Gym Tales: An Introduction 


I can still feel the cold metal between my hands. I can smell the sweaty clothes in my gym bag and see particles of lifting chalk sprinkling through the air. The taste of artificially flavored pre-workout supplement lingers in my mouth. Out of the corner of my eye I spot a lovely female figure gliding oh-so gracefully on the treadmill. Through the other eye I see a balding, mustachioed man air drumming to his favorite classic rock ballad and another man of comparable age complaining about some “young punk” who didn’t re-rack his weights after using the bench press. Believe it or not these are my people. They are family — both irritating and comforting. They are the older brother who leaves a slice of half-eaten pizza in your bed after watching TV. They are the little sister who won’t stop kicking the back of your seat on a road trip. But they are also the loving mother who stays with you in the hospital when you’re sick and the distant cousin who rekindles your bond after years apart. Even the self-consumed “meathead” grunting under the squat rack makes the gym feel like home — a symbiotic collective of agonists and antagonists. The community that is the gym has, at one time or another, been my salvation from the trauma and struggle of life. 

Like most humans, I’m capable of loving both people and things. And because people aren’t things and things aren’t people, I tend to love them in different ways. Not necessarily with more or less fervor, well maybe, but differently — I obviously love my mom more than I love a set of dumbbells. But damn, I do love a good set of dumbbells. 

I’ve loved often in my life and my point is this: I’ve felt such strong connections to both people and things I couldn’t have possibly expected anything more from love. I’ve experienced kindness and care from people I never would have expected to come to my aid. And similarly, I’ve become so attached to inanimate objects it’s made me roll my eyes. 

Of all that, of all the love I’ve felt for people and things, I’m almost ashamed to say it is the latter that has given me joy and a purpose of which no person has bestowed upon me. It is a certain satisfaction and an even more certain attachment, and I get it from exercise. It is a magnificent fusion of passion, achievement, and countless other feelings brought together like a wonder drug with endlessly addictive properties. 

Why do people run ultra-marathons, or do obstacle courses through barbed wire and blazing fire, or swim long distance in frigid water? It’s not for their health. Although some people may say otherwise, speaking from experience I know most people test their bodies in such ways not because it’ll make them live longer, but because, well, they enjoy it. Of course they do, that’s why they are willing to risk their health. It’s why I was willing to risk mine, although I never thought the risk was so great. 

And sure running two dozen or more miles in a day is better for you than eating donuts and sitting on the couch, but extreme exercise has its health risks as well. I am perhaps the best example of the dangerous effects of overtraining. 

At the peak of my bodybuilding obsession I was spending more time at the gym each week than some people do in their entire life (the latter is an entirely different problem). I remember having a conversation with a much older and wiser friend about my lifestyle. It wasn’t exactly an intervention, but in hindsight it was definitely a hint. He made a point of making sure I knew exactly how much I was exercising — the equivalent of a full-time job. Not to mention I was going to school and had a part-time job. So really I had three jobs. 

The exhausting pace of my life may or may not have directly contributed to the decline of my health over the last few years, but it certainly didn’t help. Still, if given a mulligan I would live my life similarly, if not exactly the same. Even if my excessive exercising had killed me, I would gladly relive that death over and over because some things — the things that make us feel alive — are totally worth dying for. 

There are many moments from my former life as a bodybuilder and fitness fanatic that now stick with me in my sick and sedentary state. Most nearly consume me with a nostalgia so intense it actually feels like my body is in another time and place. Right now that past time and place is where I’d rather dwell. 

So this is to be my Gym Tales series, telling some of my favorite stories from working out, there are plenty — some comical, some nostalgic, some gross and painful, but all entertaining. So stay tuned …

And please subscribe if you would like to read more. 

24 thoughts on “Gym Tales: An Introduction ”

  1. This might sound weird, but many of your posts almost feel like going for a beer with you or something — maybe it’s a feeling of camaraderie because we seem to be on really similar wavelengths with a lot of stuff.

    I miss being that “female figure gliding on the treadmill” (lol) so much it’s like it’s gnawing a hole in my chest — I really feel it that viscerally. Many times I’ve wondered if I would have done anything differently knowing what would happen, but I don’t think I would have — I was in my last year of university, working a few jobs and working out, and I felt amazing until the moment I didn’t.

    1. Wow. It’s comforting to know there’s a kindred spirit out there. And I’m glad we’re having a beer and I’m not pretentious. That visceral feeling you get is the reason I write this stuff. I love missing something almost as much as I miss actually doing it. Thanks for sharing your reactions. More beers to come I hope.

  2. I get this! I used to be an exercise phanatic (sp?) too. I hate to spell a word wrong. I guess I was lucky to get this later in life so I had lots of years to enjoy running and biking and swimming and playing sports of all kinds. I really miss so much of it now. Like running in the rain. I didn’t get CFS until I was 55 and now it has been 10 years so I am pretty old now but still miss all those things and more of course. I am sorry when I hear of people as young as you getting this evil thing! I enjoy reading your posts though very much.

  3. I feel as though your obsession with working out relates to my obsession a few months back with making money. I was an exotic dancer and although I spent most of my waking hours in the club, the stories I have to tell are very interesting. Like you said… some are funny, some are disturbing and some are sad as hell… But I guess we all should share our experiences….

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  5. My ex was a personal trainer for a long time. He worked the early shift at a gym in West Hollywood, so I would always hear his crazy stories about celebrities who worked out there. I was always somewhat amazed by what he could achieve with his body–especially given that he was naturally a smaller guy. For me, fitness was this weird thing I just sort of stumbled into to stay sane at various parts of my life. It was, for me, a very emotion-driven thing whereas, I think his approach was probably like yours. He was super disciplined and consistent where i would just decide to run a marathon one day–out of the blue. Funny how we both followed our patterns with writing, too.

    Life is about trying things out and falling down or sometimes soaring in the experimentation. Nothing is wasted, and maybe some things are unwise or even unloving–but you have to sort of just try it out and see what brings you the most joy, I think. At least, that’s my philosophy. Eating cheese daily is probably not the best idea, but–man–I wouldn’t trade my experiences with joyful grilled cheese for anything. Some things are worth the risk–or at least–the consequences.

    1. Hi Alma. I’m with you, some things are definitely worth the consequences. But I guess that’s easier to say in hindsight. Thanks for sharing your philosophy and reading this post.

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