pnms-reportersnotebook-011409 Welcome to the Resolution-Free Zone

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Lots of people talk or write about the futility of New Year’s resolutions. But what about the futility of a fitness regimen because of the absurdity of New Year’s resolutions?
Nobody wants to discourage Mainers, three out of five of whom are overweight, from putting a wiggle in that jiggle, especially when you’re personally engaged in a struggle to become the minority in the statistic.
But for those of us who make fitness a full-time, albeit fruitless pursuit, it’s difficult to view the annual stampeding at the local gym on Jan. 2 with anything but skepticism, if not outright contempt.
It would be easier to be supportive if the odds were in the resolution crowd’s favor. But statistics – not to mention visual evidence – show more than 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions are ultimately broken.
If the efficacy rate were much higher, perhaps gym regulars would grant a little latitude.
At my gym, Planet Fitness in Portland, the resolution crowd is particularly burdensome.
Planet Fitness is centrally located and inexpensive, which makes it a popular place. And, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t cap its membership. That means it can feel like Whole Foods on Christmas Eve, with lots of people rushing around looking bewildered.
In December, Planet Fitness offered a deal targeting resolutioners: $99 for 12 months with no long-term commitments. This is a steal for anyone. But to those whose new conviction is tied to the ceremony of a changing calendar, and not to the pursuit itself, such a low-cost, no-strings sacrifice can be easily written off when motivation wanes (typically by March).
On Dec. 30 the line of people signing up snaked all around the spacious lobby and nearly out the door, making it difficult for members to check in.
One could almost sense the gloom among regulars who exchanged coded looks of dread: Here we go again.
There were probably actual conversations to this effect, but most were whispered.
You see, Planet Fitness is a “Judgment-Free Zone,” a trademarked tenet to convince members they’re in some kind of sanctuary from grunting, intimidating muscle-heads or mockery. Members are free to exercise at their own pace in the Judgment-Free Zone, or wear jeans or undersized shorts – and they do.
As an ideal the Judgment-Free Zone is noble. But people typically don’t become sane upon entering an asylum, nor do those who have already judged themselves as too fat or out of shape discontinue their analysis of others because it happens to be a marketable policy.
And what about enforcement? Grunting can be policed. Just ask the prison guard in upstate New York who in 2006 got booted from Planet Fitness (not to judge, but he looked the part).
But what’s to prevent someone from thinking the hero practicing mixed-martial arts
in the stretching area is an attention junky? Or being annoyed at the pack of giggling teenage girls blocking a row of treadmills?
The point is, it’s too crowded at Planet Fitness and that makes everyone really cranky.
Recently the agitation threatened to boil over when a group of naked men ignored their Judgment-Free Zone vows to gather in the corner of the locker room to rant.
“New Year’s resolutions are a self-fulfilling prophecy,” grumbled one man, “for quitting.”
“They’ll be gone by February,” hissed another.
Such comments might seem mean, but locker rooms are sensitive areas. In these places of nudity and strange odors, personal space is a big deal. Crowds can turn a locker room into a jailhouse shower where the tension is high and inmates try to bring contraband.
That includes cellphones, which some people actually use while they’re changing. Other items are talcum powder and body spray.
One can imagine the generation gap between the users of such products.
Young men apparently love body spray because it makes them smell like young women. Older men use talcum so liberally that LeBron James and Nike could sue them for copyright infringement as clouds of white dust rival those in Tony “Scarface” Montana’s epic coup de grace.
There are other problems in the locker room, like used Q-Tips, or worse, in the showers or lockers. These are skin-crawling revelations for germaphobes like myself, who don’t touch escalator railings and often open public doors with a sleeved hand (if only I could use paper towels to hold the elliptical trainer handles without being silently judged).
Other taboo behavior occurs, but alas, this is a family paper, so let’s just say that some “man-scaping” should happen behind closed doors.
Such conditions create empathy for the friendly Planet Fitness staff, who I’m guessing toil under corporate directives that spin off the Judgment-Free Zone commandment. I can envision the new employee training: “This is a Frown-Free Zone, even when you’re cleaning up after some inconsiderate slob.”
As far as gyms go, I actually like Planet Fitness. I don’t mind its logo of gears and cogs, which is manifested on its myriad rows of treadmills and elliptical trainers. With everyone running and walking, I sometimes imagine the machines are powering some secret generator.
It’s a reassuring thought when the alternative is that you’ve just run for an hour and gone nowhere.
Planet Fitness has individual televisions mounted on the aerobic machines, which purists might consider the ultimate paradox. However, most sets are tuned to MTV, which apparently has ideal programing for 40 minutes on the elliptical trainer.
The most popular MTV show at the gym is “The Hills,” which depicts pretty, young people doing nothing but being pretty and young (or so I’ve heard).
“The Hills” is probably more motivational than “Made,” which features awkward teenagers trying, but mostly failing, to achieve unattainable goals because they’re only half interested in reaching them.

On second thought, maybe “Made” is the perfect show for the gym.
Steve Mistler covers Brunswick and Harpswell for The Forecaster. He can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net.