Monday, March 11, 2013

Department of Bad Ideas: Fitness

I have never been in favor of fitness as a hobby. Sports are fine if you must exercise, running is acceptable, but working out at the gym is wretched, and attending fitness classes like a spandex-clad lemming slavishly and sweatily aping the every move of the much more shapely spandex-clad captain of your sad lemming tribe - that is the worst. But now I live in southern California, and all anyone here seems to do is get in shape. It's not even fitness as a hobby, it's fitness as the driving imperative of one's life, with whatever professional and familial obligations one might have ranking only second or third in importance behind maintaining firm glutes. It is an eternal progress towards perfection, only think for a second what this progress really terminates in. There are people here who don't even seem to own any clothing for use in non-exercise contexts. Of course, I scorn all this, and all of them, and this entire state and its "lifestyle," but I have a lot of free time. So perhaps the collapse of my resistance was inevitable. 

At first, I was persuaded to take tennis lessons with a friend. I do not enjoy being instructed, but at least I've already reached a degree of tennis competence at which it's possible to enroll in a course that focuses mostly on strategy and not repetitive groundstroke drills, and the class has actually been very helpful, even though we are almost the worst players in it. And I was content with things, really. It's a two-day a week commute to UCSD, an hour each way. Time-consuming work!

But then I began noticing the phenomenon of the Saturday morning post-yoga class woman at coffee shops. The Saturday morning post-yoga class woman comes into the coffee shop around 11:30 am as you've just begun hopelessly trying to read Bodin while simultaneously writing your chapter on Bodin (and also online shopping, because let's face it, you suck) after having gotten out of bed only 30 minutes earlier. She has been up since 7 am. She is wearing very flattering yoga clothes and carting her mat in a designated yoga mat bag. Already fully alert from her morning workout, she requires no caffeine, and instead orders a green juice, takes out a trendy novel, and proceeds to her Saturday morning ritual of healthful productivity. Saturday morning post-yoga class woman does not consume pastries, although she could if she wanted to, having pre-emptively negated their caloric content with her careful attention to fitness. She could probably write your entire chapter in the time it takes her to finish one green juice. All of which of course means that if I become Saturday morning post-yoga class woman, I would finish my own chapter in the time it takes to drink a green juice, I would actually drink green juice, and I would otherwise be improved in every way.

The first problem with this plan is that I will not do yoga. It is just elaborate stretching, like we used to do in gym class under duress, but now re-branded with better outfits and a vague and exotic appeal to Eastern religion. Every hour, at least five college-educated women in American succumb to yoga because it's just so good for you and makes you feel so great. Whenever anything is so universally approved by the smart set that not even culture warring partisanship has produced detractors, I worry that civilization is in jeopardy (another contender for this honor is Downton Abbey).If I resist and it turns out to be yoga that leads us into a dystopian society, there will be at least someone left who remembers the world as it was before yoga, like in The Giver. So I decided to become Saturday morning post-generic fitness class woman instead. 

The second problem with this plan is that fitness classes are expensive and elaborately specialized and confusing. What kind of fitness do you want to do? Bike in place to excruciating music? Lift ball-shaped weights and swing them around? Lay on a mat and swing your legs around? Run around a room in circles while a large man yells at you? Suspend yourself from the wall? There are so many options! And once you select one, how do you fund it? But the solution to all these problems is Groupon, which can always get you to do that which you probably would rather not. 

My Groupon for 30 random fitness classes all over San Diego in hand, I surveyed these options and elected for the one that involves suspending yourself from a wall at 8 am on Saturday mornings. (You can look up TRX in Youtube if you wish to see a demonstration of self-wall suspension.) Did this seem moronic and antithetical to my vehement and arbitrary opposition to the humiliating nature of group exercise classes? Yes. But healthful productivity! I wasn't too concerned with the difficulty of this activity, because I am in ok shape from tennis and all those years of pre-Californian driving-avoidance, and it seemed like the wall was going to do most of the work for me. My main concern was planning my healthfully productive post-exercise Saturday, which was of course to include the requisite post-class visit to a coffee shop, followed by many productive hours of chapter-writing at home, and then a leisured evening out with my husband.

Well. I got up at 6 am, attended this class, after which I could hardly walk up the stairs out of the gym. Unlike the green juice women, I required coffee after this event, and upon returning home, immediately fell asleep. The next day, I first became aware of many muscles I never even knew I had by means of the intense pain they caused me each time they were called on to function. Two days on, sneezing still reminds me of the existence of all the muscles in my upper abdomen. If becoming Saturday morning post-yoga class woman will in itself requires months of practice, then how will I ever finish my dissertation at this rate? And there is still green juice to acclimate to!


Flavia said...

After a lifetime of not working out, I joined a gym/started working out 6 mos. before my 35th birthday, because, you know: THE FUTURE (i.e., osteoporosis and whatever other grim forms of physical decline & fall might lie in wait). And I've kept at it for a couple of years now

Two things make it bearable:

1. Not having to buy new clothes. Stuff I bought when I was 26 still fits, but was starting not to because of whatever metabolic changes I was going through

2. The elliptical machine is where I do my leisure reading. Suddenly, I'm reading contemporary fiction again!

And I guess I do feel more energetic and virtuous afterwords. But working out itself doesn't have a lot to recommend it.

Miss Self-Important said...

But I enjoy buying new clothes, although more as a matter of wardrobe enhancement rather than necessary replacement, I guess. I've also tried reading on the gym machines, and the result was usually that one or the other activity took precedence - I peddled far but read the same line of text 20 times, or I read a great deal and burned one calorie. But I have worked out in the sense of going to the gym before (when I was a student and the school gym was free and nearby), though with no great enthusiasm. It's the group fitness classes that I've never been able to stomach. Literally, I guess, given how much my stomach muscles now ache.

Phoebe said...

1) I totally get the green-juice-woman quasi-admiration thing. When I lived in a neighborhood bordering Tribeca, I was fascinated by this subculture, whose leader is, I believe, Gwyneth Paltrow, the beverage in question being "Goop." But I think it's also possible to have a (soy?) latte and be that kind of woman.

2) Finally, someone whose take on yoga is mine exactly. Although I do actually want the stretching, but minus the fetishization/Orientalism. Is that Pilates? And if so, do I have to drive to the next town over to find out?

3) Flavia, I'm so impressed that you can read fiction while working out! I always end up with podcasts. Far too often, boring ones - I click on one basically at random and it turns out to be an NPR show on the importance of eating kale.

Miss Self-Important said...

SoCal seems to be split on the virtues of caffeine as against or as a supplement to juiced kale. There are some boutique coffee roasters here specializing only in caffeination, but I've noticed that in most broadly-targeted coffee shops, there is a separate juice/smoothie menu in addition to the usual espresso drink menu, a thing which I don't recall seeing much in Boston or DC, though maybe it exists in NY. This indicates to me that these coffee shops recognize that some substantial proportion of their customer base Does Not Believe in coffee (or maybe is Mormon?). Also, there is a lot less studying going on here in coffee shops (or, let's be honest, probably anywhere in the city), so coffee may be less appreciated for its utility as a study-aid than in NY and so more easily scorned as merely a tooth-yellowing diuretic.

Flexibility, muscle strength - all good-sounding things that don't seem very necessary for everyday life. If being flexible and strong translates into noticeably improved external appearance, ok. But can I use my tricked out glutes to cook pasta? Type papers? Talk to people? I don't think so. Given that, I will opt for being a storage vessel for our collective memories of our way of life before Fetish X (yoga/Downton Abbey/green juice) destroyed it.

I'm not sure exactly what Pilates is about. If you find out, let me know. TRX might be more than I need to Live Forever if I have to die for three days after each session in order to obtain its immortalizing effects.

Phoebe said...

I can't think of any coffee places in NY with juice bars attached. Some coffee bars (one mini-chain, at least) snootily refuse to serve pastries, but that's as far as it goes. I don't think it's about coffee as a study aid as much as the notion that New Yorkers work 80-hour weeks.

But there are juice-bars (I remember trying unsuccessfully to get a job at one in high school), and, more recently, juice-cleanse establishments. One of those is next to my favorite mozzarella store, a relic of the Italian West Soho. I walk by and feel vaguely shamed as I then emerge walking down the street, eating an enormous, somewhat too oily smoked-mozzarella-marinated-pepper sandwich.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, I suppose it should not be surprising that NY is ahead of Boston and DC in its lifestyle trend offerings. Juice cleansing is also a thing here. In fact, I almost bought a Groupon for that too, on the incorrect assumption that I would get fresh juice each day to supplement my ordinary consumption. But then I investigated and discovered that the juice is supposed to replace your ordinary consumption, for a week! And that is clearly too California/Gwyneth for me.