If you don’t understand and accept the values and benefits of daily exercise by now, I want you to wear a John Hagee mask so I know who you are when we meet on the street. Functional fitness training, strength training, cardiovascular training, core training, bla bla bla-diddy-bla bla bla. Whatever – I’m over all that.
People watching – now there’s a value added benefit to exercise that most trainers, physiologists, and wellness specialists don’t delve too deeply into. Being a people watcher in the gym can enhance your exercise experience, be educational, and entertain you – simultaneously. In that sense, people watching can be cause for you to leave your home or office at the end of the day, and get that much needed exercise.
Though I own a well equipped fitness studio at my home, it comes with an inherent problem – it’s at my house, where I live and where I work all day long. Despite my passion for daily exercise, nothing is less appealing after a long day than sticking around the place where I have been for the past 24 hours living and working. Strange as it sounds, and despite proximity to my own good equipment, at the end of the day I often head off to a gym – away from my gym.
I’m fortunate because in all the world there is not a better people watching gym than the 24 Hour Fitness in Oceanside, California. The city of Oceanside itself is a loosely stirred cocktail of such human ingredients as aggressive Marines, wanna be porn stars, die-hard fitness enthusiasts, meth junkies, surfers, working class men and women, a high population of pacific islanders, and very few people who fall outside of these categories. The gym where I workout is but a magnifying glass on that amalgamation of humanity.
Most days I meet my workout partner, Marshall, for a good measure of high-intensity cardio, and a dash of strength and core training. Marshall and I prefer doing cardio on the StepMill, a device that enables one to walk constantly up the down escalator. For many reasons, I believe the StepMill is the most superior piece of cardio equipment in the gym. It also provides the best vantage point for Marshall and I to participate in the observation of human behavior, because these machines tower above the others. Let the people watching begin.
There at our feet they intermingle; all the people who make this gym so compelling. I have no doubt that the inside of an atom is less chaotic. There are hard working Marines with unyielding energy and little body-fat who never stop moving, never stop sweating, and never stop competing with one-another — Ooorah! Watching the Marines can be as educational as it can be entertaining. They often bring to the table exercises and workout schemes that are new to me, or, at least ones I have not visited myself for some time. Our Marines get it done in the field so well because they get it done on their bodies first. True.
Not far away, a handful of acne covered high school football players with puffy arms, loud voices, and very little endurance fill in some gaps near the free weight side of the gym. They can sure move a bit of weight up and down, but usually not in good form, and most often in need a lot of rest in-between. Despite their school jock status, these kings of the 11th grade are not well-conditioned athletes (yet), and not a good example of what exercise is all about. There is little to learn from watching these man-boys except what not to do in the gym, so take good notes.
Mix in a few 300 pound Samoans who never quit smiling, could bench press my car, and like to read the newspaper to each other and converse loudly in the 10 minutes gaps between their sets. Not the pinnacle of fitness either, but they are good natured and exclusively responsible for the sense of humor and laughter in this gym that seems to be appreciated by most. In that sense, they are the Wal-Mart greeters of the free weight room and serve to make it less intimidating to newcomers.
In close proximity to the Samoans, there are several separate groups of fully tattooed ex-convicts with shaved heads, in baggy shorts and wife beater shirts. They may be back on the “inside” next month, so they tend to try and lift heavier and more often than they should when they are on the “outside”. California prisons have abandoned weight room facilities so they are making meat while the sun shines. Again, not a lot of learning to be done here except what not to do in the gym – as well as how not to dress. There can be as much learned by observing other people exercising poorly, as there can be gained by watching a true athlete. By watching intently, you just know when something isn’t correct.
In the cardio theater there is row after row of peroxide blondes and blonde teeny-boppers. Some look to be pole dancers while others just aspire to look like pole dancers. Most with tattoos along their lower backs, sprayed on tans as they go through the motions, their killer pony tails swing from side to side on the elliptical machines – all the while their faces stare blankly at Wolf Blitzer on the TV before them as they ponder in their simple minds what “nuclear proliferation” might mean. Perhaps that’s a country near “Iraq and such”. Though they often possess thin bodies, this is more likely the result of youth and dubious eating habits, than efforts in the gym. Just going through the motions of exercise might make one feel better, but in this day and age, save the gas money. Not much to be learned from this group.
There are also a few square-jawed collegiate athletes who call this gym home in Summer, both male and female. These are the least compelling and the least entertaining persons in the room, but an astute observer can improve their exercise technique and increase their repertoire of exercises by keeping their eyes fixed to these folks. Like the Marines, collegiate athletes often employ new schemes, better techniques, patterns, and in a more proper application than other gym members. These are often the product of modern strength and conditioning principles brought along to the gym directly from coaches and trainers at their respective universities. The lesson they teach best: intensity and focus. Mimic, but let common sense be your guide.
Some aspiring young fitness trainers working with everyday people seeking improvement are also in the mix. Fitness trainers, myself included, can be placed into two groups: those who choose this as a career and approach their craft as such, and those who think it would be great to hang out in a gym all day not have a real job. The latter outnumber the former by thousands to one, and in the gym in Oceanside, it is no different. How ironic it is that one can learn much about how not to exercise by watching a novice trainer teach someone how to exercise. I cringe when watching this process on occasion.
This is all compelling from my stair-stepping vantage point, somewhat educating, a bit motivating, and always entertaining. These people, with whom I never interact, are my very reason to go to the gym. They motivate me and they entertain me – simultaneously. They often affirm for me how not to exercise just as much as they confirm and legitimize my own insight and experience. They remind me of all the reasons why we should exercise, and all the more, why we should do it properly and within reasonable bounds.
This isn’t just my gym, this is your gym too. The names and shapes may be different at your club, but the actions and common threads will likely be there. My moral in all of this? Observe others and learn – but use common sense as your tablet, and keen application as your pen. As much as you learn, be sure to learn-not in equal portion. Apply your notes with diligence and with self respect. Observing others lends a hidden value to my gym experience and just might do the same for you. Mostly it amuses me, and after a hard day’s work, I’m good with that. Be well.