Saturday, September 3, 2016


I once again have found myself away from my home gym and slumming it in a commercial gym.  Moving has forced me way from my sanctuary, but, as a positive, I once again get to witness the going ons of other trainees.  I have written previously of how overly exaggerated the suffering is of those who bemoan this experience (see my post “Commercial Gym Hell”), and nothing has changed there.  I smile and act politely and I never have to wait on equipment because I actually as to work in rather than just stare daggers at someone while they use something I want.  However, I’ve noticed something that has me perplexed; why am I the only one breathing heavy in the gym?

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Easy there Bane; that doesn't count.  Also, I SO wish he was squatting on a bosu ball

How come I am the only one who, after finishing a set of deads or squats, is gasping for air, with hands on knees, on the verge of vomiting?  Am I just THAT out of shape?  I woulda figured all the medleys would help me out there, but is everyone else in the gym just so much more fit than me?  Is my music just so loud in my earbuds that I don’t hear anyone else gasping during my sets, and then when I finish my own sets I can’t hear it over the sound of my own breathing?  Or…are people just afraid to actually EXERT themselves at the gym?

I have trained in a home gym since 2007, and so, whenever I read guys like Dave Tate or any of the Westside Barbell crew talk about the importance of training environment, I never really saw what the big deal was.  I thought it was just macho bullcrap; surely you can be your own source of motivation.  You don’t need a bunch of meathead noneck dudes screaming at you to make progress…which is true, yes, HOWEVER there are 3 options to consider here.  One option is the high positive energy environment like Westside, one option is solitude, but the third is an environment of NEGATIVE energy.  I have discovered that this is what is occurring at the commercial gym.

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In times like this, this is your only hope...Christ I'm a nerd

It appears that effort is discouraged in these environments.  People don’t want to appear to be exerting themselves.  They go through the motions of their sets and reps and talk about how good their sets were, but actually pushing themselves to the point that they demonstrated signs of physical duress and discomfort is a RARE site.  Some go so far as to scream or yell during their sets, but in many cases these are simply literal cries for attention, for once the set is terminated they rack the weights and excitedly exit the equipment, usually with glances around the room to see if anyone is looking their way.  Rarely is it the case that this screaming trainee finishes the set and then collapses onto the equipment, momentarily paralyzed by their effort.

I feel as though this is symptomatic of society’s condemnation of displaying effort.  We have the term “try-hard” as an insult; implying that it is LOWLY for one to actually exert themselves in an effort to perform at great capacity.  We prize the notion of the “lazy genius” who is just naturally able to exceed without trying, and we demonize the nerd who studies diligently and applies themselves laboriously in their efforts.  In turn, even when we are in the location WHERE self-improvement is to occur, we witness that few are willing to actually exert themselves enough to the point that they APPEAR to be exerting themselves.  It’s an arms race of apathy; a contest to see who can care the least.

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I can't tell if Jim Davis meant for this to be ironic, considering he's been phoning in these jokes for years

In such an environment, it can be difficult to dig deep enough in training to get results.  It can feel like yelling in a library; a breach of etiquette.  Additionally, for a trainee that has been raised in such an environment, it can warp one’s perspective of what exertion looks like.  One may observe the regulars going through the motions, lightly sweating, knocking out sets and reps, and assume that this is what it looks like when one is training to improve.  They don’t understand that this is simply what spinning one’s wheels looks like.  They don’t understand that the folks that are out there getting results are finishing their sets in a heap, gasping for air, pouring buckets of sweat, dry heaving and swearing because what they just did was so stupid.  If you train with a group of hardcore guys, you learn from example, and if you train by yourself, you never get infected by the weakness, but if you know nothing else?  It’s easy to get trapped into the cycle of mediocrity.

This means it is imperative when training in such an environment to once again become comfortable being uncomfortable.  When surrounded by people simply showing up and punching the clock, you’ll have to stand out as the one person actually trying.  And guess what?  If you stand out by trying, you’ll also stand out by getting results.  Effort is one of the 3 biggest keys for success in training, and when paired with consistency and time, it gets great results, but most folks trapped in commercial gyms are only getting the latter 2 and completely neglecting the former.  If you actually exert yourself to the point of discomfort, you might breathe hard, you might dry heave, you might leave puddles of sweat, you might draw attention to yourself…

…but you’ll get results.

1 comment:

  1. And the results you get will far exceed the results I got, where I was looked for seemingly effortlessly doing deadlifts. Had a guy at a commercial gym stop what he was doing to watch me whenever I did dead lift for two wheels and some change. Years later when i was in college, I knew a scrawny kid who saw me doing high 200s/low 300s on dead and wanted to try my weights. Being a piece of shit back then, i let him, and he nearly put his back out.

    Both people could have easily asked me for advice, and I would have gladly given it to them. Sadly, so few people will ever undertake the effort. Actually had a guy tell me i need to save puking on workouts for athletes that have won medals (so basically don't push yourself until you've pushed yourself?)