Thursday, August 07, 2008

In the Gym

For the past week a dodgy ankle has stopped me running. Instead I have been cross-training in the gym.

I have previously mentioned my mixed feelings about gyms. The are strange mildly unsociable places where everyone is in their own bubble and there is little interaction. I am no different. I plug in my Ipod and just get on with it, but I do like to look around me. I always watch people on the treadmills and examine the variety of running styles, seeing who lands heavily (not always the heaviest runner), who is graceful, who is too tense, who is economical. Sometimes it is surprising who moves easily and sometimes I want to say something like 'your shoulders are too tense, relax your hands' but I don't, after all we are all in our bubbles and I am not sure how it would be received.

I know that people argue about whether there is such a thing as a correct style with some people insisting you should land on your forefoot, whilst others are equally adamant the the heel strike is the best way. I am equally convinced that it is a futile debate. People run in different ways because their bodies are aligned slightly differently. Yesterday, for example, I watched two people side by side. The man was a heel striker, the girl a forefoot striker but both were very fluid and easy in their style, both were relaxed, both were compact. In other words they both had good form even though the mechanics were different. The common feature was that they were both upright and did not overstride.

There is one man who amazes me. He runs intervals and pushes the speed so high he has to hang onto the bar and bend almost in double (if he didn't I am sure he would go flying off the back of the machine). His feet land with such an almighty thud the noise blots out the music I listen to. I cannot work out what he is trying to achieve, surely going too fast in such a contorted fashion cannot help you run properly

There are other people though who are inspiring. For example there is an Indian man (probably in his twenties) who is badly handicapped. He can barely control his legs to walk and can hardly speak yet he comes regularly, with his mother, to maintain, or even gain, some mobility. I don't know who I admire more, him for trying inspite of difficulties or her for her constant, and obviously loving, support. Her whole life must be dominated by the need to look after her son but you can see the pleasure in her eyes when he manages to walk a bit further or throw a ball a bit straighter. One of the members of staff is often there to help, introducing exercises to test him that little bit more, encourage him by gentle teasing, whilst his mother will follow close by to stop him falling.

When I see the three of them working in this way I know I can put my reservations about gyms to one side. They are places where good can be done


P.Hill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P.Hill said...

Quality posts latley :) i stopped going to Gyms after getting annoyed at people just sitting on the machines yacking to there mates while waiting to get on myself to do some work.

Jo said...

Great post. Sadly, I have discovered through a paralysed (but extremely active) friend that many UK gyms still struggle to cope with disabled users. They often lack specialist equipment for a start. But the biggest problem is available and fully trained staff to help - which is why your fellow gym user needs to rely on his Mum to support him.

That requires dedication on her part, and determination on his - both equally inspiring.

Highway Kind said...

In our gym most of the talking is done by the dumbell racks, which is ok because mostly they are helping each other. The main frustration on the machines is the excessively long time some people take between reps.

Hi Jo
I think the staff at my gym do quite a good job with helping disabled people. Its one of the things that makes me feel quite good about the place

Adam said...

I was reading Phils blog and he mentioned yours so I jumped over to read it. During the summer here in the south I send about half of my running in the gym due to heat.

Gyms are really strange places sometimes. My biggest grip is when your on the treadmill trying to concentrate on the run and someone insists to have a conversation with you.

Highway Kind said...

Hello Adam

To me the strangeness of gyms is that they are strangely unsocial. A group of people packed in a small area, mostly ignoring each other yet at the same time peeking to see how well they are doing.

I must admit that people don't tend to talk to me. perhaps I don't have an open, friendly face.

warriorwoman said...

I really enjoy your descriptions of other peoples running styles. I love watching other runners as well and sometimes you spot someone who looks so graceful and usually fast, that it epitomises the freedom that running is about.

Adele said...

The public gyms around my area have specialist equipment to help disabled people keep/get fit, can't say I've seen many people using them though so I don't know how supportive the staff are.

Ah yes, running styles. I wonder how long the bent double man would last outside, we behave differently in the confines of the gym, on the tready. I wonder how much of it is to do with self-consciousness and feeling the need to look good...

I think I'm weird in that I quite like the gym, but I do get incredibly irritated by certain gym users. As for the social aspect, a class is a good starting point as you are often paired up with someone.

Highway Kind said...

Maybe the bent double man is a bent double runner outside. Unlikely but some people do bend forward from the hips.

My guess is that he was trying to sustain a very high heart rate for as long as possible.

Good idea about classes. i have sometimes thought about a spinning class but never quite got round to it

Adele said...

Ooooh, I used to be a bit of a Spinning addict; it's excellent for burning fat and gives really toned legs. It's bloody hard work though!

womble said...

The gym nearest my house is also located next to my local running track. We have some top athletes training there, including wheelchair athletes. I have been in the gym when a couple of them have been doing their routines - the upper body strength is amazing.

Several years ago at a workplace gym I was pleased that a visually impaired person came down to the gym and was helped to use the equipment, although my mind boggled at him using the treadmill!

Great post as ever. And the photos are fabulous, please keep them coming.