Have you ever seen people riding those two-wheeled elliptical trainer contraptions? It looks like they just tore free of their moorings at the gym and started cruising down the street. Are they supposed to be scooters, NordicTracks, bikes, or what? They should decide whether they want to run or ride a bike or cross-country ski. They look ridiculous.
Of course, so does most exercise. We humans face an inherent conflict: Our bodies are meant to subsist on only the foods we can hunt down, scavenge, or coax from the earth by endless sowing, tending, and reaping. But our actual lifestyles consist of sitting on soft chairs and eating unlimited, delicious, and inexpensive calories. As a result, we engage in outlandish activities that are, when considered objectively, completely preposterous.
While less jarring than the sight of someone riding a piece of cardio equipment from the gym down the street, cyclists are a bit of an eyesore themselves, what with their loud, matching Lycra shorts and jerseys emblazoned with logos of Italian bikes that cost more than most of the cars I’ve owned.
By the looks of these Spandex harlequins, they’re more obsessed with their outfits, shiny components, and carbon-fiber frames than with the actual riding of their bikes, which, by the way, is accepted by much of the world as a means of transportation for people who wish they had cars.
Runners, on the other hand, with their minimalist equipment and dedication to doing only the most primitive and laborious of human physical activities, are the ascetic monks of exercise. It looks like a penance as they chug grimly along in whatever unpleasant conditions nature throws at them. Their faces weather-beaten and haunted, and their dead eyes fixed on the horizon, they seem just steps ahead of their personal demons, usually nursing a half-dozen or so repetitive-stress injuries.
What about grown-ups who play recreational team sports? Is there a less efficient way to get exercise than to spend hours and hours organizing, preparing, and traveling just to sprint around a field for a few minutes with a bunch of sad former high school athletes who can’t let go of the past? When coming across adults playing soccer or softball, you might think, “Wow, that’s so great that they’re staying active”—but you could just as well observe, “There’s no way their poor partners and kids don’t realize that this is just a way to escape their disappointment in the reality of adulthood.” I guess it’s better than going to the bar every night. But just barely.
Swimmers are some of the most deluded and masochistic exercisers of all. Swimming itself is an important skill, sure, and kids should definitely learn and practice swimming for the sake of their survival and fun. Having logged some hours in the lap lanes certainly makes one more comfortable during beach vacations and pool parties. But as exercise? Touted as a “low-impact,” full-body workout, swimming actually entails slogging back and forth, gasping for air, in a chemical bath of chlorine and other people’s bodily excretions, for hours at a time, to ultimately burn the caloric equivalent of two light beers.
I could go on. Who among us hasn’t sniggered at the sight of grown men and women rollerblading down the boardwalk or race-walking around the reservoir? How many times have we crossed to the other side of the park to avoid the freaky loner doing tai chi or quigong, or whatever you call it when they perform slow motion kung fu battles with imaginary villains? Bearded, Patagonia-clad Alpinist-posers climbing fake cliffs and walking on tightropes between trees at the urban greenspace?