Dictionary.com defines masochism as “a willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant of trying experiences” and “the deriving of pleasure from being humiliated, mistreated or physically abused.
This term is the only accurate way that I can describe the scene at my local gym this evening. Driven by the need to banish the extra calories that were consumed, in vast quantities, over the festive period, I found myself, at about half past seven this evening, in what one can only describe as a slightly damp and musty smelling room, full of people, none of whom truely wished to be there, dripping sweat and pulling expressions generally associated with that of severe torture as they run continuously on an endless black road (which frustratingly and in a fairly lewis carol-esque twist of fate, neither allows you to move forward or backward not matter how fast or long you run) until they physically can run no more.
Moving away from this damp and unpleasant smelling room into a different section of the gym you see the ultimate display of masculinity; boys trying to out do each other by lifting heavy blocks of metal on both ends of a long metal pole, whilst again pulling expressions of severe pain and uttering more expletives than one would normally expect to hear in the middle of a pub brawl in the centre of town on a Saturday night through their torture, often spraying themselves or their helpful-yet-worryingly-competitive gym buddy with saliva as they push themselves to lift a weight that no human of their body mass should healthily be able to lift.
I stood for a while and pondered this scene. Why is it that even when we know that it is not going to be a pleasant experience, do we still inflict this torment on ourselves. Of course the motive to get there is simple, and, despite being different for all in specifics, the main concept is very bland, “I must get stronger/skinnier/fitter/more toned/build muscle” etc etc etc. The thought and motive and even the self-discipline of actually physically getting yourself to the gym, i can completely comprehend, however, it is the physical act of working out that I have been thinking about. Why does one force oneself to do 150 situps, when they know that actually, they would probably get the same benefit out of doing 50 and actually being able to move the next day? Why concentrate your body enough to hold “the plank” for 5 minutes without stopping just so that you can tell yourself that you beat your own time when you know for a fact that for the next 3 days your whole body will hate you for it?
I am not ignorant enough to not be aware of the benefits of exercise, and I know that we all must exercise for our own health and well being, however, as I got into my car and pulled away, feeling the strain in my arms after the 121 press ups I had done (in a press up pyramid – potentially the most painful, unpleasant and mentally draining of all upper body workouts) I began to think that there must be something slightly masochistic about this need to push oneself until one cannot move any further, the need to sit up until you know full well that you will not be able to move at all for the next 72 hours, and the need to run until your legs burn, your body aches and the annoyance of that one drip of sweat as it trickles down your spine reaches an unbearable point.
There is scientific fact that explains why people feel good after exercise, the release of endorphins etc etc, however I do think that it is much more than that, one deriving pleasure out of “subjecting oneself to unpleasant and trying experiences” and being “physically abused” is, I feel, precisely what the gym offers, and I challenge anyone to say that they have definitely never had a thought “that’s gonna hurt in the morning…” or “just 5 more…..even though it is killing me” and not gained a feeling of self gratification and pleasure from it.
I am sitting here, writing this, knowing full well that when I wake up in the morning, and attempt to get up and get on with my day, I will be in pain, and, as my brain tries to work out a phrasing to describe this affliction which no doubt I will be enduring, I find myself come up with the phrase, “Its a good pain, not a bad pain.” Surely that is a case in point.