Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Been caught speeding

So I was running on the treadmill at LA Fitness today, and it just so happened that the Admiral was on the elliptical machine right next to me (this is the first time we've done that -- usually we're on opposite sides of the room). I was about a mile and a half into my usual 5K (3.1 miles) when one of the trainers came up to me and motioned for me to turn off my iPod. Then he said, "Can I get you to put your hands on the heart rate sensors?" I was like, "Fuck you, get lost." But then out loud I said, "Uh, it won't give you your heart rate if you're going faster than 4 miles per hour" -- he should have known that since he works there. Then he asked what my target heart rate was, and I was like, "I don't know, I usually just look at this chart on the treadmill," and he said something about how the chart isn't necessarily accurate for everybody. Then he said, "Did you know that if you work out above your target heart rate it can ruin your metabolism?" I don't know if that's true or not, or even what it means exactly, but I quickly got the idea that the reason this guy was hassling me was that there's a speed limit for fatties, and it's less than the lighting-fast 4.7 miles per hour at which I was zooming along. And also that the guy was assuming that if a fat girl is in a gym, her primary goal must be to lose weight rather than any other athletic goal she might have for herself, like, say, running a faster 5K. The hassling went on for a little while, and finally I told the guy, "You know, I've been running for 11 years." His eyes widened, but before he could stammer out his dumbass reaction to this mind-boggling revelation, suddenly the Admiral, my knight in sweaty gym clothes, chimed in: "Are you singling her out because she's fat?"

Whoa. You should have seen the look on that guy's face as he whipped his head around to see who was sticking up for me. Deer in the headlights would be putting it mildly. Keep in mind that at that time the guy didn't know that the guy on the elliptical machine was anything more than a stranger to me. And man, did he get busy backpedaling. "Oh, no, not at all," he said. "I just circulate around and talk to people. In fact, let's check out *your* heart rate." He was smooth, but I could still see him sweating. He tried to get the Admiral's heart rate, but the sensor wasn't working, so he just kept up this random nervous chitchat. He asked the Admiral how long he had been coming to the gym. The Admiral looked at me and was like, "What has it been, a year now?" and the guy was like, "Oh, you two come in together?" The guy looked back at me and clearly his mind was blown at this point -- the fat girl is a longtime runner, and now it turns out the fat girl has a *man*?! As the computer from Logan's Run would say: INPUT CONTRARY TO ESTABLISHED FACTS.

So at this point I was back in the conversation. The guy asked me a bunch of questions which were either meant to make clear that he totally respected that I was a serious runner, or else to test whether I was really a runner. He asked if I had ever run a marathon, and I said yes, two of them, but that I was working on my 5K time now. He asked what my time was, and I said that it was 37:30. Then he asked when my next race would be, and I said I was planning on doing a 10K in Ohio over Labor Day weekend. I guess all this satisfied the guy, because then he started telling us about his own exercise routine (as if we gave a shit). He mentioned that he had suffered from shin splints, and at this point I decided to turn the situation around on him. So I asked in a helpful way (as any veteran athlete would), "Oh, do you know the stretches to do for shin splints?" Pretty soon after that he was on his merry way.

OK, what to take from all this? Well, at first I was just pissed at that guy for stereotyping me and assuming that a sweaty fat girl on a treadmill was going to harm herself. But then I realized that the guy was just reflecting the general attitude at LA Fitness, which is that the reason to go to the gym is to lose weight. They currently have signup sheets for personal training sitting on a table right at the top of the stairs that go up to the treadmill area, and they say at the top (something like): "If you want to burn fat and keep it off, running may not be the best way. Learn more with a personal traning session..." I've never bothered with my free training session, but a friend of mine (who is not fat) did have hers a while back, and she said that the trainer kept wanting to get her on a program to work on her "problem areas" when all she really wants to do is run. So clearly this is kind of a "thing" at our LA Fitness location. I'd like to think this emphasis on thin, toned bodies above all else (including health) is just a quirk of LA Fitness or maybe just a SoCal thing, but sadly I think it is a nationwide (and even international) problem. I just think it is a sign of a pretty fucked up society when fat people are constantly hassled about not taking care of their health, and yet when they are in the gym engaging in the healthiest activity imaginable, then they get hassled about not doing the optimal workout for weight loss. It makes pretty clear what our real priorities are.


meg said...

Heh -- great story.

See, if you'd joined Bally instead, you'd get little or none of that burn-fat crap.

Betsy said...

My father likes to remind me often that he's read that swimming laps doesn't burn many calories. He 's sure that I should switch to some other form of exercise so I can lose weight and look like he thinks I should look. Never mind that my BP and blood sugar are lower than they've been for years since I started swimming. It's all about how I look.

Mary said...

A quick update about the whole metabolism thing -- I scoured the Runner's World magazine website looking for everything relating to heart rate and metabolism, and everything I found said that running faster is better for weight loss (not that we're all about weight loss here, but FWIW, it sounds like the guy at the gym was just plain wrong). Apparently you do burn a higher proportion of fat (as opposed to carbs, I guess) when you work out at a low intensity, but since you burn more calories overall at a higher intensity, you still burn more fat than you do at a low intensity. As far as I could tell, the only reason not to work out at your highest possible heart rate is that you might burn out and not feel like exercising the next day.

Sammi said...

Really great story.

I'm in high school, and I get nagged constantly for my weight. Elementary school, middle school, it is the same everywhere I go.
Now, what the stupid "Health and Fitness" teachers don't know, is that I walk everyday, I work out at a women's only gym (awkwardness is bad enough, men don't make it ANY better), and my school has six floors! I go from the bottom to the top in six minutes every day, and then back again 53 minutes later. Gee, THAT isn't a work out at all.

I'm tired of my teachers always glancing my way in health class while we cover the chapters on 'wellness and nutrition.'

Being singled out by weight isn't fun or fair, especially at an age where you spend six hours everyday with vicious sharks who enjoy tearing you down and singling you out. I'm just glad I'm not them only one!

Sammi <3

(P.S. Have you SEEN P.E. teachers now a days? Most of them are fatter and unhealthier than me! Yah, I'm real likely to run ten laps because the fat guy eating a ham sandwich in the bleachers tells me to.)