Move over, Mr. Universe

February 15, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

Lately I've been spending a lot of time at the health club, working on my delts, pecs, lats and other muscle groupings too numerous to mention here.

As the club is owned by a nationwide fitness consortium, whose marketing strategy is to build thousands of gyms the size of a broom closet and shoehorn in as many members as local fire codes permit, it is often very crowded.

Sometimes when I'm using the Nautilus equipment, a person with arms the size of bridge piers will ask if he can "work in," or take a turn on my machine.

"Sure," I say, because it's my nature to be cheerful and accommodating. Also, I don't want to get hurt.

At this, the big-armed stranger will look at the puny amount of weight I'm lifting and smirk silently.

Then he'll jack the machine up to 240 pounds and proceed to knock off 15 reps without straining.

When he's through, I have to readjust the machine back to the "Keebler Elves" setting, while he struts off to the water fountain, the big jerk.

As you can imagine, this sharing of machines creates a dynamic known in weight-lifting jargon as "hatred."

But it's a good kind of hatred, the kind that pushes you do something really stupid, such as try to lift 240 pounds and have three-quarters of your groin tear away and drop to the floor.

Sometimes, just for laughs, I'll wander over to the free weights section, which resembles nothing so much as the exercise yard at Attica.

In this post-mordial ooze of sweat and grunting and clanging barbells you find a lot of large, pumped-up men (and women) wearing thick leather belts and black gloves. Many have tattoos.

When you ask to "work in" here, it is best to preface your request with the word "Sir" or "Ms." or to show a firearm of some sort.

When you belong to a health club, you notice there are certain people who always seem to be exercising whenever you're exercising.

No matter when you're there -- morning, noon or night -- you run into these same people.

This is because all these people ever do is work out. They have incredibly sculpted physiques. They have perpetual tans. They wear cool outfits.

They also have no jobs, no families, no lives. But they're in great shape.

God, I want to be like them!

Jobs, families, lives . . . sure, that's all well and good. But hanging around a health club for 8, 10 hours a day -- I don't see how you can beat that.

Another thing you'll notice about all these health clubs: The staff always has that same freshly-scrubbed, Up-With-People look. They're all very young and very fit and very bright-eyed, which I always thought was counter-productive and intimidating for the clientele.

Whereas, if you were greeted at the front desk by some fat guy dragging on a Winston, you'd think: "Well, I know I'm in better shape than he is," and approach your workout with renewed confidence.

Sometimes, if I'm in the mood to be stunned by a blow to the back of the head, I'll play a little racquetball.

Racquetball is now officially the most dangerous sport in the country. The ball travels in excess of 60 mph. The rackets keep getting bigger and bigger. Your standard racket today is the size of a snowshoe.

In a game of doubles, with four people flailing away in a cramped, walled-in court, you can expect a minimum of at least two deaths per hour.

One thing I haven't tried yet is aerobics. What you notice right away about aerobics instructors is that they all tend to be so . . . peppy.

L Plus they all have peppy names like Suzi and Jenni and Teri.

And they do peppy, annoying things, like bouncing into their 6:30 a.m. step aerobics class with their boomboxes and shouting "C'mon people! Let's sweat!" while everyone else is yawning and sipping 7-Eleven coffee.

It's a wonder these instructors don't have bricks thrown at them, jumping up and down and playing that crappy disco music at that hour.

Even when engaged in grueling, advanced routines, like that one where you, I don't know, try to touch the ceiling with your knees, they wear these eerie, Gidget-goes-to-Fort-Lauderdale smiles.

When my workout's over, I like to stop by the juice bar for a can of Diet Pepsi, which is only $2.75.

Then I sit there and reflect on what a great workout I just had.

Pretty soon, I'll be able to squash you like a grape.

Not that I would do something like that.

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