Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Aspirational Gym

Sodden with snot, greasy –cheeked, throat colonised by bacteria and something scratchy, ears achy: being sick is good for only one thing – time off from the gym.

Instead I drift in a rummy-eyed ether, remembering gyms-past.

There have been a lot of gyms over the years, but none I remember as fondly as the Aspirational Gym (not its real name). Ahhh AG– you took all my money but in return gave me some of the most comfortable, inert hours of my life.

An Aspirational Gym reflects what we want to be, rather than what we actually are. So for example, say you are a poorly paid, unfit, ciggie-puffing, alco-pop quaffing cadet journalist – on entering the AG suddenly you feel like a member of the jet-set; a juice squeezer, a marathon-runner, an owner of an Aga and a wine cellar, rich.

How do you know you have become a member of an Aspirational Gym?

Try this checklist:

· They provide towels that feel toasty. They are not stained, threadbare, frayed or anyway indicate expense spared.
· The reception desk is staffed by highly groomed, good-looking people. But they are sort of fake-nice
· It is quiet. There is usually an inverse noise/classiness ratio with gyms. The noisier the gym, the cheaper the membership
· There are never more than 5 people in a class
· The change rooms are spacious, clean and band-aid free
· There is a pool that is always empty except for one other person
· There are newspapers, magazines, real coffee and fruit for FREE
· The vibe is part airport lounge, part 5 star hotel
· Celebrities exercise there

When I joined the most expensive gym in Sydney, I went most days. Not to do exercise mind you – but to hang out.

After work I could be found in the wet area: an oasis of calm in the middle of the city. I would wash away the grime of journalism in the spa, sweat it out in the steam room or do a few languorous laps before putting on a tasteful robe and repairing to the café to read the Financial Review.

In the steam room one might see a newsreader or a model. The talk was industry gossip or the best wineries to go to in the Hunter Valley. The vibe was quiet, discreet, convivial and relaxed. No one seemed to raise a sweat at the AG. There was a sense that to get sweaty, to raise the heart rate would somehow not be in the spirit of this wonderful, languorous club.

Which essentially is what it was – a quasi-private club – not a gym.

Club culture is alive and well in Britain. You are nominated, you are selected, you pay your dues and you are admitted to the club. At the heart of joining many clubs is not what your membership fees give you – but what they relieve you from. Queues at the bar. People who talk loudly. People who are vulgar. People who wear polyester. People who in subtle or quite profound ways – are not like you.

Australia, being ostensibly egalitarian (but scratch the surface and there is inequality aplenty) does not have a culture of private clubs, but it does have a couple of incredibly expensive gyms that function almost as de facto private clubs.

Or it used to. My aspirational gym has shut down apparently. It didn’t have that many members and had been running at a loss for years. Even paying 40 per cent of my cadet journalist wage into their coffers was not enough to save it.

Vale Aspirational Gym. I never stole towels from you.

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My gym has a water fountain.
Welcome to the diary of a reluctant exerciser. Having previously shunned fitness regimes in favour of bacon sandwiches, Brigid Delaney vows to finally shape up, get fit and eat more healthily. Over the next three months read how she gets on in a brave new world of gyms, exercise classes and no bacon sandwiches.
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