FEEL THE BURN

How to Survive the New Year ‘Gympocalypse’

Oh no, it’s that time of year again—when the New Year’s resolution-ers hit the gym, aimlessly occupying space and machines. When will this hell end?

Hmm, who are these people standing in front of the machines at the gym, neither occupying them nor not occupying them? Just standing there. Nonplussed. Tapping at their phones. Exhaling heavily though they haven’t done any exercise. Hang on, why is no cross-training machine free? There’s always one free. The running machines are a gloomy chorus of heavy-footed stomping.

Oh, it’s January 5. “Back to school” day. The day the New Year’s “resolution-ers” who have decided to make good on their vows to be healthy hit the gyms with a chaotic, space-invading thud, causing their own kind of chaos to the resident gym bunnies who suddenly find their palaces of sweat and inelegant grunting invaded.

The gym—a fragile collective of human ecology at the best of times—has suddenly become even more tense. The “resolution-ers” are colonizing, and disrupting. Suddenly, the squat guy who huffs and puffs too loudly, or the knuckleheads with their livid-colored protein shakes, count as islands of sanity.

The gym was not a fun a place to be Monday—for anybody.

A friend in London tweeted about the pool at his gym:

Another gentleman noted:

Or as Liam Lewis, a reality TV star in the U.K., said:

Some pretty gruesome behavior was also sighted.

There were even heartfelt pleas for consideration, before—what?—weights were thrown.

Michael Steinbrick, a personal trainer with New York Sports Clubs, says he can always spot a newbie. “They look around, wander aimlessly about, look at machines, and get in people’s way,” he said. “They usually last about three weeks. The regulars treat it as a joke. They know it’s only a matter of time before the new members stop coming in.”

Steinbrick—who is, he emphasizes, not an “aggressive” trainer touting for custom—says newbies joining a gym should take advantage of the typically one free session with a trainer to get acquainted with the machines and formulate a basic routine “that can keep you going for a couple of months, which you can adapt if you stick with the gym.”

As it is, during the first week of January, most new users plunk themselves on machines and push, pull, and lift things, not knowing what the settings are or really understanding what they are doing, and all without any knowledge of safe and correct form. “I usually see people head to the stationary bikes,” Steinbrick says. “Bikes typically don't get your heart rate up that much. You’d be better off going for a brisk walk.”

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The Internet is a savior, Steinbrick says—advising first-timers to go online, look at what certain machines do, and what routines might work for them.

Frustrating as regulars find these fair-weather exercise interlopers, they were also all beginners once, he says. “People are generally diplomatic,” says Steinbrick of regulars dealing with the surge of new faces. “Remember, you could help them.”

Yes, the regulars should help. But they’re probably on a schedule too, and really just need their gym time to fly by as fluently and smoothly as possible—which is why January is such a nightmare for them. The newbies are also nervous, so they are too embarrassed to ask for help—hence more aimless wandering and obstructive, poorly executed machine use.

Of course, the best thing all around is if, after a regular has corrected a gym newbie’s parlous misuse of the shoulder press, the newbie blossoms like Homer Simpson.

As for gym regulars, straining at their bicep curls waiting for normality to return and the uncommitted newbies to return to their lives of sloth, one trainer told me: “It’ll be over soon. Like most people who make resolutions, they don’t have the willpower to stick with it. People are weak.”

Or, as Steinbrick advises regulars: “Be patient. This too shall pass.”