Why do we need to exercise together?

They jump to the left, jump to the right, lift their knee, clap their hands. I see them in the gloaming yellow light of the West University fitness center on my evening bike ride home. Why can’t we do this on our own? What makes it worth driving through rush hour, even if it’s close, to exercise with others, often even strangers?

Houston has lots of places to work out. Some cost a lot, and have women whose breasts do not puddle when they lie down. Others have delightfully mixed practitioners, like Yoga One in midtown. I like them, but only when it’s not the hot yoga. I don’t know how often exclusivity is part of fitness, but grouping often is.

Rice put in a lovely new rec center last year, with tough, focused instructors like D’Ondra. Women on Weights is one of my favorite classes. I also like the yoga, and wish they had it every morning early. I could do this stuff at home, but don’t, and I’m guessing others face the same issues. Somehow it is more fun, and more compulsory in a group. Is it about relinquishing control? In the class I don’t have to decide with every push-up whether I can do another. I’ve got D’Ondra there telling me to do ten, just ten, then stop and move on. I may be tired at eight, or even six, or could do twelve, but it’s ten I must do. Then move on to something with spider, or frog, or burp in its name.

The rec center’s nice, but there’s no real place for mat work, or to use the dumb-bells. Sometimes the guys just stand right in front of the rack of weights, working them, blocking them from everyone else. I don’t want to complain, and usually wear headphones, but, guys, why all the grunting? If it’s too heavy, lift a smaller weight. If you think you are an elephant seal, there is no one fighting you for your harem. And by the way, there is no harem. I’ d half wish there was a girls-only weights room, but when I’ve teasingly said so, my more lithe male friends would like to be there too. So, let’s just have a grunt free zone. Don’t drop the weights either. If you can’t control them, you shouldn’t pick them up.

As I said, I don’t know who designed this thing. It may be that as an afterthought, they realized it was really for two separate sexes. To get to the women’s locker room you walk past the entire breadth of the men’s locker room, past all the squash and racket ball courts, past the ping pong and pool tables, turn the corner, pass the length of the men’s locker room, passing a second entrance to it on the way, and only then, 80 plus steps on, do you get to enter the women’s locker room. Maybe excessive walking is not a valid complaint in a fitness center, but if both rooms were crosswise, they would both be easier to get to, and make us feel less like a second thought.

Are we being protected in some odd way by our hidden locker room?

Oh, the coke machine and general lockers are in a little alcove headed into the men’s locker room. It’s hard not to think we are an afterthought. Well, either way, I’ll avoid the seraglio of the women’s locker room, and the grunting boys, and try to stay in shape with the group!


D’Ondra McGee keeps you going!


Inchworm pushups, or some such torture.


Ron Parry imagining a Utah slot canyon, listening to Liszt.


The guys are serious about lifting.


It’s a fabulous new weights room.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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