Monday, November 29, 2010

Gym Culture

Staying fit in Paris is a different beast than it is back home. First, as mentioned previously, I have had to overcome my self-consciousness about my morning commute outfit of workout wear with my hair in a ponytail and zero make-up on my face. I am literally the only person on the Metro that is not "dressed" for the day of work that lies ahead. Well, actually I am, but the other Metro passengers have no idea that I often come home from the gym and do my work- in the form of household chores- in my sweaty gym clothes.

And, speaking of gym clothes, I can honestly say that I believe Paris's reputation for being the fashion capitol of the world does not pertain to the fitness club. Fashion statements remain on the streets as I have yet to find any within the gym. Well, statements are made, that's for sure, but I cannot call them fashion.

Last week, I was working out on the elliptical and the young woman next to me was swooshing away on hers while wearing a black sweater, denim cutoff shorts, purple tights, and turquoise Keds tennis shoes. Every day, I see another woman who wears relatively normal workout pants and tops, but she accessorizes her look with sunglasses and costume jewelery around her neck. Oh, and a fanny pack too. And then yesterday, to my surprise, I saw her teaching a fitness class. With her shades on, of course. Go figure.

Most other women are wearing some form of baggy sweat pants and loose t-shirts. This comes as a relief for me actually since working out at Clubsport back home can often feel like a runway competition between the women who sport the latest and greatest Lulu Lemon ensembles along with their bodies that they have worked hard for (naturally or otherwise) to display in these fashion forward outfits. And speaking of naturally or otherwise, I have yet to see any cosmetically enhanced female inside or outside of the gym. This is quite refreshing. This is the real fashion statement in my opinion, honest to goodness real beauty. You just have to look past the gym clothes to see it.

As for the men exercising in our club, their fashion statements are no less interesting. First, there is Mr. Red Headband. Or, I could call him Mr. Knee High Socks. Or, Mr. Short-Shorts. He has so much going on with his outfit that is so Richard Simmons that I don't know where to begin. I don't mean to be critical and I hope to simply be making observations rather than judgments, but I think I am walking a fine line here. Here's an observation: His headband does do a nice job of taming his frizzy shoulder length hair. See? I can be objective about this. I saw a middle aged woman last week a la Olivia Newton-John's Let's Get Physical who was sporting shiny lycra tights and a similarly shiny high-cut leotard (ladies, remember those?), thankfully not the thong style (ladies, remember those? I'm sure you men do!). If she and Mr. 1980 were working out next to each other and I happened to walk into the facility I might think I've been transported back to that era. But experience has taught me that I'm simply in a Parisian gym.

Parisian gym etiquette for men appears to be this: Do as many "girlie" exercises as you can. What I mean by this is that the gentlemen in the club, even the few "buff" men- and that's an overstatement of monumental proportion by American standards- are completing many reps of butt and inner/outer thigh floor exercises. I have never seen a guy do any of these exercises- ever- at any of the gyms I have frequented back home. Remember (again, ladies?) the Jane Fonda workout videos where she's on her back, feet on the floor with her knees bent and she's repeatedly lifting her pelvis off the floor while squeezing her butt cheeks? Yep, that's a popular one with the dudes at our gym. It's really quite a sight too since most of them are wearing short-shorts.

Parisian gym etiquette also means that men greet each other with double cheek kisses. This is not gym-specific as it is the standard French greeting for someone you know whether in a home or out on the street, but again, I have never ever seen, nor will I ever see two men at the gym in the States put their faces anywhere near each other. I almost forget what the standard American 'dude' greeting of hands clasping, shoulder bumping, half hug slap-on-the-back, fist bump looks like by now. The kissing seems so much more simple (only two moves as  opposed to four) and surely involves less testosterone too.

I don't see the Parisians at our gym working too hard cardiovascularly. Maybe this is because upon entering the club, if you have pre-paid for the year anyway, you receive a towel. One. For your workout and shower. So, if you sweat up a storm and use your towel during your workout, you're out of luck for a clean shower towel. Unless you bring your own from home. But I don't see any women in the locker room with anything other than the gym-issued white towel which they've kept clean during their workouts by conserving their energy. It's nice though, I have to say, because working out next to someone else on the treadmill or elliptical makes me feel like I am sprinting at an Olympic speed. I am the only person I have ever seen using the spin bikes. Here I am, in the land of Tour de France, and I am the only gym member pulling a Lance Armstrong while the other 'bikers' are lounging away on their recumbent bikes letting their previous day's wine and cheese digest. Relaxing takes various forms in the Nautilus equipment room at the gym. Newspapers are read on these machines, long conversations are had while on these machines, sitting- lots of sitting- happens on these machines. Very few real exercises and reps seem to occur on these machines in the Parisian gym. I suppose the Jane Fonda exercises make up for this apparent lackadaisical attitude in the Nautilus room. Again, I don't mind as it makes me feel like Wonder Woman in there.

Maybe these folks don't feel the need to break a sweat on the equipment because the gym temperature is kept so darn hot they, like me, begin to sweat the moment they step foot inside the place. Seriously, it's like a sauna in there. That alone must account for at least some of the wine and cheese calories right? Let's see, The Parisians eat what they want, in moderation, and sweat out the rest in a really hot fitness club while relaxing on an exercise machine. I think they're on to something here. Now, if they would just do a little something about their gym clothes...