By Hannah Reich Berman
There is no mystery about gym membership. Everyone knows that people join gyms to get healthy and to feel good. Health care providers say that it helps prevent and treat conditions such as arthritis, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, and even cancer. Could anything be better than that? And, if that isn’t enough of an incentive, in addition to the medical benefits, people feel good mentally and emotionally after exercise. No wonder there are so many gym rats around! However, as with everything in life, there is a downside here. Despite the fact that exercise is said to lower blood pressure, going to the gym has been known to do the exact opposite–it can raise one’s blood pressure.
There is an unwritten law involved in gym membership, and it relates to what a member thinks of as “her spot.” Most of us are creatures of habit, and the gym rat is no exception. She wants to stand in the same spot every time she exercises. Some females are positively obsessed about this. There are those who prefer the right side of the room and others who like to be on the left. Some gals insist upon being in the front of the room while others are uncomfortable unless they are in the rear. The point here is that nobody ever wants somebody else to take her spot. And Hashem should just be good to anyone who does! More than one disagreement has broken out over this issue. Obviously, one can exercise anywhere in the room, but, to many gym members, that fact is irrelevant.
Going to the gym is not like going to a movie. In a movie theater, if one has a visual problem, it might mean that it is best to sit close to the screen. My personal preference is to sit in the rear, but there are those who take that too far. There are people who sit so far back that they might as well save themselves the price of a ticket and just watch the movie from the lobby. Some moviegoers prefer the center section and eschew the side ones, and others don’t care if they sit on the side just so long as they can get an aisle seat. Aisle seats are a big draw in the movies. But fights don’t often break out in a theater because it is simply a question of first-come, first-served. It should be like that in a gym. But it is not. In a movie theater, things don’t often get heated because people want to be in a general area but don’t necessarily insist upon being in a specific row.
Seat choices are also a big thing when attending a school honors ceremony or a graduation. In those situations, it is less about seat choices and more about choice seating! Each kid’s mother wants to be sure that she and every other family member is able to see her child and she wants him to be able to see the family. What is the big deal? The relatives already know what the kid looks like and it should be enough just to know that he is up there getting his award or his diploma. And regarding what the student sees, that’s also ridiculous since the kid already knows that his family is there and, as anyone who has ever been on a lighted stage knows, it is a near impossibility to see out into the audience. Yet everyone fights to get a seat in the first row. And nobody ever tries to get just one or two seats. Mothers usually arrive before fathers do and are determined to save seats for two grandmothers, two grandfathers, assorted siblings, and, occasionally, even an aunt or two. The prevailing philosophy seems to be ‘the heck with everyone else, I want ten good seats and I intend to get them.’ This has, on occasion, led to a fight and has been known to result in people not speaking to one another forevermore.
Movie theaters and school auditoriums are not the only places where spots are an issue. Saving a spot or two is a daily activity for those traveling on the LIRR. People like to stand in a specific place on the platform because they know (or they think they know) where the door to the train will be when the train grinds to a stop. Commuters race inside the train and hunt for the spots they want. It might be a two-seater, a four-seater, or even a five—seater, as it is called by the regulars! Saving seats for commuter buddies is a big thing. People place briefcases, handbags, newspapers, and anything else that is handy on nearby seats in order to save them for friends in the hope that this will prevent a stranger from sitting down.
As silly as all of this is, it does not compare to how foolish it is to save a spot in the gym, a place where the only important thing is the exercise. Still, people do just that. And there is a strategy to getting what one wants. It begins with a race to pick up the gym equipment and then make a mad dash to one’s favorite spot. It’s something like the gym makom kavua. A makom kavua is what some shul members think of as their own designated spot to speak with Hashem. However, it is doubtful that anyone is communing with G-d in the gym! Still, it is all about the spot! And to further complicate matters, as with school graduations and morning train rides, people do not want just their own spot. They also want to save a few others. The method for doing that is the same as in a school assembly or on a commuter train, but here a gal uses gym equipment to get the job done. After claiming her own spot by standing in it for a few seconds, she will then put her mat, her ball, and her step in those spots closest to her, thereby marking them as off-limits to anyone but those she has in mind. Unfortunately, should her friends not show up, which has been known to happen, the “saver” will often earn some angry stares and possibly even some enemies. But this does not mean everybody! Some people are ‘cool’, or what we used to call classy. Cool ones don’t fight. The ‘un-cool’ ones will fight for what they want. Arguments might also be about the fans or the air conditioning because some enjoy a bit of a chill when they exercise and others need warmth.
So, while exercise might help with arthritis, insomnia, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and even cancer, it may not do much to lower blood pressure. The stress involved in racing to one’s coveted spot probably negates any possible benefit to blood pressure.
Even if one is ‘cool’ enough to avoid these self-created problems, there may be other issues to deal with. Occasional injuries such as a shoulder separation, a torn meniscus, a stress fracture, or a sprained ankle have been known to occur. Between the occasional argument and any possible injury, it is clear that things can go wrong while trying to get healthy at the gym.
Author’s Confession: I do not belong to a gym. I have never belonged to one and the likelihood is that I never will. But, like most reporters, I have my sources of information. And that is really just the way it is!
Shanah Tovah to you and your families. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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