No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Never gymless (part 4)

Posted by Ben on Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Recap: In part one, I announced the cancellation of my gym membership after continuously having one for the better part of eight years. In part two, I mentioned some of the responses I received from friends and acquaintances, and from those, I began to wonder aloud about the replies that more or less expressed confusion and even sympathy and at the people behind those particular comments. In part three, I summarized my reasons for leaving the gym and started looking at why people should feel “never gymless” based on what they likely already (un)learned earlier in life, namely the concept of failure.

* * * * *

I left off last time hinting at what the human body is capable of doing, what most of us actually used to do as children that we no longer do with any regularity, and the mindset of helplessness with which so many people approach fitness. Yes, helplessness. Don’t believe me? Spend a week at a gym, especially in the first three or four months of the year. If it’s not the New Year’s resolutioners looking around in a daze only to hop on an elliptical machine for fifteen minutes and then maybe do a few dumbbell curls, you might catch a couple high school or college women—always in pairs or trios—moving as a single unit, arms plastered to their sides, often pointing and discussing what to do next. At any time of year, you’ll see variations on these two groups as well as all manner of weirdness (BOSU ball squats, anyone?). It’s painfully obvious that they need some kind of guidance. The problems are (a) lack of forethought or planning; (b) fear of what others might say/think; and/or (c) monkey see, monkey do, just to name a few:

Lack of forethought or planning

Everyone who’s set foot in a gym or laced up some sneakers to go pound the pavement had a reason. More often than not, that reason is to lose weight, which usually isn’t a bad thing (I said usually). Sometimes, it’s to socialize or “help out” a friend who’s embarking on his or her own fitness journey and wants (needs?) some company (point of information: this is technically how I got started, as a lifting partner). Other times, it’s just that time of the year (New Year’s, spring break, Senior Week, swimsuit season, back-to-school, etc). Whatever the reason, the fact that you’re taking that first step and actually doing something that first day is great, better than some people. However, whether you’re flying solo or spreading the wealth, your plan can’t stop with “let’s meet at this place on this day at this time and workout.” You need to set some trackable goals, not just “I want to lose ten pounds and two inches.” How are you going to do that? In fact, I’ll ask you that question twice, once a couple days before you start doing whatever it is you’re going to do, and then once a month after you started. Are you still as sure about running three miles a day as you were?

Fear of what others might say/think

This is a much bigger issue in the gym than on the road. If you decide to take up running—for now, I’ll set aside my utter disdain for this activity—you can easily do so on your own and, if you’re REALLY self-conscious, drive to another part of town so you can run where it’s less likely you’ll see anyone you know. Plug in to an MP3 player, and the rest of the world goes away (until you forget that cars still have the right-of-way). However, it’s all but impossible to avoid being around other people at the gym. so even if you did a bit of planning and have an exercise program in mind, starting out can be a daunting experience with all the largely unfamiliar equipment, people walking around like they know what they’re doing (nine times out of ten, they don’t) and making lots of noise doing it, and the general chaos of a typical gym, especially if you go during crunch time (Monday-Thursday 5pm-8pm). Even the best intentions can get pushed aside in this environment, especially if you wander into a place where the trainers are just salespeople in disguise. I’ll get more into this later, but for now, I’ll say this: I went to a summer camp just before starting high school. I was very introverted when I wasn’t being annoyingly arrogant, and since I was also at nearly the heaviest weight of my life, there was no way in hell I was dancing (part of the nightly free-time options). A couple guys I’d somehow befriended early on dragged me out there (girls were still more annoying than enticing, and still are most of the time now), and after a lot of hemming and hawing, they set me straight, saying something to the effect of, “if you don’t know anyone else out there, then no one else knows you, either, and besides, they’re all just as uncomfortable and self-conscious as you are, so what’s the big deal?” I remember faces and voices but not names, but that’s stuck with me through a lot more than dancing since then.

Monkey see, monkey do

Lack of planning + self-conscious = fit in as best as you can and do what everyone else is doing. Like I said, the vast majority of people don’t know what they’re doing any better than you do (this includes trainers at most gyms), which isn’t a problem when dancing. The worst that usually happens is just looking weird and most likely not getting laid that night. When it comes to exercising, though, there can be, and often are, far greater consequences, ranging from pulled muscles and sore joints all the way to torn muscles, slipped or compressed spinal discs, and ligament damage. It may not happen today or tomorrow or this year, but do things your body isn’t designed or prepared to do with any regularity, and your body will let you know in some not-so-nice ways down the road.

Keep in mind that I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to the gym. I actually love gyms, but there’s a difference between a gym and a “fitness center” or whatever the hell they’re called now (my now-former gy—er, fitness center offers tanning beds and occasional massages that are laughable at best, based on their advertising); “gym” is just easier to say. I can count on one hand the number of actual gyms I’ve been in: Work Out Wonder in Ashland, Virginia (no longer there); Spectrum Performance in Port Washington, New York (no longer there), and JP Fitness in Little Rock, Arkansas (unsure of its long-term fate at this time). I know there are others out there such as Cressey Performance (Massachusetts), Athletes Performance (Arizona), and I-FAST (Indiana), not to mention the original Gold’s Gym (California), the old York Barbell Gym (Pennsylvania), and of course, Westside Barbell (Ohio). However, gyms are few and far between; fitness centers are about as common as churches in Charleston, South Carolina. That’s not to say you can’t successfully pursue your fitness goals in a fitness center, but if any of the points listed above are a hindrance, you might want to reconsider signing that year-long contract that automatically renews without alerting you.

* * * * *

This one ended up being more for the newbies, so the next one will be more for the searchers. After that, who knows, but I have a feeling that both groups will have similar paths going forward. We’ll get to some actual training stuff eventually, but it seems we’re hitting some mental hurdles that need to be cleared first.

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