After the initial get-fit zeal fades, Neil Western wonders how useful his membership will really be
IF YOU HAVEN'T noticed larger-than-life pictures of Pamela Anderson's larger-than-life assets hanging about town recently, you must be as short-sighted as a bat wearing sunglasses. Apparently, going to the gym gives you large breasts (it's surely not her bulging biceps that are meant to catch your eye).
That could explain the phenomenal growth in the number of fitness centres in Hong Kong over the past five years. So many operators are muscling in on the market that the fitness fad has got out of hand. A colleague recently came into the office waving a flyer for a gym about to open 'right next door'. Almost everyone reacted with glee, myself included. Great, I thought, a chance to spend lunch-times shaping an Adonisian body for the summer - I feel better already.
Only it isn't a chance to get fit. It's another chance to hand a wad of cash to join a gym that I will never go to. I've expended more energy signing up for gyms than I ever have inside them. Once or twice I've gone to pump iron and have my face turn beetroot-red on the latest gyroscopic-abdominising-whaddyamacallit. But it's more of an annual outing than a daily routine. For a man in my condition, going to the gym is as much fun as scuba-diving in Victoria Harbour - and probably just as dangerous.
In fact, people do occasionally leave in ambulances, according to former fitness trainer Cindy Chan, who worked at a prominent Central gym. 'Sometimes people fall asleep in the sauna and overheat, or their glasses break because of the temperature,' she says. 'Some hurt their back trying to show off by lifting weights that are too heavy, or they put the treadmill on too fast a speed and come flying off.'
Staff at the gym are as pumped up as the customers. Twice a day, management insist all staff head out on the street to shout 'Wow' as people go past.
According to instructor Kenny Wong most regulars go twice or three times a week, obsessives go at least once every day (some go three times), but a few customers don't work out at all. 'We have groups of teenagers who will spend 12 hours a day here just messing around,' he says. 'They only have a break for lunch. I suppose it's a cheap place to hang out.'
He says sauna shenanigans are not unknown and there are more than a few who spend as much time staring in awe at their own naked bodies in the changing room mirror than on the workout.
Thankfully you don't even need to go to the gym nowadays to enjoy it's main benefit - people watching. Many centres have large plate-glass windows for the honed and toned to flaunt themselves. For passers-by, it's a sneak peek into the colourful cast of characters who live at the gym:
Mr Chicken Legs: he's pumped so many weights he's developed a super-hunky upper torso. Trouble is he's forgotten to work on the spindly limbs holding it up. The Stroller: the chubby middle-aged chap dripping sweat while walking at 3km/h on the running machine.
Plimsole princess: the tai tai in the latest fitness gear who's spent an exhausting afternoon on the sunbed.
The weightlifter: he's in the gang hanging around the dumb bell trying to out-lift the others as if it's an Olympic event.
Mr Pump Action: a usually skinny guy wearing lycra shorts and tight T-shirt, pumping a weight bar 100-times a minute - with a 10kg weight.
The Bankrupt Proprietor: he's the one slipping out the back entrance in Gucci shades and loafers.
There's many more, but at least they are all there getting fit, unlike me. But soon I'll be joining them. I've joined the gym next door. And this time I will go. Well ? at least once.