Oberlin Blogs

Confessions of a College Gym Rat

October 31, 2009

Aries Indenbaum ’09

Confession #12: I'm a gym rat.

I love the gym. I love putting on my earphones, and rocking out on an elliptical. I love sweating. I love running around Oberlin. I love tiny lockers. I love lifting things. I love feeling my muscles burn afterward. Whether I'm being lazy on a stationary bike, casually peddling while reading some China Mieville, or sprinting down the bike path, I love it all. It's Aries time.

At home, the gyms are pretty frighteningly hardcore. Everyone using the equipment are people who don't (seem to) need it. But Phillips (Oberlin's main gym) is chill. Community members use it as well as students and faculty. Kids take karate lessons there; older folks use the pool. You see staff members in the weight room, and professors on the treadmills.

(Question: Is there some code to follow when you realize you're working out next to a professor? Do you not headbang as obnoxiously to your music? Do you run faster? Do you sanitize the machine with more ferocity when you're done? Do you ignore them?)

Given my gym-love, it's no surprise that I love OBFit. OBFit is...

A 4-week program to encourage more members of the Oberlin College community to lead healthy lifestyles... special fitness programs will be offered to the campus, consisting of a wide variety of structured activities, open play, classes, demonstrations, and lectures.

In case you missed that: free fitness classes. Woo!

Classes like... Deep Water Aerobics, Power Hour, Yoga, Pilates, So You Wanna Be A Triathlete, Awesome Abs. Also: cooking demonstrations, bike rides, basketball and a lot more. Cool as a billion options are... I have limited time. My strategy was to commit to one thing, the first thing that worked.

I saw Zumba.

A few of my friends had done Zumba. When I asked them about it, they would stare at me, yell "ZUMBA!" and laugh hysterically. Then, feverishly insist I do it. As just-drink-the-Kool-Aid as they acted... it sounded cool. Zumba apparently mixes "body sculpting movements" with salsa, reggaeton, hip hop, and calypso. As most of my Sco-type dancing involves rather unrefined moves, this would be helpful. Also, I love dancing.

The room was packed with folks of all different ages and sizes. At the head of the class stood a gorgeous blond woman, with a bright smile and a slight accent. She was terrific. It's hard to be a chipper, encouraging aerobics instructor without being annoying, but Jenny pulled it off. She was really clear with her movements and patterns, so even if the task was hard, she demonstrated it flawlessly. And she truly believed we were all going to be fantastic dancers.

That said, it was really, really freakin' hard. I never think of dance as exercise, but this... counted. Given the speed and the occasional bust into squats or odd exercises, my pulse raced. My face turned a mottled shade of raspberry; sweat literally poured from my forehead and neck, The music was good: both traditional styles and club remixes. And by the end of it, my thighs were quite aware of what had just transpassed. My jaw hurt... because I was smiling a lot.

As class emptied, I heard that Jenny, our awesome teacher, is a senior violinist in the Conservatory. That is, someone a year younger than me. Woah.

I feel guilty for not going to more OBFit Classes, but between tumbling club, swing dancing, running, and now Zumba, I was physically getting my fill. Still, I wanted more.

That sort of thinking makes me nervous. I don't like staring into a mirror and sobbing over my squishy parts. I rather like my squishy parts. They make buying pants harder — damn you, skinny jeans! — but it keeps me warm in the winter.

So I thought about why I love this exercise thing, aside from the physical enjoyment of exertion. As introspection and self-reflection aren't my strengths, this took a while.

First: Assertiveness
I go to the gym to become the person I want to see in the mirror. Ideally, I'd like to look, feel and lift like a superhero. Say, Wonder Woman.

I'd like to be Wonder Woman. Credit: Alex Ross

Second: Hedonic
I really like the process of becoming stronger. I mentioned it earlier, but exhausting things bring me a disturbing amount of joy. Over the summer, I joined a running club and spent much of the week anticipating our Saturday night adventures. Whatever "the zone" or a "runner's high" is, I don't know. But I do love it. It's stress-free and non-competitive.

I don't have to think so much when I run; yet, I can also think uninterruptedly. For Storytelling, I practice on the ellipticals. You can talk to yourself for a long time without getting a concerned glance. Or, if I ever needed to finish off some less-mentally-overwhelming readings, the gym was a good place to do it. As I run, my thinking is more free and less linear.

Third: Insecurity
Maybe I just go to the gym because all my friends are so strong and beautiful. Maybe I'm weak and stupid in comparison. Maybe I just want to be like everyone else.

Although, in seriousness, Oberlin is an absurdly trim campus. Despite the delicious foodie-tastic co-ops, Ma'ayan-wiches, DeCafe bulk snacks, and tater tots, students are healthy. I blame the bike path, tasty local veggies, sustainability folks and the distance of any real fast food. The McD's is within walking distance, but I've never wanted a vanilla shake badly enough to walk that far out of my way.

The attitude towards exercise is different — people lean more towards general activity than conventional gym-going. My friends are more liable to dance for five hours straight, train for capoeira or struggle for a back handspring than put on some ratty sneakers and do squats. After class, folks go to the climbing wall or play intramural soccer. For their campus jobs, some of my friends build sets. Given the choice between a stationary bike and riding to Chance Creek... Well. That's easy.

My friends are pretty awesome. Credit: Ma'ayan Plaut!

Forth: Security
While running on the bike path, listening to the Scissor Sisters, I realized a big why. Strength, in and of itself, is amazing.

Circus, like Oberlin itself, worms its values into you over time. Strength is a big thing in circus; you can't do much of a handstand without it.

Over the summer, I went to a social circus conference, AYCO. It was fantastic: a good way to meet people who use circus for social activism, helping kids find community and build skills. Besides offering much food for thought, AYCO also taught classes, including a lyra class. Lyra, which I first saw in Seattle, thanks to SANCA, is a hoop that you use like a trapeze. How cool, I thought. I'm flexible — this will be great.


Lyra is really hard, it turns out. Getting up requires more lat pull-ups than I got. And manipulating 6 feet of lady on the ring (once I got up) was fail-tastic.

Fail Whale! Credit: Twitter

It was a good wake-up call. Not for losing weight, but for gaining strength. I'm strong for a gal. I can lift heavy objects, I can jog for several miles, I can be disturbingly flexible. But I can't do a pull-up. Or a proper set of push-ups. Or run really fast.

So that's my plan. Get stronger.

Thanks to the OBFit useful links section, I found Stumptuous, where I've spent an unnatural amount of time. Between the advice there, and my crazy circus exercises I know, I think I'll accomplish my goals by December break.

My Goals:
- 1 Pull-Up
- 12 x 3 full Push-Ups
- Ability to walk a handstand (ie. do one without a wall)
- Increased stamina + speed in running + jumping

Of course, as they say, it's about the journey, not the destination. And, strangely enough, I'm excited for that sweaty, exhausting run.

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