Lions and tigers and bears

Exercise equipment – good or evil?

After he’d competed a strength test, and a flexibility test, and a reflex test on my injured shoulder, a few weeks ago, my doctor gave me the news. He’d seen an X-ray and an ultrasound that indicated I’d slightly torn something in my rotator-cuff. That sounded bad enough. Then, he handed me a referral form and told me to go to an office on the lower level of the health centre.

“Go get some physiotherapy,” he told me.

I opened the door and entered a front office with a TV blaring 24-hour news, racks of magazines and someone to book my appointments. That was all well and good. But beyond the front office was a world I’ve never really understood, rarely entered, and often feared.

The physiotherapy facility that lay beyond was filled wall-to-wall and stacked high with floor mats, bench-pressing tables and every imaginable piece of exercise equipment. Yes, everything was there to stretch, push, crush and test my body to the limits – everything was there including “treadmills and cycles and weights.” Or, as Dorothy told Toto dashing through the deep, dark forest in The Wizard of Oz, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

As some of you know, I do lots of exercise – walking my dog (I’m still doing the daily walk even though my dog’s gone), climbing stairs instead of escalators, gardening and snow-shovelling by hand, and of course rec hockey year-round. However, I’m not a go-to-the-gym-to-work-out kind of person.

While I know they’re probably good for me, I don’t find treadmills and cycles and weights the least bit inspiring. And while I know the environment of people running, squatting, lifting, sweating and grunting all in one room together, seems to attract lots of people, it’s not for me.

Indeed, my sister goes to workouts with a group of women at a gym; my wife works with a trainer in an exercise room; and my daughter’s in-laws gather at the gym for comradery and exercise several times a week (I think they’re each competing to see who can recruit the most new members at their gym). Well, forgive me, but I don’t get gyms. Never have.

Apparently, and not surprisingly, I’m the odd man out. The trend to join fitness clubs, or as the industry prefers to call them “boutique” gyms is growing by leaps and bounds. Last December, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that boutique gyms generated $3 billion in revenue, that’s 2.3 per cent higher than the year before.

At last count Canada was home to nearly 7,000 such businesses, employing nearly 55,000 people nationwide. On average, private fitness studios can help their operators to an average income of more than $250,000 in Canada, or about $70 per square foot of operating space. And gym-goers love the energy, invigorating atmosphere and social interaction, according to recent studies. And good for them.

But that atmosphere doesn’t attract me for a lot of reasons. I’m not into catapulting myself off a treadmill or demonstrating my inadequacies on a lat pull-down, a cable triceps bar or a rowing machine in public. I’m quite simply gym-phobic!

Where does that come from? Well, I think I can blame my high-school gym instructors from back in the 1960s. Only a few of us were even close to the fitness levels our teachers demanded; I mean they expected us all to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.

If we couldn’t do 25 chin-ups on the high bar, 50 chest presses on the bench or 100 push-ups on the mats, there was something wrong with us. And we had to strive for those numbers while everybody else watched. For marks! Is it any wonder, then, I don’t like the look of cables and weights, mats or mirrors in front of exercise machines?

No. Since the physiotherapist determined my shoulder needs daily exercising, I quite willingly do stretch exercises with a roller up the wall, pull the heavy elastics from a doorknob, or do reps with a dumbbell on the floor to try to build back my shoulder strength. Now, I’m sure most health gyms work to national public health standards, but at the physiotherapy clinic, I know I’m dealing with a health specialist, as well as an enterprise.

And, despite the presence of that exercise room full of gear, I really can’t complain at all about my treatment at the clinic. Just the opposite. On each of the sessions so far, the young physiotherapist has simply put me on a table, tested the flexibility in my shoulder, manipulated the joint, administered ultrasound treatment and finished with 10 minutes of icing.

Last week, however, as I lay there with the bag of ice cubes on my shoulder, he did make an ominous prognostication.

“If the shoulder doesn’t respond to your home exercises,” he suggested, “we might have to try some work in the exercise room to build up some strength.”

No, not the exercise room! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

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