The Life of the “Gym Rat”

Students in Professor Lisa Phillips’ Literature of Journalism class were assigned to immerse themselves in the unfamiliar. Here’s what they found:

Do you ever wonder about the allure of working out at the crack of dawn? Reporter Trish Mollo takes the sacrifice to learn what drives early morning “gym rat” culture and finds some enlightenment herself. 

5:31 a.m. | February 13, 2018

Darkness fills the room while I roll around in my bright orange sheets and blankets. I reach over to dismiss the slightly blissful bells and whistles which was set to go off at 5:30 a.m., 5:35 a.m. and 5:40 a.m. A full body stretch and my heavy bladder gets me out of bed and towards the door. After a few motivational  “you got this” mentions to myself and also a few “why did you choose this,” I throw on some workout leggings, and a comfy shirt and found myself out the door. The world is still sleeping. There is not a sound to be heard or a car to be seen. An odd feeling, but also modestly pleasant. I can see the attractiveness of the hour and suddenly, I feel the ambition.

6:03 a.m. | February 13, 2018

There is one other person at the gym. He is medium sized, mildly attractive and pretty puffy. I can’t help but wonder if he actually bought his shirt or if he stole it from his little sister. It’s a plain white shirt with a simple green line across the chest, but what’s silly to me is that you can see his nice v-cut and the occasional glimpse of the bottom of his belly button. What makes it even worse is how you can see his whole body is not as cut as his stomach. Excuse me, I never like to judge, but he left me no choice seeing that he has no interest in looking up and connecting with the world around him. Two sit ups in and a snowflake blonde walks in to the gym with a tired, but happy grin on and heads straight for the elliptical. I finish my 30 sit ups and approach her by hopping on the elliptical right next her. She looks at me with a half smile (probably thinking who the hell is this chick and why couldn’t she go on literally ANY other machine that is not on top of me) and I start my small talk about being apart of the 6 a.m. gym crew.

6:30 a.m. | February 13, 2018

Laura Stuart, 22, is a senior at SUNY New Paltz studying English and education. A minute into small talk, she told me that she has been an athlete her whole life. “I go to the gym at 6 a.m. as much as I can. Working out in the morning, especially this early, gives you a great amount of energy to help kick-start your day.”

I can tell from her accent that she has to be from “Lawng” Island. The small scale conversation and my sweat begin to pick up with every step we take. I feel like my mother walking with her Lawng Island girlfriend, gossiping about what we do and the struggles we have faced during our small amount of years on earth. Right before she increases her elliptical intensity, she tells me that she has struggled with insecurities almost her whole life. Her insecurities started because of her “big-boned” build. She used to feel much bigger than other girls in school, but sports was always a way to not think about that. After highschool, she started eating right and focusing more on getting the body she has always dreamed of having. Talking to her, you saw the pain of her past, but also confidence when talking about her accomplishments. “Working out and taking care of myself has changed my life and my mindset.”

Photo courtesy of Laura Stuart.

6:25 a.m. | March 1, 2018

After a few weeks of 6 a.m. gyming, I decide to approach another source about being an extra ambitious gym rat. Adam Russell, an engineering major, is already on his second mile at 6:30 a.m.. I have seen him here before, so after his mile is over, I approach him. Adam looks up at me with wide eyes and questions his hello. He definitely thinks I am about to ask him out on a date. Keeping a professional smile, I explain why I am interested in talking to him about 6 a.m. gym ratting. Adding a few jokes into the mix, Adam agrees to meet with me later in the day to get coffee and talk life.

3:20 p.m. | March 1, 2018

Not as sweaty and charged up on caffeine, I wait for Adam at Cafeteria downtown. Better 20 minutes late than never, Adam shows up in salmon colored slacks and a jean button down shirt. I wonder if he dresses like this all the time, and the answer is, “When I feel like it.”

Okay.

After ordering his thin mint mocha, he sits down across from me with a subtle smile on his face. He is nervous, which is cute. His face gets all red when I ask my first question, “Tell me a little about yourself?” His response, “I kinda have a lot going on.” I immediately assume is the reason why he works out so early, but I let him continue. Adam is a full time student and is also on the school’s rugby team. On top of this, he works two or three days a week as a waiter in town, and is back and forth from Albany to visit his folks and work his other job at a local comedy club. “That is why I work out so early because I wouldn’t have the time to otherwise.”

Adam likes the way working out makes him feel. “There’s no better feeling than being sore after a good workout.” He admitted to me that he wants to look like a male god by summertime, mainly to flex on his exes. Not out of shape whatsoever, but he still isn’t content. This is something I can relate to. He knows that his body image is probably what some people work towards, but it still doesn’t have to mean he is satisfied. Being that I now feel pretty immersed with the 6 a.m. gym rats, Adam and I discuss the benefits it has not only had on our bodies, but also our minds. “Once I get home from the gym, usually around 7:30 a.m., my mind always feels full of fresh air and ambition.”

7:25 p.m. | March 15, 2018

Curious about why I feel so good yet so angry that I haven’t tried it out sooner, I turned to Google. There are many good reasons to work out in the morning according to Google, one of them is so you actually do it. Many people, myself included, have intentions on going to the gym later in the day when they think they’ll have more time, but then something comes up. I learned that a way to prevent this is working out before you even eat breakfast. Researchers in Japan actually have found that fat oxidation occurs when exercisers work out before breakfast. Working out before eating anything mimics the fasting state and jump-starts weight loss. In “9 Really Good Reasons to Work Out Early,” author Carly Berwick says that exercise releases endorphins, which is known as the “feel-good” hormones, and also reduces stress and anxiety levels. My stress triples when I am unhappy with how I look. Feeling shameful of my love handles doesn’t help my motivation to do school work either, so some days, I have had to avoid the mirror. Working out in the morning, has not only helped me feel better about how I feel in the morning, but has given me more time to worry about more important issues in my life.

6:30 a.m. | April 3 , 2018

Following a two day sick leave from the early morning gym ratters, I’m back at it! It is a rainy morning, which makes it a little extra hard to get out of my extremely agreeable position in bed. After a long night of work, this is almost the last thing I want to do. Conquering this challenge, I get up and get ready for the gym. It is a bit later than I am used to, 6:45 a.m. to be exact, but I get on my way anyway. At the gym, I see a woman I haven’t seen before. She is running on the treadmill with funky leggings and a tight purple top. I decide to start my workout and catch her on the way out. About 10 minutes later, sooner than I expected, her funky leggings walk passed me while I was lying on the floor in a crunch position. I quickly get up and follow her to the door. Instantly friendly, Marisa introduces herself to me. After I explained my intentions, she apologizes because she is rushing to catch her 8 a.m. hot yoga class. Intrigued, I asked to join.

7:30  a.m. | April 3, 2018

The car ride there was not even a bit awkward. Marisa Tubaugh is a graphic design student who is as broke as most of us college students but finds some dimes for hot yoga. Hot yoga is her favorite way to start the morning. “There is no better way to start your morning than meditation and a lot of sweat.”

8:00 a.m. | April 3, 2018

A lot of sweat was an understatement. 75 minutes in a 90 degree room doing 75 different poses is how I started my morning, what about you? It actually wasn’t until my right ankle was touching my left elbow and my left leg was fully straight with sweat dripping into my eyes that I realized how much I needed this class. After thinking to myself, “Oh my God, when is this going to end?, I gave in to my breath. I let my breath take over the situation, I forgot about why I was there. I forgot about my body image. I forgot about the stresses of the world, and became proud of myself.

9:25 a.m. | May 1, 2018

After we collected ourselves, we headed to her car. The contrast from a 90 degree room to fresh cold air outside was quite rejuvenating and was when I first found enough strength to speak. I asked Marisa how often she works out before yoga, feeling overworked by the thought, and she claims not too often. “I ate my bodyweight in mac and cheese last night and woke up feeling like shit. I usually do one or the other, but I couldn’t sit around until 8 a.m. with that shitty feeling.”

Marisa told me that she grew up pretty chubby and would always get made fun of by her friends and older brothers. She always tried to act like it didn’t bother her, but it did. One day she had enough of it and put herself on a hard diet. Marisa said she lost 40 pounds in only three months, and her friends and family got real concerned. Realizing that they love her and want her to look good in a healthy way, she started doing just that. She has been working out ever since, but now it’s more than just to lose weight. In fact she says she doesn’t mind having a few rolls these days, as long as it is not “out of control.” She works out now because of the way it makes her feel. Marisa knows about how working out in the morning jump-starts weight loss, and she revealed that that is why she does it. She also loves the way it makes her feel.  “Doing something amazing for yourself every morning is an indescribable feeling.”

11:25 a.m. | May 7, 2018

How we feel about ourselves and our bodies affects how we approach each day of our lives. Laura Stuart, who has suffered with insecurities her whole life, is about to graduate college and move to Florida to be a bartender at Epcot. On her darkest days she didn’t ever see herself being this happy. Each person that I encountered at the gym has their own body image story, including myself, and each person approaches it differently. Why workout at 6 a.m.? Well, because the truth is clear, we all have some sort of body insecurity, and working out before the rest of the world can see we are struggling with it, well, helps.

 

Read more about #ImmerseYourself here:

Alicia McGowan observes the rugby team and how they handle practices, games, losses and life.

Emily King is a farm girl at heart, but keeps that a secret as she accompanies the Sustainable Agriculture Club on campus and discovers what they think of the future of farming.

Meg Tohill examines the library and late night study room till 4 a.m., observing and conversing with other students finding a haven in the library.

Matt Schenfeld goes underground exploring house shows and the performers of New Paltz’s music scene.

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