Sneaker Report set out to answer the question, “What’s the perfect time to go to the gym?” Do you join the throngs of nine-to-fivers hoping to drown out the rat race with iron pumping grunts? Do you rise at the crack of dawn to stumble, zombie-like through your routine before work? Do you sneak out on a long lunch break for a tryst with the treadmill?
On one fateful day, our intrepid Reporter did the unthinkable: he camped out in a gym for an entire day. From 6am to 11pm, he lived that fitness lifestyle in hopes of finding out exactly what time was best to go to the gym. The results were harrowing, but he survived to tell the tale. Below are his findings. They are not for the faint of heart or those for whom low weight and few reps results in shallow breathing.
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6:00 AM I arrive at the gym. Why am I doing this again? Why I am up so damn early? I haven’t been up this early since high school. I am the only one here with iced coffee … I’m the only one here at all, except for the gym attendant who is so tired he waves me in without checking my I.D. As the groggy staff wipe down the machines, I take stock of an otherwise empty gym. There is something strangely beautiful about the gleaming equipment under fluorescent lights, untouched, begging to be used … or maybe I’m just really really tired.
6:15 AM The first arrivals. These fitness nuts take middle age by the horns; you can’t tell whether they are forty or sixty, but they are in phenomenal shape. They go about their routine with a surgical precision learned from years of working out. They mix exotic workouts I’ve never seen before with gym class fundamentals. I can almost hear them chastising their complacent children at home, “You know, the gym has a television where you can watch ‘The Real Housewives’ I wouldn’t feel so bad about you rotting your brains if you would just work out your body.”
The others here are senior citizens, as few as ten years older than the other group. Age shows with them; they’ve slowed but haven’t given up. Age catches up with us all at one point or another, even after a life with a fitness regimen.
I am going to go order another iced coffee. It’s too early for contemplating mortality. Luckily, I have the next eighteen hours in the gym to work off those exta calories.
9:00 AM Things are uneventful until nine, but it is … well worth the wait. I am in the throws of a full-on MILF invasion. The children have been shuffled off to their summer camps and friend’s houses, and the mothers have come out in full force. I dare not stare for too long, as the very reason they have come here this early is to avoid people like me. But, wait, are they, yes … yes, they are doing yoga moves. Downward facing dog? Yes, please. No, no, damn it, man, you have work to do, focus on the task at hand … must maintain professionalism …
11:00 AM Attempts to maintain professionalism were futile. Several mothers caught me ogling them. By eleven, the ladies have adjourned the local Panera for brunch, and I am again left alone to focus on my labors.
11:15 AM The gym staff eye me suspiciously. I grab some light weights and do a few dumbbell curls to throw them off my trail. I think it works, even though I am balancing my laptop in one hand as I do so … and by that, I mean that their lack of concern for their jobs trumps their concern for what the Hell it is I am doing here all day.
12:00 PM This gym is a wasteland. The early afternoon crowd is the same crowd that would be at the DMV or the bar at this time of day … the dregs of society. You have the unemployed, bored freelancers, and self-styled “personal trainers” from Craig’s List. This is truly a desolate place. I attempt to raise my spirits with trip to Subway for a five dollar footlong. I try to linger there for a while, but they have a fifteen-minute loitering limit during peak hours. I am politely asked to leave by one of the Sandwich Artists. I trudge sadly back into the gym.
Still eleven hours left.
1:00 PM I spent the last hour staring at treadmill televisions, alternating between Sports Center and daytime talk shows. I don’t know who I can stand less, Skip Bayless or Dr. Phil.
2:15 PM I imagine there will be more people arriving soon. There have to be. Work gets out. Teenagers wake-up. Things have to happen. I have already heard “Firework” by Katy Perry forty-seven times. My sister insists that it is the best song to run to, and this may be true, but I am fairly certain that it is also a top-five song for psychological torture. On a positive note, I am beginning to comprehend the true meaning of the lyric “Did You Ever Feel Like a Plastic Bag” … or maybe this is what it feels like to be on the brink of sanity. If you stare into the abyss long enough it becomes brighter than the moon moon moon, boom, boom, boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon … Help.
3:05 PM My lonesome ramblings around the circuit of leg machines are interrupted by the arrival of actual human beings. High school kids getting ready for fall sports season file in with put-on swagger, reeking of Axe. Normally, their awful gym etiquette, from hogging four different sets of weights for one workout to blasting music I can hear clear as a bell through their Beats by Dre Headphones, would send me in to a fit of rage, but I am grateful to see human life again, even if it is of the douchey persuasion.
4:30 PM The floodgates are open, the after work crowd arrives en masse. This is the gym that most of us know and love. No available machines. No available treadmills. Being asked every thirty seconds how many sets you have left. I am home. This is a group of weekend warriors and New Years Resolvers. This is a group who spend just as much time chatting as they do lifting. This is a group who managed to avoid getting roped into Thursday Happy Hour, so they can look their best for the Friday Happy Hour. They descend like vultures upon curl, bench and ab machines. I take sanctuary near the squat rack. The squat rack stands untouched during these peak hours, as only vanity muscles are worked.
8:00 PM Things are beginning to slow down now. Those consistent lifters who try to wait out rush hour slide in for a quick workout between dinner and bed. There is a steady buzz now, coupled with a zen-like calm. You still can’t get on the cable machine, but there is always someone on the cable machine. In life, there is always a cable machine, and you can wait forever to get your turn on it, or you can just do dumbbell flies like the rest of the world.
10:00 PM The placid calm has been interrupted by Thirsty Thursday revelers. Dudes in their best Ed Hardy gear. A few women dripping with Michael Kors. One last set of curls and a few dozen push-ups just to look buff for the bar. One last set of squats to make that booty pop in the club. None of these would-be revelers are here for more than fifteen minutes; there is still pre-gaming to be done.
Did I mention it smells like Axe in here?
11:00 PM Time to leave the gym, and it looks just as it did this morning. The night crew is wiping down machines. The weights, recklessly tossed about by the inconsiderate members, are re-racked with care. Order is restored. All is right with the world. It is time to go home.
The Perfect Time: After a good night’s sleep, I decided to skip the gym the next morning, as I would for the next couple days. As I sipped my morning coffee, I contemplated what truly was the best time to go to the gym. Upon further reflection, I believe there is no perfect time to go to the gym. It’s really about what the perfect time is for you. Because, truly, no matter what time you go to the gym, someone there is going to piss you off.