Consider the Gym


November 18th, 2009 by

By Anna Brown, from issue #319 of MRR.

Health_Column_headerPunx don’t go to the gym. Everyone knows that. We skateboard, ride bikes, and walk long distances across the city at night. We dance like athletes, but you won’t find us on the treadmill or in the weight room. Because punx are not joiners, and we do not fraternize with squares unless forced to, and because we can always go on a long-ass bike ride when we finish this beer. At least, that’s how I used to think.

Punx are also good quitters. I quit sports in high school so I could stay out all night at shows. I quit skateboarding when I couldn’t take the concussions. By my late twenties, in the midst of a deep depression, I found I had quit leaving the house. When I busted the fly on my most forgiving stretch jeans and realized I had seen every episode of Friends, I knew I had to do something rash.

I never thought I’d say it, but the gym saved my life. In spite of myself, I have become a big fitness proselytizer. If Henry and his Dolphin shorts don’t do it for you, if you are more Death Wish Kid than Positive Youth, listen up.

For years, I lived on King Cobra, Totino’s Party Pizza, ice cream, and other junk from the corner store, procured with any change left over after buying smokes. I skated, and was a vegetarian, but obviously not for health reasons. I took huge amounts of drugs and smoked like a fiend, sometimes two packs a day. I smoked through colds, did drugs when I had the flu, slept and ate sporadically, and was prone to long bouts of depression.

Suddenly, I was not a teenager anymore. Miserable, overweight, unhealthy. I had had many friends die way too young, and for dumb, mostly avoidable reasons. I had to change.

I knew I needed a whole new approach to life, but I had no idea how to take care of myself. Not really. I tried a psychiatrist at County Mental Health, a psychic, a transcendental meditation book, a hypnotist, tarot cards, and consulted my friends. Something I heard again and again as I was desperately signing over my paycheck to people I had no faith in for advice that didn’t make sense to me was, “Have you tried exercise? Blah, blah, blah, serotonin, blah, blah, runner’s high.” It sounded dubious, and it was usually coming from people who get “wired” from green tea…but I lived around the corner from a mellow community gym in Oakland, and when I couldn’t take it anymore I went in. It was pretty scary. I was sure everyone was looking at me. People were contorted on machines that resembled devices from the Spanish Inquisition, and they seemed to be enjoying it. Like something out of a Philip K. Dick novel, here was a room full of people wearing headphones, whirring around on the “exercising machines.” (This sensation can be heightened if you are listening to Devo.) I took a leap of faith and joined on a month-to-month plan. It was cheap compared to meds or the services of legions of self help gurus.

I worked nights at a bookstore, so when the misanthropic black metal dude, the alcoholic record collector, and the vegan party animals were at work, I would slip out of the house in my bleach-stained sweat pants, a War All the Time shirt, and Converse, and try to regain the will to live. I got a Walkman and started out on the cardio machines losing myself for an hour to the motivational sounds of DOA or The Dicks, laughing about how I was sweating to the oldies. When I felt more comfortable I started going to group exercise classes. Eventually I made myself a carefully calibrated workout tape. (Mid-tempo garage for warm up, heavy hardcore for later on…some Devo…bombastic metal…)

I started feeling better. I lived in fear of the punx discovering what I was doing (especially the step aerobics), but my mind began to feel clearer, and my post-workout cigarettes were sublime. The more I went, the better I felt. For the first time in my adult life I was engaged in something that made me feel good that was not simultaneously killing me. It was a revelation.

I used to feel tough because my body could withstand any punishment I could dish out, now I felt tough ‘cause I could run three miles and do thirty push-ups. I didn’t mind the norms at the gym in their “12 k run for muscular dystrophy” t-shirts, and sweat-wicking spandex pants. After a while I stopped seeing them as narcissistic overachievers and more like comrades, just making an effort.

Eventually I joined a women’s weightlifting group that met three times a week. These were some of the toughest 50- and 60- year-olds you have ever seen. They had big deltoids and quads, and they challenged me to lift heavier and heavier weights, and to quit smoking. I was motivated by more than my heterosexual male-identified, negative body image—I wanted to be healthy physically and mentally for the first time in my life. (But let me tell you this: if you have ever felt like there is something wrong with your body, stand around naked in the locker room at the YMCA with people of all ages some day. You are normal.)

I don’t know why it is contrary to our identities to take care of ourselves. Is it because we are outcasts? Nihilists? Because our parents didn’t love us? Cause the planet is a sinking ship? Why do punx want to kill themselves? Chicken or egg? Do punks become punks because they hate themselves and gravitate towards others who hate themselves, too? Or do nice idealistic kids start hanging out, and then their auras turn black when their new peer group does nothing but drink and take drugs? Do we love ourselves but hate society so much that we cheat ourselves out of some good things the mainstream world has to offer? (Think of all the bands you dismissed cause they were “not punk” that you then realized ten years later were really, really good. What if that’s true of other things, too?)

I think that if we can come together as a community to save ourselves mentally, then we can do it physically, too. Right now, the life expectancy of a punk is what? Like, 50?

Yes, there is a certain amount of absurdity to exercising in a gym, especially in spin class (riding a stationary bike indoors to loud techno?), but there is also something wonderful in making a fundamental commitment to being strong and staying fit and giving a fuck about yourself, however you do it. There’s always a way. I know of punk street hockey, soccer, yoga, all-night norules basketball at Gilman, punx who take high diving classes at the community college, Afro-Haitian dance class punx, an allpunk dojo. And all of us in the YMCA weight room.

‘Cause recently an amazing thing began to happen. I started seeing more and more punk rockers joining my gym, old and young. There is the dude in the Swiz shirt on the Stairmaster, Slapshot t-shirt in the weight room, the girl with the bars on her neck, mohawk doing Pilates, Kate, Mikhail, Cynthia, Allison, Brad, Jocelyn, Janelle, Sam, Elizabeth, Liesel, Julia, Kangs. And I discovered my own roommate sneaking out of the house late one night to jog around the lake.

Now I trade workout tapes with the other punx at the gym and we give each other routine tips like regular meatheads. It’s not humiliating to be spotted there, and I see more of us every day. We’re getting ripped, too! Never say die!!! Come the revolution, the punx will be like the Delta Force.

Sure, I still want to kill myself—the stress and hopelessness of the fucked up world hasn’t diminished. But these days I fantasize about giant comets wiping out human life on earth, not about dying of heart failure on the couch at 36. An improvement, I think. It took a while, but now instead of going to dark bars when I feel bad, or pulling down my shades and getting in bed, my impulse is to go to a bright, bright place lit by fluorescent lights and populated by healthy, sweaty people. It sounds crazy, I know. But trust me, it’s good. I had a terrible day at work today, and cried on my bike on the way home. Went to the gym, now I feel fucking great. So, listen: if you ever had the impulse, if you fantasize about doing tons of pull- ups, or learning to box, if you want to be strong, and get healthy, if you don’t want to go out like Dee Dee, consider the gym… You’ll still be one of us.

19 responses to “Consider the Gym”

18 11 2009
Steve (21:22:27) :

This is exactly the inspiration I need to get off my ass. Mahalo nui!

18 11 2009
Drugless (23:47:57) :

Consider straight edge as well. Defend yourself and your friends, make cops scared just by walking by you.

19 11 2009
Jonathan (00:49:15) :

Great article and great advice. I really enjoyed this. Henry Rollins’ “Iron and the Soul” essay came to mind after I read this too. I’ve yet to join a gym because I can’t really afford it and I’d rather train alone and outside. Plus, I don’t really believe in exercise machines either. If anyone’s in the same boat, you should look up bodyweight exercises, weightlifting (don’t be scared, you won’t get bulky or really strong unless you really want to and it helps burn fat), Youtube for examples, homemade equipment you can build, and Craigslist for cheap used equipment. Also, if you’re curious about something, look it up. A lot of the shit you hear about exercise and dieting from people is bullshit. You can’t believe everything you read either, but there is a wealth of good information about this stuff on the web if you look hard enough. Don’t buy into fancy equipment or diets. They’re usually a waste of money and bad advice or unhealthy. Getting into shape really comes down to proper nutrition and exercise. Oh yeah, and patience.

PS. In case anyone’s been trying to lose fat around a certain part of their body for a while, you can’t spot train fat. It doesn’t work like that. Good luck!

19 11 2009
Relevant to Your Interests #028 « Gunshy (08:02:46) :

[…] Listen, you’re getting kind of fat. Maximum RockNRoll advises you to quit smoking and hit the gym already. […]

19 11 2009
Henri (16:38:08) :

Last week, tidying around, I felt on an 1998’s MRR, and remenbered the good times spent reading this mag.
So I checked internet..
I was invided by lots of souvenirs from a decade ago, and with this article, I found back why I loved MRR, satirical, funny and political columns, I couldn’t stop reading it, even if I hate reading on the computer (old fashioned, I prefer books).
Anyway, I really understand it, punk saved my life, because it made me discover skateboarding, wich made me discover juggling, and the chain continues ; acrobatics, high wire, flying trapeze, handstands, contemporary dance and yoga.
I didn’t try the gyms, but when I didn’t train for days, I go jogging, because it makes me better (and satan knows how much I made fun of sportsmen…).
Maybe in my old days, I’ll consider the gym…
Thanks !

20 11 2009
Joaquin (00:26:11) :

I work out all the time and where I live in Olympia, WA so do LOTS of punks! Any given day at the Y you can see _____ on the rowing machine, _____ in Body Pump class, _____ on the Elliptical Machine and the young punks on the weights and dance studios. The best revenge I believe is to live…well. I like to fight and be violent and so all my life I’ve trained to be better at it and maybe to die doing it and I recognize that there are a lot of punks out there like that except for the training part. Drug abuse doesn’t make you a better fighter and when I have done drugs it just made me feel like the world that I hate is winning…like I’m just joining the ranks. I don’t even consider the drunks in the street and especially in the bars punks…they lost. They took the bait and fell. It’s over for them. I actually find it hard to care at all about them…like they are already gone. I’ve had to recently learn how to heal the damage I’ve done to myself and by doing so I have found the strength to care for others. This is valuable if I don’t want to be alone forever just waiting to die. Thanks for the article Anna! All my teen years, 20’s and 30’s people made fun of me for working out…now almost all of them do it cuz it’s punk to be in the NOW, ALIVE instead of the THEN, DEAD…Rock Rock Rock n Roll High School!

22 11 2009
Alec (00:13:45) :

I may just try this. I eat really healthy but I don’t work out anymore and I’ve been lower than ever before. I actually had to get rid of all the rope in my house so I wouldn’t be tempted. I actually got dumped for being too depressed, I mean seriously, that’s where I am right now.

My bike is broken, so I guess it’s the gym, jogging or bust.

22 11 2009
Ariel Awesome (22:44:55) :

thanks Anna, such a great column!

& for those of us with the tiniest of budgets: most community gyms and YMCAs have scaled down membership rates for lower income members, and they’ll waive sign up fees. seriously, it rules.

30 11 2009
Anna (15:18:37) :

Alec- you are exactly who I’m talking to. Fix your bike. Start running.

1 12 2009
Annie Saunders (11:25:42) :

Thank you, Anna! I go to the gym regularly too. Not only to try and get back in to shape, but as a way to combat the extreme anxiety that’s always creeping into my head. I have no room to panic, hyperventilate, etc…. when I’m exhausted and full of the good kind of energy (not just loaded on caffeine).

I also felt sheepish about being a punk on a hamsterwheel (treadmill). I remember being so relieved bumping into my friend Cassie at the Oakland Y that there was at least one other p-rocker out there pumping iron. Silly to think, now, that I gave a shit that anyone would care.

PS: The Dicks play at the perfect tempo to run to!

1 12 2009
Rhyno (14:48:20) :

They’re going to make you one of them, my peacock! -Freaks 1932

1 12 2009
Jemuel (15:56:07) :

I actually had a similar revelation with eating vegetables and going to the dentist. After eating I feel energized instead of the food coma (which is actually nice, half of the time). And its amazing to me now that I brush my teeth and don’t consistently spit blood. I don’t think taking care of your body is punk. Not to say that is ISN’T punk to do it, but similarly we punks don’t own integrity, bombastic expressions and awesomely shitty fashion. Imagine going to the gym and working out with a gypsy musician who wears the most trashy grandma clothes and being like, “We have so much in common but are so unlike each other”.

1 12 2009
Dan W (17:40:20) :

Nice article. After hitting 219lbs a couple years ago I was determined to not hit 220 and finally started getting in shape with my girlfriends help. Trips to the gym and lunchtime runs around Aquatic Park with my coworkers have kept me down to around 190 now and I hope to hit 180 by the time the Oakland half marathon comes around at the end of March. As much as I hate running and exercising, I almost hate admitting more that there is part of me that misses the workouts if I skip several days.

1 12 2009
Nick (18:58:46) :

Right on!

You can get started right this second using just your own body weight—punk-budget-friendly, nothing to buy—with the charts at these three sites:

HundredPushups.com
TwoHundredSitups.com
TwoHundredSquats.com

Gentle reminder: worrying about what is and isn’t punk isn’t punk. Neither are people who don’t want you to, or won’t support you in, pulling yourself up out of your own shit and taking control of your life.

2 12 2009
Jeanette (13:20:52) :

I really appreciate this article. I’ve been on and off with gyms for years and have been put down for it. So thanks for putting it out there and making exercise and being healthy a positive ambition.

4 12 2009
Punk Business Manager (04:12:22) :

Great article! I am a liftetime punk fan and I enjoy exercising and staying in shape. I prefer the outdoor variety instead of being inside a gym though. I have run the Chicago Marathon twice, done a ton of 1/2 marathons and other running stuff over the past 9 years. I’ve also done several 100 mile bike rides and just enjoy biking in general when I can. I was in a similar situation 10 years ago, all out of shape and I felt like shit in my late 20’s. My wife got my ass out there running, and I lost about 50 pounds in 7 months and felt like a new person. Many punks do have an aversion to jocks and sports for obvious reasons, but it makes no sense for that to spill over into exercise in general. Running and biking are individual pursuits and there is nothing “jockulatory” about them unless you make it that way. And nothing motivates one for a good run or bike ride like some great punk (I don’t wear headphones when exercising, too distracting for me). I can remember specific times when my favorite KBD tunes helped carried me through the last 2 miles of a marathon, or a huge hill on a looong bike ride. Punk is perfect motivation music for exercise.

7 12 2009
Drew (09:51:16) :

If you’re looking for a fairly easy exercise regiment to get into, check out 5BX (five basic exercises).
It’s a simple series of exercises one can do every morning; I think it was developed by the Canadian Air Force in the 50s to keep their (underused, I imagine) pilots in shape. It involves no weights or other materials and all you need is a little space.
Ten minutes a day, right after you roll out of bed. Apparently George Burns did it every morning and he drank more Martinis than fuckin’ Sinatra so it can’t be half bad.

Great piece, by the way.

27 05 2010
Joshua Davis (08:14:00) :

I’ve always thought this!

5 09 2011
anndiron (11:01:13) :

Annabanana,

Great writing! More! More!

Ann the Fan

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