“What The Heck Am I Doing Here?” One Man’s Tale of Keeping Up With The Young Guys At The Gym
February 27, 2015 | By:

Think your days as a weight-lifting young gun are over? Andy Johnston is back in the game and is finding himself baffled among the young and muscled. Will he survive the "Fight Club" class?

US_Sport_Keeping Up With Young Guys at Gym_Stocksy_620x349

Gotta work extra hard to keep with the younger fellas – but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible

Everywhere I look, huge, young, Hulk-like wannabes are lifting massive stacks of weights. Heavy iron barbells appear to be bending under the strain. The dumbbells are so large, they threaten to shatter the floor with one false move. Faces are red, veins are bulging and grunts form a prehistoric symphony in a typical afternoon in the free weight section of my gym.

Excuse me while I ask myself a valid question: What the heck am I doing here?

I’m not 20 anymore. Or 30. Or even 40.

I’ll be halfway to 100 in a little over a year, and yet, I’m in the midst of this testosterone-fueled gang. They drink protein shakes, clank weights, wear ear-buds and don fraternity shirts and…they could all be my sons. 

The age difference is obvious in the gym. There are days when the lazy, tired, middle-aged part of me says, “Who cares what those kids are doing?” and wants to lie back down on the couch. Then, the guy from my youth, that competitive athletic terrier, emerges. Back to the gym I go, trying to keep up with the young guys.

Getting Back Into The Gym

Five years ago, my wife stopped us cold from eating fried, fatty foods by refusing to go to certain restaurants and coaxed me – and by coaxed, I mean put me in a headlock — into joining the largest gym in our college town.

I’m a fairly confident man. I’ve have a successful career, a loving family and a warm support group of friends. As a former athlete and sportswriter for the past 26 years, I’ve also spent a large part of my life interviewing and getting to know large, strong humans.

You know – professional football players. Basketball players. Baseball players during the steroid era. 

And yet, I still marvel at some of the kids at my gym. I wonder how can they bench press a Prius or curl a horse. Now that I’ve  been working out there for so long and know their names and faces, there’s no intimidation, but I am in awe. 

Loud workout tunes flow from their iPhones as they grab plate after 45-pound plate and add them to the bars. Their strength and power and energy are endless.

Humbling? No doubt.

How would you like to work out next to guys who could double for Thor or Superman in the next superhero flick? Seriously, one guy looks – long blond wavy hair and all — and is built so much like Chris Hemsworth, that I’ve started calling him Thor.

Not to his face. I value mine too much for that. Or perhaps he would take it as a compliment. It’s certainly better than Hans or Franz.

Fighting Middle Age

The gym membership has paid dividends.

Part of that is thanks to wading into the land of giants several times a week and some of that is because of what is loosely defined as a workout class called “Fight Club.”

Before you start thinking about the movie, “Fight Club” this one is designed to turn you into a puddle of sweat, rather than a manic Brad Pitt. It’s very real and folks talk about it a lot, often describing it with various curse words.

This “Fight Club” also is run by trainers with the compassion of Ivan the Terrible. They’re not drill sergeants, but their sole purpose is to exhaust your limbs through a series of exercises to make you want to crawl out the door when you leave.

Like the weight room, it’s filled with young men and women – including my nuclear fusion-powered, energetic, legs-of-steel wife — who make me push my body to the absolute limit.

The next morning, I debate the merits of attempting to lift myself out of bed. We all ache and creak these days, but post “Fight Club” days invoke memories of when I played soccer in high school and college and I felt like I was dragging my legs behind me. Except I was 30 years younger then. 

Heading to the gym several times a week sure isn’t easy. Putting down work and leaving the house often is the toughest part. But once there, my motivation and focus return.

I’ve discovered that the fountain of youth isn’t some legendary pond in Florida. It’s a gym full of sweaty, ultra-competitive college kids, who push me to be 21 again. 

It’s incredibly humbling, but I’m 30 pounds lighter than I was in 2010, yet stronger than I was in college. You should try it.