Based on my observations in the small gym where we are members, there are two major groups of people who visit: the Sweaters and the Non-sweaters. The latter is by far the bigger group and those who belong to this group can be further classified into the following groups. They are:
The Socialites: Most of the socialites are young men. Often the members of this group have large shoulders and biceps, while their calves are somewhat less developed or hidden in long pants.
body type may be an indicator of superior social skills, it has to be said that the socialites often suffer from a particular impairment in vision which requires them to lean in and stare at their biceps very closely as they flex, flex, flex. They also tend to talk a great deal, take long breaks between sets and in doing so manage to spend many hours in this humble, less than fragrant, but of course socially charged environment.
The Escaping Retirees: These folks are the happiest – they simply adore
coming to the gym. They’re friendly without being part of the socialising masses. They’re easy to identify and often wear wry half-smiles when they observe other gym users. Occasionally they even sweat, but this is not the main point or purpose of their trip to the gym. No, their goal – and the reason for their happiness – is that they’ve escaped from their spouses for a few delightful hours. The mere thought of this freedom makes them emit a pretty aura. More often than not, these merry pensioners have access to the sauna and jacuzzi, a privilege that requires extra payment every month, but boy it stretches those spouse-free hours wonderfully.
The Occasional Bullfrog: This guy is solitary and he likes it that way. He doesn’t mingle with the socialites (or anyone else for that matter), doesn’t like cool air and has bulging muscles all over, except for the midriff area where the only thing that bulges is his stomach. He has a wide belt strapped around his waist to keep things in place. He often has a protruding lower lip and on the odd occasion he brings along his doughnut of a kid, but doesn’t exchange a word with said kid. Which makes you wonder: why?
The Intense Guy: He also tends to keep to himself and now and then – without fear or timidity – he crosses over from the non-sweaters to the sweaters. He’s paler than the rest, has a hands-free earpiece welded to his ear and walks around to see what levels people are setting when they use the machines. He often gazes into the distance and looks like he may know something he’s burning to teach someone. Sometimes you get the feeling he wants to show off, but that’s probably just you.
The Angry Walkers: you’d think these people would sweat, right, but no. They get on the treadmill, grip the handle bar for dear life and walk an angry dum-dum-dum-DUM-DUM-DUM. If not already suffering from this, they will
have joint problems in later life and run the risk of being sued by the gym for
premature destruction of gym equipment. Typically, just before they break out in a sweat, they step off. It has been noted that they scowl quite a bit.
Sore knees can do that to you.
Ah, and then there are the Sweaters. This is a small, but elite group. They often find themselves scrutinised by the non-sweaters, but it’s not clear that the nature of the scrutiny is hostile. Rather than hostility, it seems there is an element of awe, or perhaps disbelief that anyone would voluntarily punish themselves so much. As far as I can tell, there are, apart from the odd gym visitor who meanders into the sweating group without planning to (and who flees fairly quickly once they realise what’s happening to their sweat glands), only three permanent members to this group: Tom and I and the younger, plumper and friendlier brother of one of the socialites. He works hard, sweats like a beast and has shed some pounds in the last few months. As we’ve seen the weight melt away, we’ve become concerned about his choice of group. Secretly we hope he stays with us and doesn’t desert us to become a member of the socialites. He’s kind of nice. Besides, it’s good to kick some younger butt now and then.
So, what has this taught me about Portuguese people? Nothing much, really, because apart from the fact that they seem to have a slightly lower appetite for sweating and a superior capacity for socialising, they’re like all other people in the world. It seems to me that some people will always sweat, stretch, exhaust themselves and strive to become more while others will always take it a little easier and perhaps go through life with a somewhat less agony.
To Sweat or Not?
As I was pounding the treadmill the other day, I pondered the advantages and disadvantages of the different approaches to both exercise and life and I asked myself: is all this sweating really worth it? As we’ve adjusted to this new country and our new home, some personal goals haven’t been met and certain projects haven’t materialised despite all the striving and stretching and sweating; the friends we’d hoped to make haven’t been made and some of the friends we’d hoped to keep have drifted away or turned out not to be friends after all.
So is it time to re-evaluate certain aspirations and also one’s approach to things?
And yet – like a typical sweater – I can’t help but ask myself if I’ve done enough. Am I working hard enough at this whole endeavour? Could I not possibly do more? (Calvinism’s lovely claws appear again…). Is it worth being a proverbial sweater or is it more constructive to go through these life changes and challenges as a non-sweater? Or is the reality that this is perhaps more a matter of too much sand – and too little fuel – for my truck?
As I was running along, unable to answer my own questions, an image came to mind. Several months ago we went for a run along an ecovia, one of many wonderful trails here in Portugal for walking, running or cycling. At that point we had just started our fitness regime again after a short hiatus, so we weren’t in top form and consequently dripping with sweat as we neared the end of our run. From the opposite direction came a shiny, tiny man with bulging muscles (think
Schwarzenegger in his prime, just much shorter). As our paths crossed, he suddenly said “Força, força!” and continued on his run. I’m not sure why the memory came back to me, but the image of that super-fit little man has visited me more than once before and apart from the surprised amusement I always relive, I’ve always taken comfort from that sudden urge of his to encourage us.
So while answers and the results I desire – and sweat for – seem to evade me at this stage, maybe the best I can do is to keep with me the gesture of support he gave us in our moment of utter exhaustion: “Strength, strength!”