About five years ago Mr Tall went through a body-image crisis.

I woke up one day to discover I was well on my way to acquiring one of those impressively hyphenated surnames, i.e. Mr Wide-Tall.

Since then, I've dropped a few pounds, and I still frequent the gym in my housing complex's clubhouse to promote general svelteness. In my many hours of mindless cardiovascular exertions, I've identified a number of creatures who inhabit Hong Kong's Temples of the Body.

The Screamer. Screamers are the easiest type to spot -- you don't actually need to look, since you can hear them from across the room as they moan, gasp, shriek and occasionally whimper while trying to lift weights far too heavy for their modest muscles. Screamers are incapable of setting a barbell down; it must be dropped, with the maximum clanging of plates. Decked out in brief togs cut from the latest sweat-zapping fabrics, Screamers are often quite fit, but never as fit as they think they are. Despite their racy moniker, Screamers reproduce by sporing, because they're exclusively male.

The Poser. At first glance, Posers seem closely related to Screamers: they both want attention, they both wear skimpy outfits, and they both irritate you like lemon in a papercut. At their cores, however, they're completely different animals. Posers want to show off their bodies, not their exertions. They produce single, artistically-trickling beads of sweat, and they'd like you to believe they can coast through their workouts because their genetic material is far superior to yours. Posers include members of both sexes who scour gyms for potential poser-mates in a creepy quest to produce ubermenschen.

The Obsessive. In my experience, Obsessives are female, although I'm sure males of the species exist. I'll give you two examples of this type. An Obsessive at my current gym works a Stairmaster (always the same machine) for an hour or more at a stretch. She's completely unprepossessing, until you catch sight of her enormous, muscle-slabbed thighs. My former gym's resident Obsessive was an emaciated middle-aged woman who walked on a treadmill at breakneck pace, with the machine tilted up at the steepest possible angle. She'd often be on it when I arrived, throughout my workout, and when I emerged from the locker room after showering. You worry about Obsessives.

The Black Sox. This type is well-represented in Hong Kong gyms. Breaking out of their mostly-virtual lives as systems analysts, web programmers, and salesmen in replica military equipment shops, this bunch combines dress-up hose with Sketchers faux-athletic sneakers. Inevitably skinny, the Black Sock is equally predictable in his m.o.: 1) He approaches the bench press machine with completely unfounded confidence. 2) He finds he cannot lift the weight at the setting the previous user has left behind. 3) He jumps off the machine and turns to stare at it, wondering why he can't access a level in this game in which he's endowed with super spidey-strength. 4) He flees the gym, goes home, rapidly constructs a parody fitness website, and puts it online. Hey, wait -- I know what you're thinking out there, and I can assure you that I wear exclusively athletic socks to the gym.

The Couple. They arrive hand-in-hand. He's in gym clothes, she's in heels. After a smoochie and a little grope for a warm-up, he's off to the weights, while she stands to the side to engage in frank admiration. He pulls one of those mean-looking double-plate barbells off the rack, and tries to curl it. The gods of gravity take immediate revenge. Our hero drops the barbell, grimaces, and kneads his bicep furiously, feigning a pulled muscle to hide his shame. But wait! He's a masterful man, and must conquer his pain. With his one good arm, he waves away his girlfriend's pleas to stop, now, before his beautiful body is wholly broken! Her shining eyes inspire him to yet greater glory on the glute machine. As his workout progresses, however, he notes his lovely maiden's attention shifting from his own sweaty self to the Poser over by drinking fountain. A brief but emotionally significant conversation ensues, and they leave -- separately.

The Beginner. Almost always overweight, Beginners will be found on whatever apparatus is most fully shielded from the eyes of the Posers, the Screamers, and just about everyone else. I have a very soft spot for Beginners, because not too long ago I was Beginner-in-Chief myself. As they puff, and strain, and persevere, I always, silently, wish them well.

Mr B adds:

Mr T, you missed one of the important tribes in your description of the local gym:

The stationary cyclist. A quick glance at these ladies on the exercise bicycle, and nothing appears out of place. Legs turning, the right sports shoes, coordinated tracksuit top and trousers. But the telltale signs are:

  • Perfect makeup in place
  • No visible sign of exertion
  • Magazine open on the handlebars for easy reading

With the effort level set down to zero, they happily pedal away an hour of their time. A five-minute walk would probably be more beneficial to their health.

Mr T replies:

You're right, Mr B -- I don't know how I missed that one. They're everywhere, these no-resistance biker chicks! In fact, I noted a new extreme of the type recently. It was a youngish 'see lai', maybe in her early 30s. She had her exercise bike set at the obligatory lowest setting, and she wasn't exactly burning it up with effort. And then she started reading a newspaper. Fascinated, I watched as she pedaled slower and slower, and eventually stopped altogether. Then, as she finished her article, she started pedaling furiously, only to slow down and stop again, within seconds, as she became absorbed in reading another article. This pattern was repeated again and again. Finally I decided I'd count her actual rpms: she managed just 21 in the minute I counted. I think she got more exercise turning the newspaper pages than she did riding that bike.

Let me also suggest a corollary to the stationary cyclists: how about the young ladies who use the treadmills, and choose one of the pre-set programs, but then leave the speed at the very lowest level? In practice, on the machines in my building's gym, at least, this results in warm-up and cool-down sequences in which the treadmill barely moves -- we're talking so slow that some of them almost lose their balance trying to keep up -- or down, as it were. But they always run through the full cycle, so that they can go out and claim they've done a full workout.

And here's yet one more type: the Sitter in Bronze. He does one set on the bench press machine, then decides he'll just sit there and wait to do his next set. In the meantime, he starts watching the gyrating CantoBimbette on MTV Asia, which is playing on the overhead TV, and soon his posture slackens, his mouth opens, he begins gently to drool, and soon he's completely forgotten where -- and possibly who -- he is. Until Mr Tall comes over to do his own reps, however, and wakes him up smartish!


Gym Archetypes

You also forgot to mention the Samaritan who is almost always an older male who at one time was in probably in good shape and might have played sports. He could still be in reasonably good shape (for his age) but is almost always seen sporting an obvious beer gut. His "job" as he sees it , is to go around to people (usually young attractive women) ostensibly to "help" them with what he feels to be serious lapses in exercise form. "Here. You are doing that pulldown all wrong. Let me put my hands on your shoulders to keep you from coming up off the seat". Of course it is just an excuse to talk to the women. But to cover up his scam he will frequently interrupt his own set (in a selfless display of concern for fellow gym members) to run over and help any struggling beginner get in that last rep on the bench press. What a swell guy ! The Samaritan likes to buddy up with the gym staff and the more serious lifters since he things it will confer some air of authority to him that will make him more appealing in the eyes of the gym babes.

He plays on the fact that he is an older, fatherly type which provides him with an out should a female gym member complain about him getting handsey. In such cases the Samaritan will say something like "Hey I was just trying to massage your hamstring to keep you from getting a cramp later on". The Samaritan rarely works out with any significant degree of intensity and when he does do a set, he will usually feign pain as if the exertion has aggravated that "ole football injury that kept him out of the running for the Heisman". While the Samaritan will never speak in detail about his fitness history he likes to make references to his "competitive days" or when he used to "coach" in an effort to dupe the listener into believing that at one point he was an athelte of olympian proportions. However if you press the Samaritan for details on his "competitive days" he becomes vague and evasive in his responses and will frequently change the subject or perhaps leave to go "help someone".

Right on the nose!

That's an excellent gymrat stereotype! My gym has one I can think of, for sure.

The Samaritan's dream, of course, is to get a job as a gym attendant . . . .

Not quite a gymrat, but . . .

Now that I'm out doing some jogging in the cooler autumn weather, I've been reminded of another 'exercise type' I've started running into again -- sometimes literally!

Let's call him the SCMM: the Standard Chartered Marathon Man. He's not in the gym, but he's out every weekend scuffling along the biking/running tracks around Hong Kong. And how do we know him? Easy! He's always wearing one of his Standard Chartered Marathon give-away-to-participants-even-those-who-just-run-the-measly-10K T-shirts! By the way, did you know that he was a proud participant in the Standard Chartered Marathon in 2002? Did you? Did you?

Runners/ Iron Men

Well sure the runners have a set of archetypes all to themselves. As you have pointed out there are a the marathoners (at least they want you to believe that) who like to make a big commition as they run
especially when there are women runners nearby. Of course at various rest stops they REALLY like to pour it on and typically make unsolicited comments (again usually to women runners) like "wow. after running boston 3 times you think I wouldn't have problems getting back into my zone". They fully expect whoever is listening to view them as some sort of world class athlete when in reality they are just the posers that any real runner knows them to be.

Now. The types of guys who I see that blow my mind are the "iron men". What gets me is that they have these huge guts yet they have t-shirts from various iron man competitions. Of course they never tell you their completion time because it would be embarrassing. But this doesn't stop them from running with their fat gut bouncing around. They seem to find each other on the track (I guess its the beer gut that establishes the sense of brotherhood) or running trail. Of course after their "grueling workout" they can be found immediately in some sports bar drinking pitchers of beer and eating wings as they attempt to convince the waitresses that they are world class iron men. But during the work day (usually some white collar desk job) they break out the salads , water and no ice, and power bars in meetings as if they are some elite olympian in training. After work they hit the gym (for a mediocre workout by anyone's standards) followed (maybe) by a run and then straight to the bar to try to con women.

Unfortunately there are

Unfortunately there are posers in all walks of life. It has been my observation that most gyms have a high number of posers. This is true though in many things - like in music clubs where you have guys wearing musician type clothes trying to make the women think that they are some rock star who has rolled through town. Or the exective-wannabee who maxes out his credit cards to buy clothes, and overpriced drinks in trendy restaurants just to impress women. This behavior isn't unique to men of course but its usually more easily spotted in that gender. I suppose that all of us , at one time or another, have been the poser though as time goes by it is something that I loathe in myself which is most likely why I loathe it in others. Back in the gym - I respect the people who come in and take care of business without making a spectacle of themselves. They lift hard with good form, do their cardio or whatever and they move on. These are the people that make real progress and at the end of they day have earned their shower. They don't need to attract attention to themselves. But The "Screamers", "Samritans", "marathon men" will still look the same five years from now as they do now. And they will be whining about it tool.....

New Gymrat

Okay, it's time for a new type!

I was in the gym this morning, and working away on the elliptical trainer when I noticed a little group of three men. All in their 40s, they ranged from skinny to ready-to-be-baked doughy. All had those fingerless weightlifting gloves on, and they were burning with highly focused zeal. That is, they were all gathered around the shelves where the free weights are stored, leaning over some kind of magazine. What could lock their eyeballs in such manly unison? A fitness article, perhaps a new technique for blasting obliques? Maybe, given their ages, and the looks on their faces, one of them had smuggled in something a little salacious. Or was it just a bass-fishing mag? Okay, that was unlikely, but not as unlikely as the truth, which I ascertained upon sauntering over in their general direction: they were poring over, and discussing in depth, an issue of Men's Umo -- a fashion magazine. They were transfixed by a photo spread of skinny pouty gents modeling white leisure suits.

Guys, guys, guys -- that kind of thing's okay, I guess, but please! Keep it in the privacy of your homes!

New species of gymrat

What about the Mirror Man? Similar, on the surface, to the Poser. The Mirror Man will only be found on equipment next to a floor-to-ceiling mirror, or pumping his biceps in front of the mirror. He'll stand there staring at his muscles as they expand and contract, then stare in the mirror to see if it looks as good from a third person's point of view. Then he'll put the weights down and stride up and down in front of the mirror, pretending to recover from the strenuous workout, but in fact he is (not very subtlely) looking at himself .

This may sound a bit like The Poser, and he does want to look good for others. But he is also a deeply insecure man that needs to convince himself, as well as others, that he's pretty damn tough. Notice how there are no Mirror Maids - it is a male-only species. The cause of the insecurity is this: the Mirror Man has a certain particularly small 'muscle' that cannot be improved in the gym...

Mirror Man

Love it! And drawing the distinction between The Poser's desire for others to visually fondle his pecs vs. Mirror Man's rather sadly solipsistic insecurity is right on the mark. I will avert my eyes from all reflective surfaces when I visit my gym tonight . . . .

Mirror Man

...but let's face it, we've all had a peek at ourselves in the mirror at some point in the gym. [I must stress at this time that Batgung readers only peek at themselves in the mirror to check they are doing the exercises correctly; it is NOT because of certain inadequacies from which the classic Mirror man suffers. Everyone knows Batgung readers are REAL men.]


Yes, AhP, exactly! Couldn't have said it better myself!

gymrats redux

I must submit an urgent follow-up to the 'Stationary Cyclist' item MrB appended to the original 'Gymrats' article.

A new standard of stationary cycling has been set, and witnessed, by yours truly.

I was in the gym yesterday morning, toiling away on the rowing machine, when I spotted our new Champion of Stationary Cycling. A middle-aged see lai [i.e. housewife type], she appeared at first to be just another typical stationary cyclist:

  • Wearing overly-heavy 'exercise' gear comprising long-sleeved sweatshirt and sweatpants? Check.
  • Reading Ming Pao while cycling? Check.
  • Cycle set on minimum resistance? Check.

The revelation was her speed. Previously, I noted a staionary cyclist who achieved a truly remarkable standard of just 21 revolutions per minute. So imagine my astonishment when I timed our new Champion: just 16 rpms! That's almost four full seconds per revolution. 

You may think, as I once did, that pedalling that slowly at minimum resistance is less physically beneficial than simply standing up for a minute or two, or maybe scratching your ears for a few seconds.

But that's where we'd all be wrong.

After witnessing this display of stationary cycling, I decided I would try it out for myself. I got on another cycle (across the room, far from our Stationary Cyclist, naturally), dropped the resistance to the bottom of the range, and got started. The cycles in my gym have a handy display showing your rpms, so I tried to keep it right at 16.

And I could not!! There was no way I could pedal that slowly without coming to a complete stop at least once per revolution. Our Champ, on the other hand, somehow managed to maintain an almost Zenlike consistency to her pedalling. Second after second, minute after minute, she never once stopped or even hesitated.

My conclusion, therefore, is that I've been all wrong about this whole phenomenon. Stationary Cycling is not a useless time-waster! Rather, it's an intensive, delicate, highly advanced form of physical conditioning that demands total concentration and absolute control of bone, muscle and sinew. I, mere pretender, am obviously worlds away from mastering its intricacies. 

I salute my new guru!