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Gym Considered Alienated

“Lawyer up, delete Facebook, hit the gym”. If you are familiar with the “legal advice” subreddit, surely this is a formula that you have already heard. If you are not, let me say that it is the advice given to someone who, we foresee, will go through a divorce. Why you should hire a lawyer in such circumstances is easy: divorces can be messy legal processes, and the outcome might very well be a substantial loss of assets. Deleting Facebook? A divorce involves difficult, nasty emotions for both parts. We know the amplifying effect social media can have on that, so deleting our account seems like a rational thing to do. But what about the gym? Why should you hit the gym as a divorce approaches?

There are two reasons why. The first one is that, because you are divorced, it is assumed that you have been married for a substantial period of time, and even more time being in a relationship. This means that it has been a rather long time since you have last been in the “dating market”. You have not have had to compete for mates, and as a result your physique has degraded. You have deviated yourself from the ideal physique. If you want to be back in the game, that is, dating someone, as soon as possible, you better start working towards that very physique.

The second reason is mental health. A divorce is a break-up on steroids, a devastating blitzkrieg on morale. Physical exercise having been scientifically proven to improve psychological well-being, and as such, advising people who are going through rough times to workout seems quite rational indeed.

In both cases, the purpose of the gym is to allow the performance of physical exercise. But why the gym? Can we not exercise without specifically designed appliances, without a specifically designated building? Do we need a treadmill to run? Can we lift nothing but dumbbells? What does the gym add?

For one, the machines of the gym divide physical exercise into its simplest possible components, the shortest possible muscle movements. Physical training at the gym takes a methodical, rigorous approach to growing muscle. Behind every machine, there is science. A “good” session to the gym will not be improvised: it will be planned, in advance. Time slots will be allocated for each movement. Each of them will be repeated a set amount of times. A session to the gym closely resembles an industrial process. At a gym, we become both the worker and the product. The subject and the object. The gym is a factory; its input are bad bodies, its outputs are good bodies.

How did people perform physical activity before then? When they were not working physical jobs, they played. The ancestors of football or rugby predate the industrial revolution. Working out and improving one’s physique was not their goal: they were simply fun activities. As these activities are less and less performed by adults, the substitute for the necessary physical activity that humans need has become rationalized, packaged into the gym membership and its workout sessions, far more efficient at achieving physical transformation. Capitalism has managed to commodify exercise.

But why do we really lift, squat or run, besides creating muscle? For nothing. In the gym, our muscles have been estranged from their purposes. They do not exist to solve a tangible problem, but merely to make themselves grow. We have gone from exercise as a way of having fun, to exerciseas a work. Because a gym workout makes no genuine sense, the gym can only be a place of alienation. Because a gym workout can only be understood as work, the gym can only be a place of alienation.

Author: sh