A Different Breed of Sweatshop

The first thing you notice when you walk in is the sound.  Lack of sound may be a better way of describing it: vacuous, ambient noise.  Very rarely do we speak to each other here.  Communication is limited to physical gestures such as pointing and nodding– we become apes again every day after work. It is refreshing to throw off the shackles of obligatory small talk.  Many of us cite our daily visits to this place as a key factor in our quest for  serenity.

Everyone is in their own space.  We wear noise-canceling headphones and are reluctant to take them off.  Headphones make us impervious to our own voice levels: we grunt much louder when our ears are stuffed with rubber music.  And the combination of runner’s high and rock and roll makes for some crazy gestures on a precarious treadmill.  Look at Johnny over there playing the air drums!

One of the regulars, in particular, stands out from the crowd.  She is probably about 36 years old and comes here in the late afternoon.  I’m guessing her body fat index hovers around, oh, 0.1-0.12, depending on the time of month.  A thick shellac of sweat permanently covers her entire body as she moves from machine to machine like a machine.  I’m guessing she is German, so I will call her Evelyn.

Evelyn starts her routine on the recumbent bike.  She pushes the “Quick Start” button and peddles for exactly 20 minutes.  She averages 6.8 miles in this time, but she is always trying to best her personal high of 6.87.  That was before the baby came, though.  She doubts if she will ever get there again.

After she finishes wiping down the bike, she heads over to the rowing machine by the window: the early portion of her workout is tough on her knees, so she likes to get it out of the way.  I am pretty sure that the wattage Evelyn generates on the rowing machine would be sufficient to power a large village for a day or two.  The YMCA would be wise to take advantage of this, as I have pointed out on many a comment card.

Next, she mounts the stair-climbing machine.  By this time, sweat is rolling off her elbows and nose: her cheeks are covered with black mascara.  I have never, in my three years of coming here, seen anybody as proficient on a stair climber as Evelyn is.  She sets the speed to 20 (the maximum) and takes two stairs at a time for exactly 30 minutes.  Even more impressive, is the fact that she manages to read a magazine as the machine hums beneath her as if possessed.  Her eyes bulge.  She turns the page every 3 minutes regardless of whether or not she has finished reading; this part of her day is all about discipline, physical and mental.

And all of this is just a warm up for the meat of her routine: the spin class.  This is where 10 upright stationary bicycles are synchronized, to foster a sense of community here at the YMCA.  The bicycles all face the leader of the pack, who shouts motivational banter over electronica music from the early nineties: “We’ve got a hill coming up!  Bare down, people!”

None of the other spinners are aware that Evelyn has already done over an hour of cardiovascular exercise.  They might not believe it if you told them since she completely dominates, rarely sitting down on the seat of her bicycle, even on the “flat” stretches.

On a “lazy day”, her routine ends with the spin class.  She puts on an over-sized bunnyhug and walks out into the night.  But if she has eaten a carb-heavy lunch (pasta, usually) she makes her way to the weight room, where she does a whole bunch of reps with small weights to maximize tone.  She is a firm believer in free weights, dumb-bells, in particular.

Her weight routine is done from her perch, a half sphere with a plasticized platform on top.  This device ensures that, throughout her routine, her core muscles will also be engaged, thus saving her time.  Her clothing is completely drenched with sweat, as is her bleached blond hair.  I have often speculated as to whether or not she wrings out her sports bra before throwing it into the wash.

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