I had a baby 5 and a half months ago which is way too long to still be excusing my out of shape body as a postpartum side effect. So I finally signed up for a year-long membership at my local Club Med Gym. The area that was once my stomach is surely not going to regain anything resembling tautness on its own so I finally dragged my derriere to the gym. The great thing about the French is that they’ve got their priorities straight: quality of life, food, wine, sitting and talking with friends. The Abdos-Fessiers class is aimed at targeting those problem areas: abs and butt. Apparently you can have your cheese and eat it too! Eat that fromage, and then go straight to the abdos-fessiers class to tighten up those wobbly bits.
Parisians act no differently in the gym than in a café. In the USA, the gym is treated as a kind of temple; the French see it as another casual way to pass the time. I’m used to wearing old t-shirts and worn out shorts when I workout. In Paris, the gym is no place to skimp on fashion, hair or makeup. At my gym in California, clients knock back wheatgrass juice and carrot smoothies to cleanse and detoxify. At the gym in Paris, there is an espresso machine at the reception desk. Just in case you haven’t met your caffeine quota for the day.
In the USA, workouts are serious business: get in, go through the routine and get out. We are busy people; we’ve got other things to do! People observe the “use the machine and move on” rule, completing a series of reps and moving on to the next machine. In Paris, the gym is sort of an oversized lounge. A place to chat with friends, do a couple of stretches and maybe lift a weight or two. During my first trip to the gym I started circulating through the weight machine area. A slim woman with a perfectly coiffed hairdo sat on the leg extension machine while her friend leaned over the quad press, animatedly chatting away. I had moved through three machines already and was getting dangerously close to the leg extension machine while wondering how long they would be there. Too shy to ask or to demand that they move along, I skipped the leg extensions figuring I would come back later.
I moved over to the arms area where several men sporting Richard Simmons attire and those skinny flat sneakers that the French seem to think serve as sports footwear, occupied various machines. Apparently, in Paris, instead of completing a series of reps and moving on, it is customary to lay claim to a machine for one’s entire workout period. I’ve seen several machines go unused for up to 45 minutes while the owner is off elsewhere (having a coffee? Indulging in a cigarette?) No one ever removes the towel or deigns to use the machine. I’ve gone through entire workouts resigned to skip abdominals because someone with an apparent love for abdominal muscles spends my entire 45-minute workout time sitting there, twiddling their thumbs in between sporadic crunches.
I have learned to set my workout expectations low. If I get through three weight exercises and some cardio, I figure I’ve had a serious workout. Intense enough to offset that pain au chocolat or pain au raisins. I still haven’t managed to sport a fashionable gym outfit or find the secret to keeping my hair from looking like I’ve just been caught in a tornado. I have learned to treat the gym less like a mission to be accomplished and take on a bit more of the French joie de vivre.
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