Monday, February 28, 2011

Gym stereotypes: college edition

According to the feedback I’ve received from my most loyal readers (thanks Mom and Dad!) my post about stereotypical gym characters was a smashing success. So I have decided to produce a spin-off—let’s hope it’s better than Joey.

College rec centers are like the Marshmallow Mateys of indoor fitness facilities. On the surface, they look, smell and taste pretty much the same as the real thing. But when you take a moment to chew more slowly and really concentrate on the distinct combination of flavors and textures, you’ll realize that something is slightly off. Marshmallow Mateys are not Lucky Charms, and college gyms are not regular gyms.

As with any gym, though, university rec facilities harbor several distinct, stereotypical groups of exercisers. The following line-up is based on over four years of informal research conducted in the rec center at my alma mater.

The Newbies: These wide-eyed 18-year-olds usually travel in groups of friends they probably met at last night’s floor snack. They wander aimlessly through the gym, talking about trying different machines but never actually committing to one exercise for more than five minutes. At the end of their “workout,” they can be spotted purchasing smoothies at the snack bar with their meal plan swipe cards, thus outing themselves as freshmen, because seriously, who else would pay $6.00 for a cup of banana puree? Other key defining traits: high school sports t-shirts, university lanyards, visible insecurity.

The Dudes who are Trolling for Chicks: They work out in pairs (one dude-on-the-prowl, one wingman) and try to pass by the cardio section as many times as possible over the course of their workout. Each time they cruise by the row of elliptical machines, they consciously puff out their chests, flex their biceps, and walk like they’re carrying a keg under each arm. Other key defining traits: Hurley brand t-shirts (cut-off sleeves optional), backwards flat-brimmed baseball caps, cubic zirconia ear studs.

The Chicks who are Trolling for Dudes: These are the girls who come to the gym looking like they just wrapped a photo shoot for the spring Nike catalogue. Everything—from their brand new Nike Frees to their no-slip elastic hair bands—is color coordinated, probably in hot pink or neon purple. They pretend to be interested in the latest issue of Star magazine as they move just fast enough to keep the elliptical from slipping into energy conservation mode. Each time a remotely good-looking dude walks by, they push out their cleavage, stare seductively into his eyes, and flutter their mascara-clumped eyelashes. Other key defining traits: vanilla lattes, cakey makeup, bedazzled cell phones.

The Honors Students: Between their graduate-level organic chemistry courses and their weekly conference calls with Ben Bernanke, these scholastic overachievers have virtually no time to devote to the sole pursuit of physical fitness. But being the brilliant problem-solvers that they are, they have devised a system in which they can work out, write their doctoral dissertations, and catch the latest episode of Jeopardy!, all in one fell swoop. You can catch them in action in the stationary bikes area, where they can be seen pedaling feverishly as they work multi-page calculus problems and yell out phrases like, “What is the epiglottis?!” Other key defining traits: ankle socks, prescription goggles, high earning potential.

The Scrawny but Sporty Guys: Their beanpole physiques might have cut it in their high school basketball days, but once they set foot on a college campus, they realized they needed to beef up if they wanted to impress the ladies. These guys are serious about building muscle—they’ve really taken the whole “no pecs, no sex” joke to heart. They can be seen shadowing their bigger, buffer peers in the weight room, carefully imitating their every move with weights that are obviously too heavy. Other key defining traits: visible clavicles, baggy basketball shorts, lower back strains.

The Ban-the-Bombers: They use pickle jars as water bottles and shop exclusively at Goodwill and the farmers’ market. In their crusade against big business corruption, they have boycotted companies like Nike. If you make the mistake of engaging them in friendly conversation, they will try to convince you to sign up for their next sit-in protest and trade your new Nike Shox for clogs made of recycled organic clay. Other key defining traits: Sierra Club t-shirts, nose rings, hemp necklaces.

The Health-Conscious Professors: They’ve never heard of an iPod, but they are perfectly content to read the latest issue of The Economist as they power-walk their way to lower blood pressure. Often sporting t-shirts from obscure athletic events of the 1980s—like The 2nd Annual “Let’s Get Physical” 7-Mile—these sagely scholars are here to not only manage their high cholesterol, but also to show all the young whippersnappers that they’ve still got it. Other key defining traits: tortoise shell eyeglasses, ear hair, striped cotton tank tops.

The Track Team: They’re loud, they’re sweaty, and they are definitely exceeding the half-hour time limit for the treadmill they’re using. You came to the gym hoping to enjoy a leisurely trot around the indoor track. Little did you know, the trackies were planning to sabotage your joggy-jog with a battery of sprint intervals. You cower in the corner, wondering why they can’t just work out in their own facility. The truth is, their athletic department is too cheap to spend money on sports other than football, so they don’t actually have a team facility. Come to think of it, you didn’t even know there was an indoor track team. Other key defining traits: speed suits, gold chains, short shorts.

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