The Problem With America’s Gym Culture


One of the biggest questions on my mind as of late is this: when did gyms transform from places of growth and fitness to orgies of narcissism and penis envy? I’ve been going to the gym for quite some time now. I don’t go as frequently as some of the most orthodox members, whose entire wardrobes consist of sleeveless T-shirts and mesh shorts, but I do attend. But frankly, as of late, I’m growing tired of this place of “self growth.”

It seems to me lately the only growing that occurs in the gym is that of the ego. While the genders slurp down their snake oil pre-workout concoctions that will certainly calcify in their livers and kidneys in the next few years, I’ve been watching them. That sounds creepy, but I’m human and who can resist giving his or her attention to the monkeys at the zoo as they play on jungle gyms? It’s all the same.

At my gym–a McDonald’s color-schemed franchise that will go unnamed–I am often surrounded by a garden variety of young men and women who come from the local high schools to work out together. I often like to sit on the equipment I’m using in between sets to people watch. The music I tend to enjoy in a place such as this often sets a good tone for my inner opinions, as I watch a 17-year-old squat 365 pounds. To be honest, I’m often listening to the heaviest and most misanthropic music available. Sometimes I like to imagine the 17-year-old’s legs buckling under the weight and his knees exploding like grapes. The music just makes for a good soundtrack. I’m not listening to it get a so-called “pump.” I’m listening to it to parallel my mood inside this insane asylum.

On the few days a week that I go to the gym, A scourge of men and women who cannot for the life of them stop staring at their immaculate figures in the wall sized mirrors greet me. At my gym, there is one individual who likes to lift up his shirt and gaze upon his Messianic six-pack in between slurps of his pre-workout sludge. He looks like an albino gorilla. No matter when I go, the kid is there (I know he’s a kid from his re-stylized high school shirts with the sleeve holes that go down to his ass cheeks). He’s there doing handstand push-ups on the pull-up bar 10 feet in the air, or bench pressing with his legs 90 degrees vertical to the bench while insulting his spotter, calling him a “gym bitch.”

I sit there, with my mustache catching the occasional protein-soaked fart under my nose and stare at this kid. Many of you are going to comment on this and say, “Wow, you must be a fat, jealous loser.” And even if I was, you would have missed the point.

I just want to know what happened to working out? What happened to going to the gym and triumphing your own personal goals instead of flaunting your body for others to see and notice? What happened to working out alone and asking people for spots instead of going with an entire circle jerk to stand around one piece of equipment for half an hour at a time? What happened to modesty?

When I was in college, I may have dabbled with Super Pump and its generous lacing of Creatine. Those gym sessions were often a blur as I was too busy “woo’ing” obnoxiously at my brother and playing air drums in between sets. No weight was heavy enough for me and the guy in the mirror was a Dothraki Khal.

I’m pretty sure I was taking some sort of legalized derivative of crystal meth, but I’m still not sure. Needless to say, I stopped with the Super Pump and went back to working out naturally.

I’m not a fitness guru; I know nothing about dieting or clean eating and I don’t care about my abs. Actually, I think all of this shit is pretty conceited, and when you go to a gym today–certain ones being worse than others–you’re greeted by a mass group of people with shaking hands and dilated pupils trying to bench press each other as they palm their crotches in the mirror and find their remaining cellulite and go, “I feel so gooey today.”

Just think: when you go to the gym when it’s crowded like a high school cafeteria, at that point are you working out, or just showing off?

It is important to have self control and even more important to be aware of your body and the power you have over it–but I think I’m tired of that idea. It seems a bit outplayed these days. Tyler Durden, in “Fight Club,” said, “self improvement is masturbation,” and I kind of agree these days when I go to the gym at 5:30 after work and see a bunch of red-faced teenagers screaming like a pack of bonobos in heat. While it may be cool to be that physically “fit,” and in shape, sculpted by the gods and ready to pleasure your lovers with your upper thigh muscles that can crush beer cans, I think it’s time someone did something to challenge the norm.

I’m going to keep going to the gym at my normal time, and I’ll stay at the same gym. I’ll buy a plastic drink shaker and cut the sleeves off of a bunch of Pantera and Slayer shirts. But I’ll fill my shake container with Scotch and ginger ale and piss my shorts as I ask the albino gorilla to spot me. He’ll stop and stare, totally uncomfortable, and I’ll look up at him through my sunglasses (yep!) and say, “What? You some type of gym bitch or something? On three! One, two…”

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Morgan Balog. 24. Starving writer. Half human. Half black hole.

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