Treadmill Rules

Lately I’ve been taking my morning walk on a treadmill in a small workout facility, rather than via a walk in the open air. It’s the first time I’ve really consistently used a gym and a treadmill. I’m getting in about the same amount of steps, but it is an entirely different vibe.

There are positives to the treadmill experience, of course. The primary benefit is that you aren’t subject to the whims of the weather and the possibility of some weather-related mishap, like slipping on ice during the winter or being sprayed with the splash when a passing car rockets through a rain puddle. But whereas walking outside, for me, tends to be a solitary exercise, treadmills in a gym are communal–and that means there are rules to be acknowledged and obeyed.

One of the rules involves respecting the personal space of the other treadmill users. In our little gym, there is a row of six treadmills. If you come in while some of those devices are being used, you need to find an empty treadmill that gives you at least a one empty treadmill buffer zone from any other user, if possible. Picking a treadmill right next to another user when there are plenty of unused machines would be viewed as unseemly and, well, weird. Another rule is that there is no talking, period. Even though multiple people are within a few feet of each other, everyone seeks to remain in their own little workout world, following their walking, jogging, or running routines, listening to their music or podcasts, and maintaining careful social separation. The other users don’t seem to even acknowledge each other’s presence with a nod or a smile.

Another big difference between walking outside and the treadmill experience is the looking presence of the machine itself. Outdoor walkers can always stop to tie their shoe or admire a pretty scene. Of course, you can’t do that on a treadmill, unless you want to be swept away by the moving belt and hurled into the exercise bikes behind you. There’s a pressure element, because you’d better keep your feet moving, and at the right clip. And the machines are very clock-centric. You program your time and start your routine, and you can’t help but look constantly at how much more time is left before the routine is over. That ever-present time concept simply doesn’t exist on an outdoor walk.

News-Free Fitness

Life Time Fitness, which operates 128 fitness facilities in the United States and Canada, has eliminated cable news channels from the big TV screens that are available for viewing by members who are working out.  The treadmill set at Life Time Fitness won’t be able to watch CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or CNBC any more.  Instead, USA, A&E, ESPN, Discovery, HGTV, and local stations will be featured on the bigger screens.

wht3_fitness-tvs-1Life Time Fitness explained that the elimination of cable news channels is due to its “commitment to provide family oriented environments free of consistently negative or politically charged content” and a “healthy way of life philosophy.”  The change is also the result of feedback from members, who said they felt “stressed” during their workouts when watching cable news programming.  One member wrote to Life Time that the gym “is no place for constant negativity like the news chains love to surround themselves with.”

Studies have shown that the viewing of TV news can affect a person’s mental state and mood — no surprise there, really — and one study reported that people who watched just three minutes of negative news in the morning were 27 percent more likely to say their day was unhappy when surveyed six to eight hours later than a group that watched more uplifting TV content.  If you’re a fitness facility, why show programming that is more likely to cause people to conclude that days begun at the gym are unhappy ones?

I can understand why a fitness center might decide that featuring cable news really isn’t well-suited for workouts for other reasons, too.  How can you reasonably expect to maintain focus and a positive attitude about what you’re doing on the elliptical machines if you’re being bombarded with news stories about the latest dysfunctional activities in Washington, D.C.?  And having your blood pressure spike during a choleric reaction to disturbing news reports about President Trump’s Twitter feed is likely to be inconsistent with the pre-planned heartbeat increase and calorie burn built into that hill program on the exercise bike or treadmill.  Programs about home remodeling, in contrast, are bound to produce a better workout milieu.

Now, if we can just get airports to get rid of cable news channels on the monitors found in every gate area.  We don’t need to add to the stress when we’re waiting on delayed flights, either.

Treadmill Promises

You notice that the clothing is fitting a bit snugly.  The waistline has expanded beyond what you find acceptable, and your face has begun to take on a fleshy, jowly appearance.  Then one night, as you snack on chips and watch some late-night TV, you see a commercial for a treadmill, complete with happy, fit people wearing tight exercise clothing jogging, then laughing as they go on a date with an attractive person of the opposite sex.

You’ve tried to do exercise programs before, you recognize, but you think that perhaps things will be different if you actually buy a treadmill.   You reason that, if you actually pay money for an exercise device, you’ll be much more likely to follow through on your exercise promises because you won’t want to utterly waste your hard-earned money.  The treadmill, you conclude, could be the linchpin of a drive to create a new, fitter you.

So you brush the chip shards off your belly, call the number on the commercial, and place your order.  The treadmill comes, all sleek and shiny, and your resolution increases.  This will be the beginning!  You put it in your bedroom, read the instructions, and don the new exercise outfit you bought for the occasion.  It’s treadmill time!  You walk a few miles on that rubbery, rotating surface, feeling good about yourself, and then have a green salad for dinner.  Already, you feel lighter.  The next morning you feel sore, but it’s a good soreness.  You do the treadmill that day, and the next.

Maybe you eat some more salad.  The soreness increases.  Then you think that it’s kind of boring just walking on a treadmill, so you move a TV in front of the treadmill.  And then one day you miss a day, because you overslept or you were hung over from going out with your friends.  It just couldn’t be helped.  You promise to redouble your efforts, and for a while you’re back on track.  Then you miss another day, and another.

Weeks later, you realize that the treadmill is now being used exclusively as an adjunct clothes rack, and every time you see the damn thing you smell the reek of personal failure.  At first you think the guilt feelings might get you back to your brief fitness regimen, but after a while you’re sick of looking at the stupid treadmill, so you sell it in a garage sale or on eBay.  And then, months later, you see a new fat-burning device on TV, and you think that it might just be the key to a newer, better you.

I’m reminded of treadmill promises when I read about the President and Congress reaching agreement on another last-minute, short-term, stop-gap spending and debt limit bill and suggesting that things will be different when the next deadline nears.