A collection of gym equipment from my home gym in Nanton, Alta. These are my most commonly utilized instruments, for my own progression in certain exercises. PHOTO: SAM CHIPERA

Oct. 28, 2020

A knurled Olympic barbell, adjoined on each side with lusterless rubber plates, rests against my calloused hands, beckoning my physicality to a tantalizing goal. Gazing down at the bar, my right eye is on the verge of collapse as my vision tunnels-out. Blissful eye-floaters dance amidst the crunch of my arms and the tearing of fibres.

In my ears whispers Gwen Stefani’s The Sweet Escape, something I last heard in my beginner days at the gym. Hearing those notes, the barbell dropped from my hands, the sound roaring across the echoey building as it crashed onto the beaten floor. I averted the projection of eye floaters to my two friends who flanked me on the right and were wondering what the hell just happened.

“We all took a spontaneous interest in exercise with the advent of university.”

That nanosecond of debility looking at them helped me experience the gym through their eyes and how I once felt. The song gave me flashbacks to the void of physical intellect, a lack of mental strength and the social no-life. Now, there were droves of my friends two years younger who began to seek glory in the gym with only a summer’s past beyond graduation. But despite this yearly difference, I found a trend. I had done the same with my then-friends, in which we all took a spontaneous interest in exercise with the advent of university. But what engaged us all in this collective unconscious to pursue these goals?

To understand growth, I must start from my own beginning experiences with the gym.

Aug. 29, 2016

My pupils gaze upon the yearly schedule with “Health and Nutrition – 8:30 to 10:30,” my high school’s class that revolved around the mossy green claustrophobia-inducing gym. My heart accelerated, ruminating over being judged by those around me, as I stood at the see-through gym door. The syllabus invaded my thoughts as mandatory units were established, and my outlook retreated into detachment. 

It wasn’t that I despised the idea of exercise. My brain only expressed neutrality in anxiety. Looking back, what shocked me most of all was the lack of freedom of choice in gym class. Forced upon certain units of fitness engaged my anxiety. My mentality limboed in a state of, “How can I screw this up?,” and “When can I set off the room’s focus?”  

In the study, We Hate Gym: Student Alienation From Physical Education, Teresa Carlson explains what weakened my drive at this point in my life: “If students believe they cannot control or change the situation, the circumstances may lead them to withdraw emotionally, mentally, or physically.”

Freedom was key to the gym. It wasn’t until graduation that my maturation would occur, and I could grow interested in the gym.

Mount Royal’s recreation wing has many sports and activities that students can partake in, including gyms and personal fitness. FILE PHOTO.

Sept. 19, 2018

Three months past graduation, I’m now starting my new student life at Mount Royal University. My smooth hand shook the coarse palm of a personal trainer, adorned in a faded red tank top that oozed experience, affixed between bulked appendages. Time slowed as my thoughts sharpened upon the realization, I had the ability to shape myself up like him. My body invited a warm feeling from the base of my spine to my shoulder blades, imagining myself in the crystal-clear mirror of the airy gym pen, confidence sprouting. I felt invigorated to escape my shambling lifestyle of general ineptitude.  

“Whenever I would look at myself, ‘I’m like, I can change this.'”

Personal Trainer NIK TAYLOR

That personal trainer was Nik Taylor. Physical freedom was at my disposal now that the presence of a mandated gym class promptly left my routine. I felt sheer inspiration interacting with Taylor.

Like myself looking at him, Taylor felt inspired by others’ progress, saying, “Whenever I would look at myself, I’m like, ‘I can change this.’ So, I went up to my dad who had been training at the time, and said, ‘I want to start working out.’” 

Like him, I was becoming overwhelmed by the desire to train my body, and I sought out his expertise. 

I subconsciously wanted to compete with Taylor. I felt confident in the choice to pursue a similar goal, as his efforts chained me to an all new objective. James Rowlands, a member of my graduation class, sought this exact effect with Ashton Bliss, a mutual friend, saying, “I remember in Kelowna, [Ashton] was starting to look a lot skinnier, that’s when I was like, I should start. I can’t let this kid get the better of me.” 

April 30, 2019

My undefined back rested upon a textured and ridged bench, huffing and puffing a weight not-to-be-mentioned barbell only a week after finals. Electric joy surged throughout my tearing of muscle fibres. Gently rolling the bar from my fingers onto the hazel carpet of my home gym in Nanton, my digits flourished as I debated indulging in my first music choices. Is it embarrassing to tell my gym buddies I’m listening to The Sweet Escape? Joyful lemon yellow emojis spilled throughout my phone’s LED screen, as I decided, why not? 

“In the process of building up bodily capital, participants formed social relations and obtained a sense of connectedness.”

Bodywork and Bodily Capital Among Youth Using Fitness Gyms, 2017

The Sweet Escape in and of itself contained a sprouting of my own confidence. Always a childhood favourite and a mortifying guilty pleasure before I approached the gym. However, the combination of blooming confidence and evolving happy-go-lucky friendships encouraged my psyche to indulge in my discomforts.

In the 2017 study Bodywork and Bodily Capital Among Youth Using Fitness Gyms in the Journal of Youth Studies, researchers Pia Vivian Pedersen and Tine Tjørnhøj-Thomsen note the importance of sociability born from a gym career.

“In the process of building up bodily capital, participants formed social relations and obtained a sense of connectedness.”

As I text my like-minded friends, I’m reminded once more of the growth with undertaking the route of the gym.

Oct. 28, 2020

The flashbacks fade as I glance up to my friend, brushing off the gritty rubber run off from the mat beneath my feet from my collapse. By the time the memories fade, the song simmers to a stop, and our affixed eyes return my soul back to my exerted figure as those eye floaters retreated to the cosmos of invisibility. 

They raised a perplexed eyebrow as Stefani’s vocals slipped from my removed earbuds, but I know they share like-mindedly ignominious songs. And just like me, they’ll expose their growth of character, whether it’s through music or anything else, to another generation of noobies. And that makes me ecstatic to see how my progress invokes another’s progress, which invokes another progress, an infinite positive chain effect.