Quiet down! Said the old, fat man to the gym | Stay Weird, Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Quiet down! Said the old, fat man to the gym

Gym locker-rooms need to make one small change for a much better experience

Exercising is difficult. Weights are heavy. Cardio is exhausting. And gyms are one of the few places where no matter how many times I go, I can’t grasp a sense of belonging. "Do I need one of those cool, oversized leather belts? Would I get better results in a sleeveless shirt? Why is that guy wearing a garbage bag?!" These confusions make the decision to be a full-fig man more appealing than hitting the gym. 

But for all the awkwardness mentioned above, nothing is a bigger deterrent than the gym locker-room. I’ve belonged to expensive gyms – $30 per month – and cheap gyms – $28.99 per month. And though I’ve seen thousands of different machines that simulate running, nothing changes about the locker-room experience.        

My problem is not the shameless old men and their propensity to have 20-minute conversations about Ray Donavan, completely naked, from opposite ends of the locker row, while I’m stuck between the two. Good for them. We should all aspire to be that free of shame. And hats off to the guy who used the hand-held blow dryer to dry those hard-to-reach areas. That’s just working smart, not hard.   

The locker-room’s utility has been left behind with bowling alleys and roller rinks. Why change what works? Exercise areas have continually progressed since I started going to gyms. There are classes for all fitness types and interests and weird gigantic ropes people wiggle and smack off the ground. But nothing has changed in the locker-room.    

The standard gym locker is big enough to hold a pair of large boots, which is perfect if all you wear is large boots. There are two sinks for an entire room of dirty people. The urinals are four inches apart with no privacy barriers. There’s one bench available, which is used by three guys who put their shoes on it. 

If those features aren’t manly enough to skyrocket your ‘T’, you’re also going to get hit by a stimulating combination of SportsCenter and the worst playlist known to humankind. Half of the songs blasted through the speakers are unidentifiable and sound like they were written and recorded by prisoners who split their time between forging license plates and dabbling in nu-metal. The first time I heard Imagine Dragons’ "Thunder," I was in a locker-room. I had a hard time believing it was a real song. Sometimes you’ll get something like "Ramblin’ Man," which is at least quiet. But that will be followed by a commercial featuring lasers and a man screaming at you about the boner pills you’re going to need. If everything falls into place, and you get a moment of silence, some guy who carries around a weightlifting journal is going to start yelling to his gym buddy about whatever those guys talk about.     

Much of the reason I go to the gym is for mental clarity. It’s great to finish a workout, sit in silence, and enjoy just being. But no gym I’ve ever been to has offered that most subtle of luxuries. Not everything at the gym needs to be intense.       

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By Mars Johnson