After a month, exercisers' resolve fades

January 13, 2000|By Kevin Cowherd

AS IT IS every January, my health club is packed in the mornings with fresh-faced, clear-eyed new members working feverishly on their New Year's resolutions.

Oh, yes, they're all going to lose weight and get in shape.

Decked out in their spiffy new unitards or their designer shorts, T-shirts and Nike cross-trainers, they're lifting weights, doing crunches, running laps, playing racquetball, hitting the StairMaster, jumping up and down in aerobics classes like frenzied seals.

You have never seen such dedication. Unfortunately, this dedication will last, oh, a month.

OK, six weeks, tops.

Then one day in February, if you're a longtime member, you'll look around the club and it'll seem a little empty and you'll think: Where did all the new people go?

Where are all those determined souls with the cool workout clothes and the complicated Sony Discman hook-ups entwined through this belt loop and over that shoulder?

Where are all the take-charge-of-your-life disciples, who held court near the water fountain and preached the gospel of shedding 20 pounds by March, or ridding themselves of a two-pack-a-day habit through the modern miracle of Nicoderm CQ?

Actually, if you're a longtime club member, you know where they are.

They're gone, brothers and sisters. Gone, gone, gone.

Gone back to their leather recliners and their Mitsubishi big-screen TVs, their super-sized boxes of Cheez-its and 2-liter bottles of Pepsi and quart containers of Haagen-Dazs.

Back to spending their mornings at Bob Evans with an order of the Sunshine Skillet (fluffy, open-faced omelet with home fries, sausage, creamy gravy, American cheese and two fresh biscuits), a cup of joe and a Marlboro Light in the parking lot.

Back to the soft, fleshy, jowly existence they knew before.

And if you're a longtime member -- a soft, fleshy, jowly person yourself, but one with aspirations of someday altering this condition -- once you realize the new members are gone, you whisper a silent prayer.

The prayer goes like this: "Thank God! Now maybe there won't be a line to use the pec deck."

This brings us to the dirty little secret of health club membership, the one they don't tell you about in the glossy brochures or the slick TV commercials or during your "personal guided tour" with the young, lithe fitness counselor with perfect teeth.

The fact is, these health clubs love to see you buy a membership and quit working out a few weeks later.

Fewer people in the club cuts down on the wear and tear of equipment.

Fewer people in the club means more usable space, which means they can sell even more memberships and make even more money.

You don't have to be Donald Trump to figure this one out. As long as they have your money, they'd be happy if you never showed up.

But some of us do show up regularly, drawn three, four, five or more mornings a week by ... what? A subconscious streak of masochism? Guilt?

An internal biological clock ticking away the precious minutes before we begin that long, slow fade into oblivion and a quiet cemetery plot overlooking the highway department salt-storage shed?

Who knows?

Maybe it's a combination of all three that causes us to endure 30 minutes on a treadmill under a TV locked onto "Martha Stewart Living," as the Great Domestic Goddess herself discusses the care and feeding of one's parrot and cockatoo or how to bake perfect crescent rolls every time.

Or maybe there are darker impulses that propel us to climb into a chilly pool reeking of chlorine and swim for 45 minutes back and forth, back and forth, next to a large, hairy man in a clingy Speedo bathing suit.

Oh, sure, every once in a while we find ourselves thinking: "Boy, I bet things are hopping over at Bob Evans about now."

But then we do another set of lat pull-downs and all thoughts of the Sunshine Skillet begin to fade, replaced with the image of two pieces of whole wheat toast (no butter) and black coffee.

And maybe a packet of Equal, if we're feeling especially naughty.

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