Stop Looking Like a Fool at the Gym
Congratulations to January’s gym newbies, still sticking to their routines. But to become a true regular requires sensitivity and politesse.
Greetings New Year’s Gym “Resolutionaries”—welcome to February! I’m as surprised as you are that you’re still here.
Congratulations on sticking it out for a full month—an achievement that, judging by the suddenly unoccupied treadmills and ellipticals, is something less than half of your fellow gym newcomers accomplished.
There’s already a little less of you to love, and a lot less of newbies like you to tolerate. Truly a win-win.
My fellow seasoned exercise enthusiasts and I have, we’ll admit, been avoiding eye contact with you. Nothing personal: We just see this every year: a fresh gaggle—perhaps “pod” would be more precise—of apparently motivated, conspicuously dedicated newbies, befuddled by modern cardio equipment and intimidated by those who seem to effortlessly navigate this strange new world.
We’ve been stalking the frustratingly clogged cardio machines, and rolling our eyes as you misuse weight resistance equipment or attempt to bench press your bloated body weight.
We’ve reneged on volunteering our knowhow because, for example, you wouldn’t teach someone you figured was moving to Arizona how to ski.
We’ve been waiting you out, because most of you are MIA by MLK Day.
But look—you’re still here! And now that the crowd has thinned enough for us regulars to get our rhythms and routines back, you’ll find us far happier to help you get acclimated to our beloved gym.
So, a few tips:
Nobody cares how much weight you’re lifting, or how many calories you’re burning.
We care about our own workouts, not yours. Most of us are trying to stick to a dedicated, tightly-honed routine: we’ve made an active decision to fit near-daily workouts into our busy schedules (no, you weren’t sedentary up until four weeks ago because you were busier than us—that’s an excuse, not a reason).
The only time a regular like me is judging you is when you’re in my way—when you’re occupying space I wish to occupy while accomplishing very little due to cluelessness.
We’re miffed when you’re mystified by a machine (that’s a calf press, by the way) that was next on our tried and tested to-do list, because we’re trying to be focused and diligent. We’re annoyed at your prolonged, peevish presence on the triceps curl machine (your elbows lock in near the arm pads, right there), not by how little weight you’re lifting. You’re in the way, and this happens every January.
There’s a happy ending here: Learn how to use the equipment correctly, and the eye-rolls will summarily cease. Because we don’t care that you’re a beginner. We care that you’re confusedly hogging a machine we’re waiting to use.
Fat doesn’t flex.
When your fat rolls make it look like each of your arms has three biceps… biceps curls don’t accomplish much.
When I started working out consistently five years ago, I was 40 pounds overweight. I didn’t realize I’d been 40 pounds overweight until I lost 25 pounds… and realized I still had about 15 to go. My point: We typically underestimate how overweight we actually are. And the more overweight you are, the more pointless pumping iron is.
With few exceptions, the resolute souls squeezing through the gym doors on Jan. 1 require remedial weight loss before they can start accruing anything resembling a physique.
Though resistance training shouldn’t be completely omitted from a newcomer’s workout routine, cardio should consume the lion’s share of activity until a reasonable weight is within reach.
As a rotund rookie (sorry—I believe “Beginner of Girth” is the PC term), the types of weight lifting you do also matters. Early on, isolation exercises such as biceps curls and calf raises are far less effective than compound lifts like squats or lunges.
Not only do compound lifts distribute weight among multiple, previously underutilized muscles, they also burn more calories than isolation exercises—and, for now, burning calories is priority #1.
Don’t use the bottom row of lockers.
Thank you for returning the weights to the rack, and wiping down equipment after use: You newcomers sweat like Donald Trump in a Mexican restaurant. There are, however, some lesser known dos and don’ts that, once mastered, will help you bridge the gap between rookie and regular.
For one, using the bottom locker is a dead giveaway that you’re new. Bottom lockers are where regulars stash our sweat-drenched workout clothes while showering. Why? Because we don’t want their stench polluting our other stuff, even for a few minutes.
It’s an easy mistake to make; as the gym gets crowded, the top rows of lockers get fuller. You don’t want to be the guy who wedges between two occupied upper-row lockers when, seemingly, the entire bottom row is free. Well, now you know why it’s free… or was until approximately Jan. 1.
The impossibly muscle-bound specimens who seem to always be at the gym when you’re there…
… are always at the gym when I’m there, too. That’s because they never leave. They’re called meatheads, and they’re an unfortunate inevitability.
Often resembling a rejected Jersey Shore applicant circa 2009, meatheads act like they own the place—and perhaps one of them does, because their employment status is dubious at best.
They strut and grunt, and are tan in early February. They say “bro” a lot. They pick things up, and they put them back down again, usually loudly and with grunts. They have long since crossed the line separating the healthy self-respect of regular exercise from the pathetic self-absorption of bodily obsession.
Are they judging you? Absolutely. But they’re also judging comparably in-shape regulars… rendering their judgments worthless. They probably just need to feel superior about something and, from the looks of them, that something isn’t a post-graduate thesis project.
If they are too close for comfort, toss a power bar across the room and enjoy the ensuing stampede from a safe distance.
You’re welcome. Now get off the assisted dip machine.