My Daily Grind – “Fitness” in Italia (Kinda)

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My first, and likely last, gym selfie.

Because even I’m getting sick of my fabulous vacay shots filtered to perfection…

This entry, dear Reader, is about my daily fitness grind here in Italy. Fitness was a huge part of my life in Boston – a respite, a social hour, a constant in the turbulence of my 20s. Dance, yoga, spinning, boxing, lifting… there was a workout for every mood.

Moving to Italy was an adjustment in every way, and it wasn’t long before I was beginning to feel less than skinny in my skinny jeans. I can see the knowing smile spreading across your face now: “ohhhh, all that pizza and gelato!” Yes, there was pizza. And gelato. But the real culprit was the changing landscape. There isn’t a boutique fitness class in sight. And Whole Foods? I was driving an hour to the U.S. military base to buy almond milk and quinoa (often to find they were out of stock anyway). Basically, obtaining my healthy ingredients and working out started to feel like, well…. work. 

Still, something had to be done.  I couldn’t be all Eat, Pray, Love about it and just “buy bigger jeans.” I’m too vain (some #realtalk right there). In addition to the military gym at my disposal, I joined an Italian gym closer to home – the only “cool” gym in town: Virgin Active Napoli. To be clear, this blog isn’t about “my fitness journey” (ugh, not another one!) and it doesn’t contain any fitness advice. Instead, it is dedicated wholly to poking fun at my beloved Italian gym companions.

The fitness craze has yet to really hit Italy and it’s obvious that, while Virgin Active has many members, most aren’t sure what it is they’re supposed to do there. The result is a vibe that is normal one moment and completely strange the next. I think we can agree, dear Reader, that gyms anywhere have bizarre subcultures, but there is something decidedly Italian about these oddities… For starters:

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WHAT are you wearing?
During one of my first classes at Virgin an older woman wanders in late wearing sunglasses, an off-the-shoulder bedazzled t-shirt, and dangly earrings. Confused, I decide to find it inspirational – maybe she’s recovering from eye surgery and getting her workout in anyway? Maybe she’s mentally ill and still determined to get “out there.” But deep down I know: girlfriend is just stylin’!

Zebra print spandex singlets, hot pink hair scrunchies, pleather pants and wedge sneakers on the treadmill (while walking and talking on the phone, obvi). Men in booty shorts, ladies with full hair and make-up, talon-like nails, lacey push-up bras, and that one guy who thinks UnderArmour briefs are workout shorts (those are undies, bro). Check out the gym’s Facebook page, dear Reader, and you will find its photo section full of barely dressed members taking selfies in the locker room. #Fitspo?#FitNO. Amazing.

But the moral of the story is this: wear what you want – whatever it is – because life is too short to feel anything but fabulous!

“Piano, Piano” (Slowly, Slowly)
With the exception of driving, life moves at a much slower pace here in Italy and the same can be said of the gym. While Virgin has a few intense classes, more often than not, the instructors tell me to “piano, piano” (go slowly, slowly). During spin class the instructor comes over repeatedly to turn down my resistance, “Stai tranquillo.” Tranquillo? In spin? I’m an American woman trying to burn calories – I can’t RELAX.

In yoga, we spend the entire class stretching on the mat and about five solid minutes in butterfly pose flapping our legs up and down pretending to take flight. I’m itching to do a wheel when my thoughts are interrupted by a jarring sound – the old man on the mat next to me is snoring. I bow to him mentally, he who is clearly a master of being tranquillo.

There’s no rush getting into the gym either, folks. At the gym’s entrance members sit in their cars (smoking, taking selfies, or on their cells) while waiting for a primo parking spot to open up despite the humongous – free! – lot around the corner. If fitness in the U.S. is about being Xtreme, fitness here emphasizes all things low impact.

Which brings us to our next important take-away from the Italians: hitting the gym is supposed to be fun – so don’t sweat it (literally)!

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The Ultimate Italian Agenda
Initially, I was perplexed by the layout of the gym. Lengthy rows of cardio machines  directly face each other creating an awkward Mexican standoff scenario (at least for me, an American). But it doesn’t take long before I notice Italians on opposite treadmills chatting while running, their gesticulating hands not slowing them down in the least.

If I couldn’t quite put my finger on it before, now the mystery is solved. The gym is simply part of the ultimate Italian agenda: socializing. In spin guys reach over to pat each other on the back after a tough hill. The “sexy” girl on the treadmill is looking for a date (but really, a husband).  The dirty old men lounging on the weight machines come for the company… well okay, and to check out the ladies. It’s all about connecting and being together.

Even the language of exercise is different here. In the U.S. it’s your workout, your goals, everything is tailored to meet your special-as-a-snowflake needs. In Italy, we ride up the mountain (slowly). We get through this (light) set of lifts. We hang at the café afterwards to see and be seen. Even an introvert like me can’t help but find this unity heartwarming. And ironically, these espresso swigging, carbo loading, cigarette puffing Italians will probably outlive us all. Studies have long shown that a sense of community adds years to a person’s life – and hey, if your physique improves too it’s just vegan friendly frosting on the gluten free cupcake!

Anyway, dear Reader, my bella figura is back – or at least my skinny jeans fit again. Over the past few months I’ve been able to piece together a constellation of classes, fit friends, and at-home workouts that are at least half as awesome as my routine back in Boston. I’m proud of myself for recommitting to activities that allow me to feel strong and sane, even when my resources are limited. Please also note, everything here was said in good fun. Fear not, Italy – you look great! But you already knew that didn’t you?

2 thoughts on “My Daily Grind – “Fitness” in Italia (Kinda)

  1. Pingback: My Love Letter to Italia | Little Girl, Big World

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