Office inhabitants frequent workplace gyms for many reasons. Some are there to whittle away love handles, others to eye up that dangerously gorgeous instructor. And many more, it seems, go there in order to destroy utterly any promotion prospects by sprinkling beads of sweat over their line managers as they meander past the treadmill.

Workplace gyms are latter-day torture chambers, the corporate equivalent of garotting used by those with suicidal tendencies towards their careers. There was a time when we could escape to the anonymity of the local leisure centre. But not now. Oh, no! Now we are expected to continue the morning's discussion of erratic share prices while negotiating a crossbike and wincing at the pull of our sports bras. Fair enough, if you have the limbs and poise of Elle Macpherson. But if, like the rest of us, you are having your 200th fat day in a row and have the physical co-ordination of an inebriated slug, it's a sure-fire career killer.

Sally, a PA with a London firm of accountants, understands. "I swear my office gym ruins my promotion prospects," she says. "Some colleague will chat to me when I'm sweaty and gasping for air. What chance do I have of looking like an erudite professional? And then I'm expected to have a meeting with them, behaving as if it's normal to look like I'm having a stroke." The trick is to visit the gym when everyone else is still stumbling out of bed or rushing for the doors at the sound of the home bell. Striding in during lunch hour and expecting some privacy, though, is simply foolish.

And there's another thing that should be borne in mind. A cunning corporate plan lies behind the use of work gyms. They may be paraded as our employers' attempt to keep us hale and hearty, but the reality is altogether more sinister. Daniel Herman of Bio-Synergy, a company that supplies sports nutrition to gyms, knows all about it. "Put simply, workplace gyms keep people on site," he says. "It stops them using their local gym in their lunch hour, for example, and therefore stops them taking longer lunches. Corporations can also see the value of keeping staff healthy. Big organisations like Tesco use workplace gyms because ultimately the fitter their staff are, the less likely they are to take sick leave. It saves money in the long run."

However, according to Daniel, employees aren't squeaky clean either. "I visit a lot of workplace gyms," he says, "and I'm always surprised at the people I find there. On numerous occasions I have seen employees finishing a workout with a crafty cigarette. And as for that Lycra! One tip - unless you are built for it, don't go near the stuff. On the average man it really is not a pretty sight."

And as if that's not enough, there's another reason why gyms are so unbearably horrific. Have you been in the women's changing rooms lately? Once you have adjusted to the billowing clouds of Impulse, it's pandemonium. You may survive your tea lady in all her naked glory, but can you cope with the mass panic of 20 women all frantically dressing for their impending meetings?

Laura Williams runs Future Perfect, a mobile personal training company. She knows all about women and workplace workouts. "It's getting sweaty that's the worst. Most women spend 10 minutes in the gym and 40 in the changing room. Here's a tip. Stick to weights, because they make you sweat less, and invest in a good sweat band. Between the two you should be able to stay fit and glow." Sounds like my sort of fitness regime. Now what did I do with that gorgeous instructor?

Cathryn Janes
The Guardian

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