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Firstly, I originally came up with the idea to write about this in May. I was going to write about the differences between the UK gymming lifestyle versus the US West Coast beach lifestyle. This was because, as any Brit will tell you, May is a complicated time for us. Its spring, which means the weather is at some point going to get better and the days are definitely getting longer, but spring-time here can be a quite wet, windy and generally unpleasant. However, since that time, we have had what I can only describe as the best summer Britain has ever had since around 1976. It has been sunny and in the mid to high 80s almost every day. I had been planning to write about how we have no beach lifestyle here, but now we are a nation of beach junkies, who know that every day will bring more and more sunshine and heat. We are basically living in California at the moment, and it is showing no signs of cooling down.
Despite this though, I’ll still give you an idea of what life is really like in Britain from a fitness lifestyle perspective.
When it comes to sport and fitness, Brits are quite fickle. This is particularly true when it comes to British success in global sport. The best example of this is cycling. About 10 years ago, cycling was not a huge British pastime. It had its followers, but it was mainly seen as something the French love to do (NB: we’ve never been big fans of the French here), and the lycra-based element to it was quite un-British and a bit too tight and revealing for our tastes. Then, in 2012 Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, becoming the first Englishman to have ever accomplished this feat. At that point, cycling took off in this country. It was now a British sport, not a French one, and we were the best in the world at it (well, one guy was at least). Nowadays, everywhere you go in the UK, all you will see is lycra-clad cyclists trying to ride in peloton formation, pretending that they are about to climb L’Alpe d’Huez.
From a gymming perspective, I think that we are even more fickle. In fact, I think we are just trying to copy American culture. Our whole athletic culture is American. Nike, CrossFit, even Tough Mudder was started in America (even though it was created by former British Army officers). In what is a very commercialized world, America of course dominates the advertising space, and we as Brits have gladly accepted that influence into our lives. We are quite a conservative people, and I don’t mean politically. We don’t really like making a scene, shouting, or loud, expressive behaviour of any kind. That is why it is such a surprise to see so many new-era gyms in the UK which are loud, brash and designed to put us out of our comfort zone.
Whenever I am in the US, I am always surprised by how confident every person I meet is when talking to and in front of groups of people. Bus drivers are able to deliver their messages like politicians; even people you meet walking down the street will engage you in a friendly conversation. The UK is very different. We don’t have the confidence, or certainly the desire to communicate like that, and until recently our gym environments reflected that. A few years ago, gyms in the UK were pretty sterile. You had your basic equipment, a Now That’s What I Call Workout Music soundtrack in the background, and nobody, NOBODY, spoke to each other.
Then, the US influence took over (for the better I might add). Now we have new, exciting gyms, with crazy classes, every piece of equipment we could imagine, and no end of personal interaction to make us feel good about ourselves. Whereas people used to go to the gym just to workout, now they go to socialise. The gym has become a focal point in our lives, no matter our age, background or circumstances; it is somewhere for Brits to workout, hangout and enjoy life.
This is something we have previously lacked in our society. Our environment here is not geared towards outdoor activities or sports. So much land that could have been used for sporting or fitness facilities has been used for property development, and there is a genuine lack of facilities for children to learn and play sport. Of course, I would love it if more people played more outdoor sport in the UK; I am a sport fanatic and it is my absolute passion. However, if that is not possible, at least for the time being, then I’m certainly happy that the more modern, US-style gyms have given us something similar.