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Inspiration vs Intimidation

What Brooks Kubik calls the "Chrome and fern spa"

I’m not a social lifter, which is why I usually do my strength training in my backyard. But when I occasionally find myself in a box gym, I put up the hood on my sweatshirt, go find a corner, and try to forget everyone else is there. This is pretty easy to do when the weights get heavy (heavy means something different to us all–I’m just talking about weights that force me to focus) It’s one of the only times I really feel like I have some time to myself.

It’s not that I don’t like people. I just don’t have enough free time to spend much time chatting when I train.

People who talk to me in the gym generally  fall into two categories:

1. Those who have advice to impart (If they’re well-meaning I have no problem with this)

  • Those with advice typically either 1) think they are being helpful, and maybe they are; 2) Don’t really care about helping, they just want you to know that they know what would work better. These types usually weigh 165 lbs and get stapled under the barbell, which is why they spend most of their time glaring at themselves in the mirror as they do cable curls (there is nothing wrong with weighing 165 unless you are telling people you could weigh 260 if you really wanted to and then trying to explain why someone else should follow your lead)

2. They need to explain something they’re doing

I was training recently in a very small gym. When I got there, only one other person was lifting, a guy doing some light dumbbell work in the corner. Nothing wrong with him, nothing wrong with that.

I started deadlifting. Soon, he was at my elbow. I took out one of my headphones and said hi.

“Yeah, I used to lift heavy,” he said.

“Do you want to jump in here?” I said, thinking that maybe he wanted the barbell.

“No, I decided to give it up,” he said. “Just not my thing.”

“Always do whatever’s fun for you,” I said. “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing something wrong if you’re having fun.” And, headphones on.

The next time: “The reason I’m over there with the dumbbells is because I’m just trying to make my triceps bigger. I’m really just trying to get in better shape. Not interested in getting too much bigger at this point.”

“That’s sounds like a good plan,” I said. “Sounds like you know your goals.” Headphones on.

The next time: “I’d just like to be more toned and look good. There’s really no reason for me to lift much heavier than I am.”

“Looks like you know what you’re doing. I’m glad you have something to focus on. Lots of people spin their wheels in the gym without goals.”

What I wanted to say was, “You don’t have to explain anything to me. I can’t judge you. Nobody should get to have any influence over your goals but you. Good for you for being in here and trying to get something done.”

The final time, he asked me why I wasn’t doing a greater variety of lifts. “You’d get more balanced strength that way. And I really don’t get why you’re only deadlifting with one hand.” I had been deadlifting and pressing for about half an hour at that point. I rarely do more than two movements, and lately I’ve only been doing one.

Despite all the obvious insecurity, he still felt the need to suggest that I should be doing something different. Maybe it’s just a guy thing, I don’t know.

Anyway, if there are any points in here, they might be:

  • Try not to compare yourself to anyone else in the gym–what they’re doing just doesn’t matter–their strength does not diminish their own
  • Be humble — I often point out to novice lifters that the people in my own training circle are way stronger than I am. And it’s true. In a lot of areas, the difference between someone like Adam Glass and I is bigger than the difference between me and a raw beginner. There’s always someone bigger, badder, smarter, tougher…so what? If someone impresses you, use it as inspiration–there’s no reason to be intimidated
  • If your head starts getting too big, find someone stronger to train with. For most of us, that shouldn’t be too hard
  • If someone tell you what you “should” be doing, they are making a whole mess of assumptions about you, your history, your physiology, and your goals–strip “should” out of your vocabulary and see if your mindset changes
  • You don’t need a permission slip for your training/health. It is your right to experiment. Don’t let anyone tell you they know better if you actually want to figure things out on your own
  • If you hate gym culture (I hate it), find a way to train alone
  • If you hate to exercise, find something fun to do that gets you moving. Stop caring about what a magazine says you should be doing every Monday at the gym. Go for a walk. Play racquetball. Jump rope in your living room. Do some somersaults or cartwheels. Just move
  • Other people’s opinions about your body and your health aren’t going to change your body or your health until you act on them. Until you’re putting their ideas to the test, don’t give them more credence than they deserve. They might not be right for you.

Above all, do something you enjoy. Block out the noise and have fun. Why care what anyone else thinks about what you’re doing?

It’s your body, your health, and your life.

photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcas_cherry_point/








Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Rachel March 12, 2012, 1:49 pm

    Thanks for this post, I love it when you write like this.

  • DeAnne March 12, 2012, 5:22 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly. I know you’re not a big Crossfit fan, but I love my CF gym! I’ve done a whole bunch of things for the first time in my life that I never would have had the confidence to even try without the example of my classmates: hurdles, kicking up into a handstand, box jump on 20″ box. The encouragement and (to tell the truth) embarrassment of being last keeps me going when, working out at home, I would just quit.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 12, 2012, 7:28 pm

      CF’s not for me, but it gets people exercising who can’t seem to get into anything else. I understand the camaraderie. It’s fun to be part of something.

  • Heather March 13, 2012, 6:40 am

    I work out in my living room and backyard because I not only concentrate better with JUST ME and my MUSIC, but the gym I used to go to seemed to make me more misanthropic than I already am. Electric-pink spandex–the horror. . . the horror. . .

  • Spencer March 13, 2012, 11:14 am

    I have encountered guys EXACTLY like this guy at the gym before. I don’t know why some people feel compelled to “share.” I think some people are just lonely, and go to the gym more for the social experience than anything else.

    That being said, I have observed some strange and even unsafe/unhealthy practices at the gym, and really wanted to step in and say something. I usually don’t. Sure, I’ll pull a bar off a guy who has pinned himself to the bench trying to max without a spotter (this has happened more times than I can count), but like you, I have a very laissez faire approach to working out. If it makes you feel good and you are happy about it, rock on. Anything is better than staying home on the couch and stuffing your face.

    I work out well on my own, but my favorite is working out with one or two close friends, usually stronger or more fit than me, that we can push each other and enjoy each others’ company, advise and be advised, but each of us knowing what we are talking about or figuring it out together, not just speaking to hear our own voices, or seeking validation, or trying to justify the fact that we only way 160 pounds, but could be huge if we really wanted to be.

    • Spencer March 13, 2012, 11:16 am

      “Weigh” not “way.”