I have never been an "exercise" person, nor a "gym" person. If I walk through a park and some kids kick a football towards me, my first impulse is not to kick it back, but to get to a safe place and report it as street harassment.
However, since I hit 24 at the end of last year, I've been at the gym consistently, for reasons still pretty unknown to me. Maybe it's a sincere desire to love my body rather than fear it. Maybe it was one too many times laying on the sofa of a Sunday evening, sincerely googling "symptoms of a heart attack", an activity I once thought was reserved for people over 40.
Who knows? The point is that I can now read the gym floor with precision; I've identified my gym crushes (Tanned Man Who Rolls His Tracksuit Bottoms Midway Up His Thighs, Yoga Man with Perennial But Subtle Line of Bum Sweat). I've identified my heroes – here's to the pensioner who uses her free council membership to catch up on Coronation Street while sitting on the lower back machine, doing one rep every ten minutes.
And I can identify you, too. It's as easy as knowing which exercise you're into.
You are the sort of millennial who lives for "experiences", meaning you have been spotted at one of those public silent discos and have apparently not removed yourself from the electoral register and self-deported to a small hamlet from the shame of it all. The "vibier" the spin class, the better. It's a no to angry instruction in a well-lit room, yes to "disco" lights and "disco" music (you haven't been to an actual club since the Freshers' Week of your final year at uni).
You are keenly interested in the recent London rollout of SoulCycle, an American-founded spinning cult with clientele so earnest and well-heeled that the studios are kept permanently dark in case anyone notices Beyoncé is two bikes away. You love Lizzo. You have never, ever explained to me how you go about this exercise without being 24/7 harrowed by the gooch-bruise you get from anything more than 30 seconds of sitting on one of those evil stationary bikes. For this, I can neither like nor respect you. Keep it up, sunshine!
A trusty classic. Home to the iconic woman from that viral video where she puts both feet on one pedal and yeets herself around in a nonplussed fashion – and just as popular! The elliptical is probably the least scary thing to mount in the entire gym. Its charm is that it meets most abilities where they're at, because once you grip your limbs and push a little, it just sort of gently goes with you.
And perhaps here too lies its flaw. Are you happy to just keep pushing along a little, guided mostly by a machine you can barely hope to influence, no hope of a change in rhythm or intensity, just pushing through the required time before you can go home to watch one episode and one episode only of a sensible TV docudrama, eat half an ice-cream before cling-filming the rest, and go to sleep?
It is with regret that I inform you: capitalist subjectivity has leaked into your leisure time. The saddest truth is that you're not even going to get a big ass from all of this. And if you're going to force yourself through the meat grinder of late capitalism, you should at least aspire to its only truly optimal outcome: a really big ass. Live a little!
Full disclosure: my humble council gym does not offer "hot yoga". However, I have seen it written about in no fewer than three lifestyle pieces. Sometimes I go to fairly nearby Primrose Hill and sit in a café, hoping that if I sit there long enough someone will drop £500, or that I will at least spot someone from the cast of Fleabag. There is a "hot yoga" studio on the main street, and anyone I have ever seen come out of it is unspeakably well-sculpted and self-satisfied, and also has really good teeth. This has long led me to wonder what hot yoga is. I had for a while settled on the idea that it was some sort of super-sexy hybrid-dance yoga, done perhaps to the music of Miguel or Janet Jackson. Recent research has revealed that it's actually just normal yoga, done in a really hot room. It costs £100 a month. You are a sexy idiot.
I love you. Call me.
You can do this for free, outside. Try it!
You are always here. Every time I go, you are in the same place you were when I last came, four days ago, and I start to wonder if you live here, like how I used to think teachers lived in their storerooms. You live for this, and fair play, it shows. You greet each deadlifter into the gym like family, with an alluring nod or sometimes a whole body-bump-handshake, but not in a gay way. I spend most of my miscellaneous gym time looking at you, thinking to myself, 'He started somewhere too. Once, he was like me.' But I am not entirely sure this is true – I cannot imagine you have ever struggled like I do.
I can't understand you. You seem to have developed an elaborate language where one nod means you are using the machine, but one nod also means that you are not using it, and I am powerless to figure out which one you mean. So I leave the machine alone and go to do some of the exercises in which I also get to lie down. You make me feel like Lana del Rey feels about men who do too much oxycodone and ride motorbikes in her songs. You perplex me, and yet I cannot do without you.
You do not simply send emails – you "ping", "pop", "bash" or "whizz" them. You have strongarmed your flatmates into a monthly Ocado order when they simply want to spend £80 a month on oven pizza in peace, and you enforce an extremely specific cleaning rota with "kooky" punishments like having to post a "silly" picture on Facebook. Your app of choice is Bumble and you do the dates at lunchtime rather than in the evening because you feel you're at your best then. You unnervingly behave like a full-blown influencer on Instagram to your 467 followers, and thank large brands for the concealer you just bought at full price with your own hard-earned money. You have a calendar of daily "mantras" on your work desk. You produce regular amounts of serotonin and pump them into a regular brain, and are much happier than I will ever be. Leave me alone.