El Gimnasio Español

Mr.Dame in Spain and I are very frequent gym-goers, some might say gym rats. I wouldn’t call us that because it implies that I work out in nothing but a sports bra and he in a tank with armpit holes so big you could see his belly button and that we both slurp powdery protein shakes within one hour of pumping iron. I like working out in a gym because I don’t particularly enjoy running; I don’t play an organized sport; I’m fearful of biking on busy streets; and I tend to slack off with at-home workouts. But I want to be in good shape, so, finding a gym Madrid was high on the list of things to do when we first arrived. We checked out a few neighborhood gyms. One was located in a restaurant. This felt counterproductive for people on both sides of the equation. We ended up joining a big, relatively fancy gym (which is located in a shopping mall) and I noticed some major differences right away.

1. Machine, Machines, Everywhere: American workout trends appear slow to come to Europe, because the gym here is dominated by big machines, the likes of which filled 99% of the floor space in U.S. gyms a decade ago. I know, because I was a common fixture at the YMCA in suburban Detroit circa 1999 and I’d frequently do the assembly line workout of moving from one hulking machine to the next, working out exactly one muscle at a time. Nowadays, in the U.S.,. “functional fitness” seems to be much more popular, that is using your body weight and free weights to exercise while doing moves that more mimic how your body would move in real-life situations.

2. Little Teeny Weights: Crossfit is certainly more Mr.Dame’s thing than mine, but during my time doing Crossfit workouts with him in Yemen I gained an appreciation for lifting heavy weights.There are relatively buff looking men at our gym in Madrid doing what appear to be serious arm curls with 3kg weights. There they are, in their teeny shorts, curling up the weight of a large can of spaghetti sauce, totally unaware that some judgey Americana is all like “Oh c’mon, you could do twenty times that!”

3. The Women: The women in Madrid are very pretty and so perfectly put together. On the streets, every lady, high school age to elderly, is wearing wonderfully tailored coats, great shoes, and tasteful makeup. This also applies at the gym, and it’s a little unnerving. At my gym, women show up radiant, many workout in skin tight little get-ups, their long hair unleashed and flowing down their backs the whole time. I’m not sure I’ve seen any of them break a sweat. Then, it’s back to the locker room where they spend the next hour primping, and they exit the gym in the same perfume-scented glory in which they arrived.

I tend to show up at the gym in my workout clothes and ponytail and then I walk home in my workout clothes because I prefer to get ready in my own apartment rather than lug all my beautifying accoutrements to the gym. The one time I arrived at the gym in a cute outfit with my hair styled, the busty blonde at the front desk said “Oh my! You look so pretty.” Yeesh.

I have come to the sad understanding that I am a schlump here. And that is a realization that is not sitting well with me considering I’m fairly in to fashion and I’m the girl who wouldn’t even show up for an 8am college lecture without makeup and heels. And now here I am in Europe, walking to the gym in my tennis shoes. I might as well throw on a freakin’ fanny pack and and a Disney T-shirt and just really get into the role of slovenly American. Heck, maybe I’ll even scarf down a Snickers on my way to the gym. What’s the point of even trying?

So, it’s fair to say Mr.Dame and I don’t really fit in at this gym. He’s wearing long shorts and doing Crossfit moves. People probably think he’s training for some sort of weight lifting circus. Meanwhile, I’m covered in sweat and lifting fairly heavy weights for a girl. With my hair in a ponytail. And I leave sweaty and sometimes even go to the grocery store right after. While I’m still sweating. So American.

To exercising. Even if you look like a freak doing it,

The Dame in Spain


  1. I’m in St John. You should see me when I head to the pool. My wisdom….it just doesn’t matter. All those cutie pies are looking for what you already have. You go girl!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I’m really enjoying your blogs Emily. This one was very funny butI was nervous reading the one where you were lost. Love, Aunt Linda

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