What’s yours like?
I’d like to tell you about my gym. It’s called The Pleasance, and it is the best in my city.
Like many outdoor enthusiasts I used to hate gyms. But in my late 30s I started slowing down on the touch rugby pitch, trying to beat players nearly half my age. I needed an edge. A colleague raved about a personal trainer called Robbie Inman who ran a class in a hotel gym. This included sprint training, so that was me. The chat was inspiring too, and when Robbie moved to a warehouse on the wrong side of town I followed him. But then my job changed and it just wasn’t going to work any more. I needed somewhere more convenient.
And The Pleasance was right on my commute to work.
The Pleasance is the gym of the University of Edinburgh and is huge. There are a few weight rooms, a circuits room, a dedicated TRX room, a massive room of cardio machines that I’ve never been in (why would you, when there are running trails right behind the gym on an extinct volcano?), a room of weight machines, a room for spin classes, a circuit room, a dance studio, squash courts, boxing studio, climbing wall, and a mirrored room full of young ladies stretching. I avoid that room, I’m a married man.
The best room of all has everything you could want in one place but it is locked and ordinary punters like me can’t access it. This is the Elite room. You only get in if you are special. One day I arrived as New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team were just leaving. I have never seen a more concentrated mass of mean looking fuckers in my life. (To a rugby team that’s a compliment, btw.)
There’s pictures in the gym of famous users, like Olympic gold medal rower Dame Katherine Grainger and Olympic gold medal cyclist Sir Chris Hoy. I can’t say their feats inspire me any more than living in London would make me think I could write like Shakespeare — but a colleague used to row for Scotland and has a nodding acquaintance with Katherine Grainger. It was that colleague who put me on to this gym. I asked her if, as a grown man in a university facility, I would look out of place.
“Don’t worry,” she said, simultaneously comforting and cutting, “there are plenty people there even older than you.”
I’ve got to know some of these people. There’s the old Polish guy with a chest like a vodka barrel and a permanent grin. There’s the guys I only ever see chatting in the changing rooms — I’ve never seen them anywhere else but they must be working out somewhere because they are sweating like racehorses. There’s a refreshing lack of selfie-taking — for a while I thought mobile phones were banned — and the usual mix of people from groups hanging out and lifting a weight occasionally to the hardcore crossfit types. There are definitely fewer preening peacocks or made-up gym bunnies than in a commercial gym. Though that might be because I’m there before those types have got out of bed.
My own workouts have changed from the freeweights I did with Robbie to mainly bodyweight exercises I don’t need a spotter for. Doing hundreds of reps of all the exercises I like least — pull-ups, planks, push-ups, burpees, sprints plus stretches — has enabled me to continue progress. What could I do, I sometimes think, if I *really* trained?
Occasionally it’s a boot camp for the banter, because I miss the chat with Robbie and his class. It has helped me get to know the staff and some of the other gym users, and makes this vast place feel a little bit more of a community — the one thing I would like more of. My rowing colleague has moved on, but as long as I am still getting benefit from my visits to The Pleasance I will keep going.
So tell me about your gym! Comment below or even better, write your own story and tag me (@ plus my Medium name craig.r.weldon) in it. People I follow who I know do gym stuff — Lauren Howell, Vanessa Torre, Julia E Hubbel, B. Michael Logan, Braden Moore, Michael A. Brodeur, Train with Adam — will you write a sketch?
It will be fascinated to find out what *your* gym — and your routine — is like.