Ten or twelve years ago, if I noticed a lifter in my gym training with absolutely terrible technique, I’d resist the urge to surreptitiously film them, and shake my head at the elite level idiocy it likely took to train so poorly.
Today, not so much. Happy to say I’ve grown.
One thing I’m glad I’ve learned in 16 years of being a trainer, is that in my industry (and technically every industry), it does a person well to acknowledge and embrace the fact that there’s both an art and a science to the craft. Too often, professionals can get caught down a rabbit hole of investing their time in exploring one such facet, and not the other.
I’ve written over 1200 published articles, and have been in print as a fitness expert in something like 140 magazine issues. I’m a book author, and I’ve contributed to a second book, with a contribution to a third on the way. I’m a part time college prof, and deliver lectures to improve trainers’ career skills, literally around the world. In a conversation with my sister the other day, she asked me a genuine question: If you worked at a gym full of trainers to start out, what exactly was it that set you apart early on?
It was a tougher question to answer than I anticipated, and after some thought, I replied by saying the one thing that stood out to me above the rest: I have always placed high importance on being a good communicator.
On knee jerk, it may seem like that has very little to do with personal training, and speaking scientifically, that would be true. But regarding the art of personal training changes the nature of what achieving “success” in this industry really rests upon. In this game, understanding people is arguably more important than understanding science. That concept is what spawned this blog article. Here’s how it applies to you at the gym.
A Ball Drop for Fitness Pundits
Time and again, we’re told by the strength and conditioning community that the gym is a place to serve a specific purpose: to train.
Good training involves setting a plan to pursue a certain goal using a methodical regiment or some version of structure in order to achieve it. And that’s exactly where the strength and conditioning world drops the ball. It’s a definition that can be presumptuous and exclusionary.
Everyone existing in a gym might not be interested in strength and conditioning. Or even have goals. And that’s fine.
What the gym represents for different people will always cover a very broad spectrum. I’m sure no one would balk at the prospect of getting a great looking body or performing well, but that may not be the step of their journey they’re focused on for the time being. It does everyone well to acknowledge that. It’s not always about the science.
If you’ve been through some form of physical or mental trauma, the can of worms I just opened proves itself much wormier.
And it proves that simple exercise – not full fledged training – has its place as part of the multitude of purposes a gym can serve.
As more time passes in life, I’ve found the goal to attain a certain physique or hit a certain physical performance landmark begins to lose some significance. Along with this comes a greater acknowledgement that we’re members of the general population, and not members of an elite athlete crowd, nor members of the small percentage of people whose income directly depends on how hard they work out (notwithstanding vacuous social media influencers with superfluous accounts based on thirst traps and eye candy). For these reasons, things like our quality time with family or friends, our responsibilities, our mental health, and our physical health – including downright enjoyment of life and the things in it – become more important.
Everything I’m saying needs to be taken with not only a grain, but a fistful of salt. This doesn’t mean we can’t have results that put us in a 1% category as members of the general population – don’t conflate these allowances with defeatist, copout behavior or the shirking of our own responsibility to fitness and health. We simply need to put things in perspective and remember that the path isn’t as straight nor binary as we may think it is.
Someone who “let themselves go” over the past year may have had a more sobering reason than meets the eye to explain just why it happened.
A person who comes in to the gym and avoids tried, tested and true compound movements in favour of isolation machines and cardio equipment might just have unlocked the key to his personal sustainability.
The thing that makes each of these scenarios common is that they’re in the right place to be better.
The gym is always ready to meet us where we’re at. It’s usually the people who belong to the gym that create the problem.
This is why, if we’re seasoned lifters and have been going to the gym as routine for years, it’s also important to keep an eye not only on our quickness to judge, but also on our general disposition and temperament. Three years ago, I wrote a blog article that encouraged men to attempt to be more aware of this, which got met with plenty of unnecessary backlash. One response asked how a lifter could possibly enter the “primal state” to train hard, if he’s busy trying to keep a happy face.
The “primal state”.
Needless to say, not only was the point missed, but more issues were exposed.
Look, it’s easy to say “I am who I am”, but fact is, the version of ourselves we decide to project to the outside world can be a major factor in who feels welcome and included. That becomes important in public spaces, if we actually care.
Let’s take this a step further.
20 years deep into gym culture, I can confidently say that what the gym represents for lifters who have results isn’t too far off of what it represents for people who don’t. I’ve found that even the most “intimidating” lifters, for the most part, commonly possess 2 noteworthy qualities:
- They’re just as insecure as many beginners, and probably as concerned with how they look to outsiders. The patterns of behavior often speak for themselves to that point. For the record, that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. At its core, it’s a pretty human default.
- They’re just as much in favour of some form of inclusion and community, making them often happy to help give advice and direction to those who are less sure-footed in this space. In other words, it’s very often a case of “looks can be deceiving”.
We can deny this all we want, but the truth is this: We’re all some level of insecure – maybe over different things, but the fact remains. We all go to the gym to feel better about ourselves, and to make ourselves better – however that plays out for the individual in question. Barring very few predicaments, whatever we’re going through, the gym is a good place for us to be to deal with it. It’s worth the reminder.
Approaching our physical health with the right mindset is a key step to getting results. But if the mindset isn’t right, there’s still a place for us in the gym to help establish a good baseline. It would be a shame if a pervasive negative energy prevented some from taking the plunge.
It’s okay if you’re not here to train hard, lift heavy, get a 6 pack, or PR. Most days I lift, I’m not there for that either. As long as you don’t hurt yourself, you’re doing a good thing just by being there.
Embracing what the gym represents for you is a big and necessary step to take, and if you keep the gym as a regular fixture in your life for long enough, what it represents will likely change or evolve over time – probably more than once.
And that knowledge and awareness definitely speaks to the art of fitness and training, more than the science of it.