Gyms should be friendlier places.

19 Feb

I have to say that I’m not a great fan of gyms, fitness clubs, health clubs, or whatever fancy label you wish to attach to your local place where they keep all of the even fancier exercise equipment. On the one hand, you’ve got a lot of really fancy equipment and a whole bunch of people wandering around and all waiting for a turn at the same machines, and half of these people don’t have a clue how to use the machines properly, how to arrange a workout that will do them some good, and how hard to push themselves.

A lot of the machines are kind of impressive and let you exercise without needing to take up a lot of space, but the majority of machines are so restricted in their usage that they are really only good for either cardio – which usually just means just moving your legs quickly – or they are designed to work muscles (or groups) in isolation. In the case of the weight machines, they are so restricted in how they move that they don’t encourage – or in some cases allow – you to do what is probably the most important thing when moving weight, and that is to get good activation of your core. In some cases also, the movement of the machine is so uncomfortably unnatural that you can risk injury simply by using the machines themselves, because they force your arms or legs to move weight without the natural freedom of movement that your joints and your own unique physiology allow.

Now, that is not to say that all of these machines are bad or that you can’t get a good workout using them, but for the clueless people in the gym, they are a potential lawsuit waiting to happen – which is why most gyms get you to sign a fancy waiver to say that if you injure yourself using the machines, they won’t be the ones paying for your medical bills. Personally whenever I do go to a gym, I make my way right over to the free weights. Sure, that’s where most of the posers and muscle-heads end up, but it’s als the place where you can get a great selection of dumbells and barbell weights, and get a really good workout without all of the problems that you get with the machines.

Aside from the “issue” I have taken with the machines at your local gym, you’ve also got to deal with the people. You’ve got the die-hards who think that an hour of cardio is all they need to do each time they get there, the try-hards who as I mentioned before are kind of clueless and either won’t understand why their workouts are not helping them or injure themselves every time they go, so you’ll only ever see them once every month, and you’ve got the I’m-hards who look the part, are ripped, and have that kind of arrogant swagger that make you both hate their guts and wish you were them, but not so much because they’re also the posers who you try to avoid because they have this uncanny ability to really get on your nerves. Hidden amongst all of these people, you’ve got the handful of people who just want to go there to train, can somehow ignore all of the other silly people in the gym, and who just get on with the job they are there to do.

Therein lies what I feel is the biggest problem with many of the gyms out there. While a few of the regulars or local friends might meet with each other from time to time, and while you may occasionally get chatty with a few of the regulars at your favourite spin/body-pump/yoga/jazzersize classes, what most gyms seem to really be lacking in is that sense of camaraderie and community that you tend to find in many of the large outdoor training sessions – such as the boot camps for example. I’m sure we’ve all experience the sense of dislocation you get when you enter a gym and it’s full of people who don’t know each other – usually at new year when all the resolutions to get fit start off with such good intentions in those first couple of weeks of the year. It’s kind of surreal because nobody seems to want to get to know each other. Guys who attempt to talk to girls are sometimes seen as either intimidating or a subtle threat of some sort, while girls who attempt to talk to guys are sometimes seen as pushy or flirty, when all they wanted to do is break the ice. Then there are those awkward silences, nobody making eye contact with anyone else, and you suddenly feel kind of isolated in the middle of a crowded gym!!

Now, I know that not all gyms are like this, however most gyms seem to lack that nice relaxed social environment that can provide new people with the support and encouragement that they will need to see things through. I can be disheartening to witness from the outside, let alone be the new guy trying to wade through all of this apathy. I know that for me one of the things that I intend to do when I manage to find a placement in a gym is to try and turn all of this negativity upside down and get people connecting and communicating with each other. The staff need to really engage with the people attending their gyms, even if those people haven’t paid for an hour of special attention at the hands of a personal trainer. With camaraderie comes connections between people. Support when people are feeling low, and encouragement when they are trying their hardest.

Imagine how much nicer it would be if a friendly person just happened to notice a clueless noob and offered a quick word of encouragement and some friendly advice or pointers about what they were training on. Imagine if the club owners took a moment to call members over and discuss their training with them for just a few moments, offering either a friendly word of advice, or an opportunity to enrol in a class or find some specialist help with things like diet and workout planning. Imagine the opportunities both for potential business and for good will that could grow from the seed of a simple friendly moment!! I’ve seen so little of this in gyms, although to be fair, there are places around that do a good job of engaging with their customers, and yet even these better places seem to lack that friendly air that really should be actively encouraged by the staff to develop between the customers as well.

So next time you go to the gym, I hope you’ll remember what it was like when you were the “new guy” and you’ll be tempted to reach out and make a connection with someone new. Yes, I am officially declaring 2013 as the year in which we should all adopt a clueless noob, take them under our wings, make a new friend, and encourage a sense of community and camaraderie within our gyms, and make them a friendlier and more supportive environment to be in.

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4 Responses to “Gyms should be friendlier places.”

  1. Jenny 20 February 2013 at 11:07 #

    I cracked up at your definitions of the “die-hards, try-hards and I’m-hards” … hilarious and so incredibly true!

    I couldn’t agree with you more about how I think personal trainers should be perusing the gym while people are working out. Just the other day, I was doing a lift I hadn’t done before, so I asked the personal trainer for advice – and you would have thought I just asked her to jump off a bridge!!! So there I was, trying to YouTube a video of it on my phone being “that person” staring at her phone….

    • Sean Robins 20 February 2013 at 12:01 #

      For all that their supposed to be the outgoing friendly faces of the gym they work at, I wonder sometimes why the PT’s do what they do. She probably felt “offended” that she needed to show you something for free that she would ordinarily charge at $60+ per hour!… and then you had the “cheek” to want to make a video of it!! She must have been incensed! LOL

      Thanks for commenting… and for the follow. 🙂

  2. kristeeh 20 February 2013 at 16:10 #

    Hey, clueless noob right here! Lol great article and I definitely agree about uncomfortable the gym can be. I, for one, try to avoid eye contact as much as I can only so I don’t make anyone uncomfortable.

    • Sean Robins 20 February 2013 at 16:52 #

      I was always one of the clueless injury-prone try-hard noobs myself… funny how quickly things change when you finally start learning about what it is you should be doing… and I guess those of us who’ve been clueless need not have needed to stay that way for so long if a friendly person adopted us for a session or two.

      And don’t worry, we all outgrow our noobiness… or out-train it… one of the two! 😛

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