Monday, April 11, 2011

4 Gym Observations in 44 Minutes

I have always taught my new trainers that the a fitness professional plays many roles: a friend, motivator, coach, teacher, role model, and in some cases, psychiatrist. Yes, I have to understand the mental capacity of some clients to learn how to tackle barriers because it makes my job easier. The faster and more effective I am at busting through their mental barriers, the more successful we become (me as a trainer, client at reaching their goals).

So, this is where my story begins. Sorry there are no solutions here, just observations and opinions. Since opening up my new facility in January 2011, I haven't had the chance of working out in commercial gyms. Simply put, I like walking into my own place and blasting the stereo with heavy metal and donning some chalk and dropping weights. That liberty in itself motivates me through my workouts. However, training in my own place around things (the way I want them); doesn't allow me to observe what is really going on in gyms today. I don't miss the hairy old guy that walks around the locker-room naked and blow drying his genitals...or the young stud that talks on his cell phone while he is resting in between sets of bench presses.

I was in the gym working out and typically my workout takes 44 minutes, sometimes 45. On this particular day, my battery died on my MP3 player. THAT sucks.  I had no means whatsoever of retrieving a new battery, so I had to wing my workout with my thoughts and aggression only. So fortunate enough for me, I was attentive to my surroundings. Here's what I observed:

Observation #1: Warmer Months Expose Many Truths. Why? Because all those guys that you thought were big in the winter because they wore lots of clothing...well ...they are actually really SMALL! Spring is a crucial time of the year because it humbles all of us. On this day, I noticed 2 guys that I "used" to think were pretty big boys in the gym. But today was different. Their arms were no bigger than mine and their legs were PUNY! Why did I think differently before? Well, for the last 5 months they hid their physiques under baggy pants and baggy sports apparel. So on the first hot day of the year, the costumes come off and they bust out sleeveless shirts and shorts. To my astonishment, they seemed a little more quieter at the gym...they seemed a bit more friendlier...and they didn't seem to intimidate anyone. Opinion: Its funny how we hide our insecurities so well, until we need to expose them. We have all been in a position where we had to "tell the truth", and in the trenches of gyms, there are always those that get so absorbed by their exterior composure, that they lose their real self.

Observation #2: Blind Leading the Blind
Yep...I was performing my deadlifts in the cage, I noticed a group of 3 teens at the squat rack. They were relatively small, lanky and each had a very low degree of muscularity. But, they were led by one. Yes, THE one. You know who I am talking about. The biggest guy of the group. Yes, this kid is probably 1-year older and has the biggest arms of the group (15") and happens to be the stronger of the group. As I rested after my 2nd set, I noticed him instructing the 3 lanky fellows on performing back squats with 225 lbs.

As one performed the squat with a rounded back and wearing gloves, I couldn't help but notice the attention the other two were giving him. I thought..."that's weird...gloves on leg day?" I didn't interrupt this bonding of MySpace mortals, but I pondered: Why do we as a society assume that the stronger or bigger are the most qualified to lead the less inclined? Do bigger, stronger people automatically know more than everyone else in the gym?

Observation #3: Barbell curls, cable curls, preacher curls,...oh my!
I saw a young gentleman finishing up on a set of barbell curls. I think he had gone as high as 105 lbs., but I wasn't sure--I'm trying to workout y'know? Then he went over to the cable tower and began performing cable curls with a straight bar. By then...I was in the corner stretching my adductors. He completed 3 sets of the cable curls and I thought he was going back to the barbell, when he turned and picked up a 40 lb dumbbell and sat at the preacher bench. I wondered how many repetitions of the same movement (elbow flexion) is this guy going to do? Opinion: I know the sea of machines means an endless array of muscle building opportunities, but why are we as a society so infatuated with if one is good, more must be better?As I get older, I begin to really believe in a minimalist point of view. The less you do,  The better.

Observation #4: People that walk around the gym with their arms crossed.
Ever go to a museum and look at the exhibits or art? You kind of cross your arms and walk around panning the room, right? You "take-in" as much as you can as your brain processes the information. We never really use it unless we are telling someone about our day (at the museum) or you are writing a paper. Well, as I am performing my standing dumbbell presses, I couldn't help but watch the guy in the mirror "wandering" around the sea of machines with his arms crossed. When I finished the set, I watched him. He walked around--aimlessly--observing the machines and reading the infamous manufacture's instructional sticker and caressing each piece like it was a new car. He was dressed to workout and had a decent build, but he was lost. If he had a camera hanging from his neck and a few maps hanging out of his back pocket, he would have looked more appropriate. 
Why wasn't anyone else noticing this guy needed help, direction, or guidance? As I picked up the DBs for my next set, I looked over at the front counter and noticed the trainer having a conversation with a very tan, Paris Hilton look-a-like. Opinion: Why doesn't a staff that is responsible for supervising an area that accommodates more than 40+ people, not learn how to "scan" the area? Fitness center staff should be like the Secret Service. They need to continuously keep their eyes moving looking for suspicious behavior, inconspicuous persons, and newbies needing instruction. Who knows, that guy is probably a client waiting to pay.


  1. I feel ya on that, John - You can learn a ton about people by just observing - And yes, I did enjoy my food and turkey yesterday -

  2. KNEW you would get a kick out of that "core training" vid! I love your "gym rants"! Makes me miss working out in a gym. What I DON'T miss is the fact that at this time of year, the last gym I worked at played Christmas music nonstop...and if the staff tried to change it, the "morning crew coffee" ladies would complain! LOL!

  3. Very good observations. I like to observe people at the gym too and I can't help but notice all the little things that make you go hhhmmmm...

    Can't wait for part 2!


  4. good stuff John, one of my favs is what I call the "Mens Fitness readers" they try to perform all these crazy "core" stuff (they read in the mag) all the while NOT doing 1 hard basic exercise.


  5. I particularly like the 225 lb. Bench Pressing guy who grunts so you look over to see that he is using a heavy weight. Only problem is that he needs to go down another 5-6" to touch his chest. Yet I never see this guy doing a pull-up....The gym i go to the trainers all talk to this "guru" who from behind looks like a bodybuilder yet has an extra 25 lbs around the mid-section. He is a nice enough fella but he has that 80's body that has seen too much benching....and no posterior work.
    However, my largest pet peeve is the trainers who continue to badger me to get trained by them who themsel ves are not in shape. These are the same 6 people i see training some poor middle age lady with no thought to her thought to her form/function and basically look around while this person is training. also it is quite funny that this is the same workout they all use for every client....What happened to personalization? My standard answer to every trainer who asks me to train with him is this. 1) How long before I will my body will look like yours? 2) What are your credentials? 3) What are the tight and shortened muscles in lower cross syndrome and which are the weak and lengthened ones? Also how would you address it? I tell them if they can answer that I am theirs.....So far 0 for 8.


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