This is Part I of a 2 or 3 or maybe even a 4 part essay on my perception of the current state of gym culture. We’ll see where this goes. Please check back in a few weeks for Part II.
A big box of followers…
I have spent the past 5 weeks training in a chain gym for the first time in many years. As a fitness trainer and a relentless observer of people, this has been a thought cultivating experience.
I can’t help it, with each workout my mind continually toggles back and forth between what I am doing, and what everyone else is doing. So compelled am I to believe that I am always on the most correct path, that I am usually left to believe that most everyone else in the gym is on a dirt road to nowhere.
I won’t go so far as to say a majority of these gym regulars are foolish or blind followers, but I will say that most I observe are being completely inefficient in what I perceive they are trying to accomplish. Regardless of what their goals are; weight loss, body sculpting, or conditioning (it’s usually some combination of these), I’ll suggest that most I see here are not on the most direct path to where they wish to go.
I often ponder obsess on this question: Why do people believe that buying a gym membership is enough…?
Buying a guitar is seldom enough. Buying golf clubs is seldom enough. Lessons on how to use these are usually purchased with them, or shortly thereafter. However, joining a gym is too often a purchase made with no intention of learning how to use it.
At best, a new member might workout with a friend and do what their friend does – who learned from another friend, and so-on. People sign up, show up, and when they are not shown by theirs friends, they just mimic what they see other gym members doing. What could possibly go wrong…?
The law of gyminished returns…
If a person does something inefficiently in the gym for months or even for years, and nobody ever corrects them or offers them a more efficient path, they ultimately become a veteran of failure, but a veteran nonetheless. As a veteran of the gym they are watched by beginners. Beginners see what gym veterans are doing, and they copy it. Gym culture is now many generations deep into this way of learning.
Think of it as a cassette tape from the 1970s. Back then we could copy an original cassette to a blank cassette on our home stereo. If one then took that copied tape and subsequently made a copy of that copy, the fidelity would decrease. Each successive copy of a copy would lose another degree of fidelity. After so many generations of copying the copies, the music would become less true to its original incarnation.
In a very real sense, that has been happening with gym culture over period of decades. In particular, how exercises are performed and the volume in which they are performed. As more and more people have copied what others have done before them, who have copied what others have done before them, the overall productivity and effectiveness of the culture has been reduced. That is just my opinion.
Pump up the volume, someone told her…
The most common inefficiency I see though, is too much exercise volume; too many exercises, too many sets per exercise, and too many days per week. Again, this is not just limited to beginners. I have seen many experienced gym goers who exercise with too much volume, and too much frequency. I saw an example of this yesterday. A young woman, maybe 23 years old, and she didn’t appear unfit, but was clearly not any kind of athlete.
I first saw her performing set after set of barbell bench presses. Shortly after, I saw her doing dumbbell bench presses. Sometime after that, I saw her doing chest flies. Later, she was doing push-ups followed by more chest flies.
In the amount of time in which I was able to do multiple exercises for multiple body parts, and complete an entire workout, she had exclusively worked one area of her body, her chest, and did so with an unnecessarily high volume of sets – regardless of her goals.
Because curiosity got the better of me, I broke my never talk to people in the gym rule and asked her about her high volume of training. She explained that she wanted to make her cleavage line more pronounced so a friend suggested that she do every chest exercise she could think of. Good plan!
I thanked her for her time and walked away without passing judgment. Notwithstanding that she could have already achieved that goal by simply changing her diet, and doing 3 sets of push-ups a day for a month, I wasn’t her trainer, it wasn’t my gym, so it certainly wasn’t my place to offer unsolicited advice.
What is water…
As I looked around after my conversation with the young woman, I better observed that there were many more in the gym just like her – people who had the best of intentions, but were on road to nowhere, or on the road to not very far.
Whether these people were just guessing at what they were doing, copying other members, or getting their strength training instructions from a cassette tape friend 4 generations deep, it was clear to me that few people in the gym were the beneficiaries of sound instruction which related to their specific and unique objectives.
I suddenly felt the old fish in that David Foster Wallace commencement address. What is water…? If I had been brave enough to point out the water to any of them, they would still have no idea what I was talking about… Be well. rc
Please take a moment to scroll up and rate this, and be sure to check back in a few weeks for part-2 of this essay. Part-2 will address fitness trainers in big box gyms. Hint: If you ever see trainer turn his back on a client mid-set in order to take another bite of oatmeal with chia seeds in it, he’s probably not your guy.
Oh, and there’s this from Girls Guns & Glory. Enjoy!