For at least two more two weeks, your local gym is likely to be packed. Heck, you might even be among this madding crowd, pushing and pulling on those Nautilus machine cords as if your life depended on it. Because it does, doesn’t it? All of your marathoning and CrossFitting and Tough Mudder-ing friends likely never tire of reminding you of this fact, even if those reminders seem to be offered more for their sake than for yours.
2023, like 2022 and 2021 before it, will be different. Everything has changed. When it’s over, you won’t be the same old you anymore. Your love life will be much improved. You’ll go out more yet still manage to eat less and save money. You’ll pay off those student loans. You’ll update your wardrobe. You’ll win friends and influence people. You’ll climb the corporate hierarchy. You’ll find the remote, do-nothing email job of your dreams. You’ll lease the apartment of your dreams. You’ll be elected president of your Destiny 2 clan. When the sun sets on December 31, 2023, you’ll be able to rest assured that you’ve beaten the odds, the evens, and many of the imaginary numbers.
But it all starts in the gym. The iron, as singer-songwriter Henry Rollins told us in a Details essay that gym enthusiasts never tire of quoting, holds the key to our reinvention. If the love-handled slob staring back at you in the mirror stays the same, can you really believe you’re different? Without any superficial and highly visible changes in your physiognomy, how will others learn about the inner beauty you’ve begun cultivating? If you don’t look the part on your Instagram or TikTok feeds, how can you play the part on the flesh-and-blood side of the IRL/URL border?
So you make the trek to Planet Fitness or Anytime Fitness or 24 Hour Fitness or some other all-hours fitness facility. The gym… on your schedule! Want to run on the treadmill at two a.m.? You’ve never run on it at five p.m. or nine p.m. or any other hour fit for man or diurnal beast, but now’s the time. For under a hundred bucks a month, you can procure some hope and perhaps another case of COVID-19 (or would that be COVID-23?).
The statistics tell us that hope is all you’re going to get. Gyms profit by maintaining sizable rosters of inactive members who nonetheless continue to pay their monthly dues; chances are you’re unlikely to be the exception to that rule. But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe gyms, a friend of mine remarked, aren’t actually about fitness—maybe they’re just imagination stations where our superhero alter egos live in a faraway future that never is but just might… if only. If only.
For those seven or eight months you remain an entry on your gym’s balance sheet, you have a chance. For the first couple of times some fitness influencer scams you into buying cut-and-pasted training plans, you’re but a single step away from joining them in the influence pantheon. It’s like when I began writing this article: it could’ve been so good; it could’ve been anything! I might’ve written the best article you’d ever seen. But as soon as a single world was committed to the project, it was too late. This article won’t be the best, but just one more among millions, a concatenation of half-clever claims and spurious insights that you’ve assuredly seen—and skimmed—before, if you’re among those 2000-and-late sad sacks who skims anything at all (others just feel the takes and the vibes).
And the same goes for the gym. Those illustrations of faceless, genital-free naked people with highlighted muscle groups that are plastered on each Nautilus workout station represent an ideal that stays within your grasp until your first tug on the resistance cord. Once pulled, it’s done: you know that you’ll never be that Barbie doll-crotched bodybuilder. The game was over the minute it began, yet take heart: you can’t lose until you start playing. Before you swing the bat or start the Street Fighter match, you might be the best player in the world. Who could say for sure? And who’d know the difference?
I believe this fear of finality is the reason we keep making resolutions. We make resolutions because we can’t deal with the aspects of our lives that are already resolved. Perhaps we’re not beautiful, perhaps we are. Perhaps we drink too much, perhaps we drink too little. But these are the hard facts of life, and the new year, with all of the inflated credit card balances owing to months of holiday splurging and inflated waistlines owing to months of holiday gorging, is no time to face up to those. It’s better by far to sign up for a gym and, in the words of Simpsons space alien and erstwhile presidential candidate Kang, “keep moving forward, not upward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom!”