When lockdown started back in March, I came the closest I’ve probably ever come to a ‘dark night of the soul’. Everything seemed pointless. I felt disorientated and adrift; the subsequent three weeks were spent in what can only be described as a dazed stupor — absurdly late nights, copious alcohol and cigarettes along with the consumption of large quantities of junk food.
The situation was, perversely, made easier by the fact that everybody was in the same boat. There was very little FOMO (fear of missing out) which was oddly reassuring. But it was all rendered far more intolerable — for me at any rate — by the closure of gyms.
It was obvious when the pandemic broke out that gyms would be among the first places to close – they were branded ‘vectors’ of disease by the government. But I hadn’t realised quite how much I relied upon the dumbbells and resistance cables for my wellbeing.
I first started going to the gym around 13 years ago. I was skinny as a child and teenager to the point of looking emaciated; and so one of the best things about weight training was that, after a few months, I started to fill out the clothes I wore.
Weight training can improve a person’s mental wellbeing too. Not that you’d guess from the media. The progressive press does love its scare stories and victimhood narratives. Hence the sinister tales of gym obsession, steroid abuse and body dysmorphia. ‘Toxic masculinity’ is brought into it too – despite the fact that lots of women also lift weights.
For most of us, though, lifting weights is a hobby — and one that provides stimulating distraction from the increasingly sedentary world of work. It’s a way to challenge yourself that brings overwhelmingly positive results: there are personal goals to work towards, a previous ‘one rep max’ to beat. And, yes, a taut, muscular physique does looks objectively better than a doughy one, whatever the therapeutic platitudes of ‘self-care’ culture may say.
Sometimes, when I read snarky comments about gym-goers, I can detect an element of class hatred lurking behind the words. The people I know who lift weights are mostly working class — in contrast to the effete intellectuals who sit at their keyboards expressing either scorn (the physical realm being inferior to the life of the mind and all that) or faux-concern that men who workout are ‘buying into stereotypes about masculinity’ etc, etc.
These are the theories of those who “live in the midst of ideas about people, rather than among people themselves”, as Czeslaw Milosz once put it.
Now that gyms have reopened, I feel as if I have got another piece of my life back — we are inching a little closer to the prelapsarian, pre-Covid world that at one point I felt was lost forever.