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Newbie at the Gym





To be a ‘sporty’ kid in India in the ’90s meant that you could be part of the ‘sports quota’ and access certain privileges when it came to college admissions. I was not a ‘sporty’ kid, and in fact was proud member of the ‘good grades’ group, thank you very much. Academic excellence took full precedence in defining a child’s success, which naturally then became the primary focus for parents, sports was secondary. Things are however changing, but we’ll talk about that another time.


Years later when I moved to Europe, one of the many cultural shocks which I got was that sports and fitness was not an after thought for people — What? You mean you aren’t playing sports to get college admission? — Nope, it was a way of life.


As luck would have it, I started work at a sports company, and almost 9 out of 10 times the ice breaker question was — so what’s your favourite sport? which fitness routine do you follow? . Neither my 1 hour per week PT lesson at high school nor me, along with my family, watching India play Cricket on a random Sunday deem as acceptable responses. I had to make a massive lifestyle shift and incorporate exercise/sports more seriously into my life… at least to answer such questions if nothing else. And thus commenced my complex relationship with the gym.


I had of course been to gyms before, in fact for a brief period I was daily hitting up my neighbourhood gym in south Delhi. So how hard could it be to rejoin after a decade? And with that thought, I got myself a subscription to Classpass — the new way of getting exercise by signing up for fitness classes in gyms and studios in your city — with some fancy gear to look the part.


My very first class was a 50 minute light intensity ‘build your core’ workout; I showed up few minutes earlier nervous yet optimistic and blissfully unaware about whats to come. In a nutshell, those 50 minutes have left a long lasting impact on me. I stuck out like a sore thumb. No, not because I was the only brown person in the class or a total newbie looking lost; not even because I was multiple sizes above zero and didn’t have my hair up in an unfaltering high ponytail looking fierce. It was something that I had never envisaged.


I had to face it, it was because I was unfit. I couldn’t keep up after 20 minutes and it had nothing to do with the fact that I was literally not able to lift weights. When the instructor came around towards me yelling in my face, I mumbled something about not being able to use both hands for the exercises. She looked at me and then at my prosthetic, understanding what I meant, and turned away nonchalant to go yell at someone else. I spent the remaining torturous 30 minutes doing my own thing, Surya Namaskar if i recall, feeling ashamed and totally out of place. I raced out the minute it ended.


After several confrontational resolutions, I went back to the basics and joined an old fashioned gym. It was a nice and big one, smelled like rubber and sweat. No trainers to help you out, mostly just ripped people behind the counter serving protein shakes and overseeing general order in the gym. Hmm interesting, back in Delhi I always had a couple of trainers hovering around ready to help set up a machine or even keep count of your squats.


The vibe was similar to that of a Classpass class, most people looked serious and like they had stepped right out of a Peloton Ad, but no one bothered me here…. or couldn’t be bothered by me. There was an invisible yet blatant demarcation in the gym between the cardio (treadmill, cycle, etc) and the weight training section. As I obviously couldn’t lift weights, I stuck to the cardio side of the gym.


As weeks passed by I got comfortable and even started to get the occasional smile from the ripped receptionist. I now had genuine answers to give when the question around sports/fitness came up at work. My exercise routine was that of a beginner and my favourite machine was the elliptical. It was not much but I did start to notice an increase in my stamina — look, I can actually run a few meters to catch a tram without wheezing out of control; just that much was such a great feeling. The next, and real, challenge was to do more and eventually cross the invisible line and access the other side of the gym. I realize that up until now my experience at the gym is what most people go through, so hopefully a lot of you related with it, but the dynamics do change when it comes to strength and weight training. I have not cracked it yet but more on that coming up soon, stay tuned.


Until then as I reflect: I did presumably expect a more seamless experience in Amsterdam, one of the most cosmo cities in the world. Interestingly though, I was actually more at ease being myself in my basic gym back in Delhi, where actually I’d have expected peek stares and wild judgements from people who either lack awareness or are blinded by societal norms. Guess I too need to let go of my presumptions. Either way, why not let people deal with their own ghosts or simply be bliss in ignorance?

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Guest
Sep 04, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved the read. Amazing of you to put your everyday life experiences out there & creating awareness :)

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Guest
Sep 03, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Your article is so well written and it helps me see things through your lens. I hope that with your efforts gyms can become fully accessible for everyone.

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Guest
Sep 03, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Loved this!

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Guest
Aug 24, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

You just rock dear.

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