to me and sighs: “Geez. I’ve earned my Mars Bar today.”

Amen to that, sister.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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