I have cried at so many gyms. I have cried on reformer machines with my legs in rings, on crosstrainers that make you look jolly while you take faux triumphant strides (which is hard to pull off, let me tell you), in downward dog, face down on mats and have even walked out of a BodyPump class sobbing to Eric Prydz’s ‘Call On Me’ and a chorus of huffing from my instructor and his elasticated cronies.
Most of the time crying is an embarrassing but necessary bodily function (as with most bodily functions) but I believe it’s cathartic and you just need to let it out. The gym is not really the place for this. Yeah yeah, who cares what people think, and yeah yeah, if you’re doing it right, your face will be running with sweat already so who would notice a few extra drops of saltwater? And yeah, which crazed roid-raging bodybuilder among us can truly say they haven’t shed a tear in pushing themselves to the limit of human exertion, whether it’s down to a triumphant P[ersonal]B[est] or because something in their neck snapped with a gut-turning twang. If crying is just a basic natural response to a sudden onset of intense feeling, then we should surely feel free to Just Let It Out! No matter where you are, gym or no gym.
Just not, as it turns out, at PureGym Sydenham. The atmosphere there cannot support your emotional outpouring and the boys in the backwards caps and special leather belts just don’t know where to look. Today I cried at the gym because I was in a shit mood. I expect I just woke up wrong. Of course I wasn’t crying because squatting while holding a weighted basketball (make sure you break 90 degrees!) and then “exploding” upwards and throwing 9kg in the air is difficult (even though it bloody well is). Of course I wasn’t crying because it is depressing as all hell in PureGym Sydenham with its sticky grey carpet and its inspirational slogans and its accents of turquoise and its rancid topnotes of testosterone and futility. Of course I wasn’t crying about the brave spandex-clad blind man who looks like Jesus from The Big Lebowski who always finishes up his sit-ups just slightly too close to my squatting arena (oh god it’s not his fault is it, although, surely he can just smell I’m too close to him by now?).
Perhaps I was crying a bit on behalf of the legions of criminally bulky men there who have forgotten about Leg Day. For God’s sake men, you look like two nice ‘n’ spicy nik naks poked into a wedge of Red Leicester. You look like that hideous Walky Talky building in the City of London temporarily propped up on some finely turned spindles. Bob Dylan could write a snarling sarky song about you. If only he could be bothered to think of anything so pathetic.
I cried today because I am a bundle of fizzing, spitting nerve endings and I mentally pulled at a thread that I shouldn’t have pulled while entering my second set. I thought; “I can’t do this. I can’t possibly do twelve more weighted squats. I can scarcely find the mental strength to schedule this gym session in the middle of the day.” From that point it quickly unraveled. “What if I can’t do anything? What if I never make it up from this final manoeuvre, and I die right here on this sweat-sponge mat? I haven’t even finished my tax return so my company will go into liquidation and my sister will be forced to sell all my clothes to pay off our mortgage and even though I’ll be dead so it won’t matter, I’m annoyed with her.”
But I didn’t allow myself to give up. The only cure for this kind of feeling is achievement. You must get to the end of the pain. Pull yourself back from the brink by doing something you can be proud of. I knew I’d never, for one second, regret finishing 90 minutes in the gym and that the miserable self-imposed penance I’d do for walking out in the middle would last all day. Anyway I had to finish because of Jonathan. Poor Jonathan, a personal trainer who is putting me through hundreds of stomach-busting super-sets because when he asked me my “personal fitness goal” I told him “I wish Asian people would stop asking me if I’m pregnant”.
Poor Jonathan who tells me I have “excellent form” and that he likes my “energy” yet was once so desperate not to turn up to a session that he sent me a photo of a (his?) bloodied forearm, claiming to have accidentally done a plank on some shards of broken glass. I couldn’t let him down! So I did the twelve squats. Jonathan asked me if I wanted to stop, fearing that my not feeling up to it could become an unsightly blemish on his day (“not only will it affect you, but it will affect me”). “NEVER!” I screamed, throwing the 9kg ball at the blind man, “I’d sooner die than prematurely end this session which may or may not be the cause of my inevitable death”. “Right” he said. Then he made me do twelve more because he’s a bastard.
My friends tell me that I’m not alone in this; I’m not the only one crying at the gym. If they hadn’t personally wept on a Bosu ball, or in a Zumba class or midway through a pull-up themselves, they’d seen someone that had. I’m relieved to hear this. Because what is the point of having friends at all if they’re not going to cheer you up by telling placatory lies? No matter, they provided empathetic fictions that I was grateful to bask in.
One friend confided he too had cried in a gym. He was on a treadmill trying to purge himself of an insurmountable cocaine hangover (every part of this is a terrible idea) when he suddenly broke down in tears and shuddered off the back of it, accidentally falling into the comforting embrace of his running neighbor, who turned out to be Carey Mulligan. Yet more reasons to avoid drugs and exercise. And crying. At the gym.
I suppose it comes down to self-belief, or a lack thereof, which of course you are in the process of building up by going to work out in the first place. Exercise is only ever a good thing. Even if you don’t enjoy movement, the intense feeling of smugness you earn by doing it can be an excellent driving force. If you’re out of practice, starting to exercise is hard, and you might not be instantly as good as you’d hoped, but that’s the point. Improvement is the real goal, and it’s thrilling. So, my new slick motto is this: to punish yourself for not being good enough in the midst of an attempt at self-improvement is silly. Stop it. Just do it. And for heaven’s sake, don’t neglect leg day.