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Here’s the skinny on sticking to a gym routine

Yes, I’ve been writing long enough to have learned that editors have certain preferences when it comes to personal descriptive terms. Thus, I’m well aware that the use of adjectives like "slender" or "stocky" is recommended, rather than such inelegant terms as "skinny" or "fat."

I mention this only to set the stage for a report on the uptick in activity in health clubs around Western New York. This is the time of year when the locker rooms are crowded with new members. Starting in January, the TV screens are filled with the latest renditions of commercials emphasizing weight loss and fitness.

Those commercials arrive annually in the wake of the holidays, that challenging period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, after which people traditionally become remorseful about the weight they have gained during those celebratory weeks. Faced with the TV promotions and the evidence provided by the bathroom scale, they become increasingly guilty during January, and by February they are eager to seek a life-changing experience for $19.95 a month or less.

As a result of the joyous overindulgence combined with the strategic advertising, the clubs are filled with the newly determined, resolved to strive for improvement. Some are "slender," hoping for bulging biceps, others are "stocky," planning to shed pounds.

As they are fond of explaining, "It is time to get in shape."

The target is often related to the waistline, which, as we all know, has a tendency to expand while most neighboring body parts remain the same. And so, for many, it is time for the regular trek to the health clubs, which are now equipped with a whole catalog of devices invented to offer new modes of exercise.

Gone are the games of old, with their volleyballs, basketballs, medicine balls and squash balls. They were once considered useful for those seeking what was known as "a workout," an undertaking that would provide both exercise and recreation. Recreation has been deleted from the agenda. Everything is much more serious these days, with treadmills, step machines, stationary spinning bikes and various other apparatus playing dominant roles.

Yes, there are the obvious "slender" or "stocky" bodies in attendance, but they don’t really dominate as in the past. Instead, the new recruits fall into categories that are difficult to define. They are best described as indescribable, since they are absolutely average, aware of their condition and suddenly dedicated to self-improvement.

One of the new members explained his goals simply: "I made a resolution. This is going to be the year I get under 200 pounds."

Ahh, the resolution, that psychic application that motivates so many, driving them to work muscles that have been previously unflexed and expend energy they didn’t realize they had. But it is a daunting path upon which they have embarked. Many strive but fail. The arms and legs are willing, but the motivation withers. The gym bags are filled with stale sneakers, soon consigned to the basement for possible use in summertime lounging.

This is the voice of experience speaking for the benefit of the recently enrolled, the newly dedicated.

I came to that task probably as you did, but soon I discovered it is much like life itself-not a sprint but a marathon. If there are trophies, they are awarded not to those who demonstrate willingness in February but to those who endure. There are relatively few who persist. In a typical April, the crowds in the locker rooms have diminished and many of the once resolute have lapsed, returning to the old ways. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is dispiriting for all concerned.

I skipped gym as often as possible in my youth. Then, while blithely cruising toward middle age, I made an abrupt change. It was shocking to those who knew me well. I became what used to be classified as a "gym rat." I met a psychiatrist at the gym, and one day as we jogged our route along various city streets, he turned to me and made this diagnosis of my condition, an opinion I hadn’t sought: "We both have a positive addiction," he said. "Some addictions are negative and some are positive."

Based on that finding, I feel qualified to offer this advice: Adopt one of these approaches-persistent, single-minded, unswerving, unwavering, undaunted, obsessive, indefatigable, tenacious-and eventually you will need to renew your membership.

Dick Hirsch is a longtime contributor to the Opinion page.

2/19/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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