As we discussed last week, there’s nothing wrong with being a part of the “new year, new me” crowd, no matter how much I may hate the phrase. We all have to get started sometime, and if a New Year’s resolution is enough to get your fitness gears turning, more power to you… but there’s one more thing we need to address before you can take your place in line waiting for the bench on Monday afternoons at your local L.A. Fitness: proper gym etiquette.
No matter what you’re into, there’s an online community full of blow-hards and elitists just waiting to pick you apart for not adhering to their standards of decency, and we’re not just talking about the culture-camps we for some reason establish within every field of interest. Sure, we all know Glock guys and 1911 guys can’t be kept in the same kennel – they start gnawing at each other’s ears and nipping at butts. We also know Ford and Chevy girls can’t shop at the same deli without stickers of Calvin peeing on something getting thrown about like confetti… but even within these brand-selective groups, there are always those uppity types that’ll eat their own because they bought “cheap” optics, rock the wrong holster, or don’t have the Ford logo tattooed on their neck big enough.
The gym is no different. In fitness forums all across the internet, there are New Years posts aimed at either bitching at you for daring to be new, or at commiserating with one another about how hard life is in January, when you’re forced to work your tri’s while surrounded by fitness-plebes. These folks aren’t any different from the guys that tell you it isn’t worth even buying a 1911 unless you spend more than three thousand dollars on it, or that the only way to make your mustang respectable is with a Roush supercharger kit (because we all know Procharger is for poor people). These folks aren’t trying to help you, and neither are most articles about what you should and shouldn’t do in the gym.
So, without any further ado, here’s the a brief, no-bullshit guide to looking like you belong in the gym, even if the internet thinks you don’t.
1. Don’t frieken talk to anybody.
I know that for a lot of people, the gym can be a social experience. I’m not one of those people, but I’ve seen them out there… chatting in front of the free weights as though just being in a gym somehow makes them healthier. Don’t fall into the social butterfly trap; stick some headphones in your ears and get to work.
Now, I’m not only saying that because I don’t like gym-based socialites. Guys like me, that have been in the fitness game for a long time, don’t go to the gym to catch up with our friends; we go to work. If you utilize a similar mindset while other resolutioners catch up with their old buddies about season two of Stranger Things, you’ll look more like someone that belongs and less like an obstacle standing between the rest of us and our next lift. As an added bonus, you’ll even see results while the other new guys wonder why they keep getting fatter despite spending an hour a day chatting around weights.
2. Do a little lift research.
A common mistake new lifters make is assuming they know how to lift. We all know what a bench press is, we’ve all seen a guy doing curls, and we assume we can figure the rest out via extrapolation… until it comes time to move on to your next exercise. Skip the awkward pauses and confused stares at weights and machines by looking up a few lifts before you get to the gym. There are tons of websites and applications out there that serve no purpose other than to show you different lifts for different muscle groups and how to properly execute them.
If you plan to workout along a strict regimen, bring the list of lifts with you on paper or in your phone. Even if you want to get into lifting with a looser approach, apprising yourself of what you can do with a set of free weights will get you through your workout faster, and make you look like you know why you’re there.
3. Ask the staff for help when you need it.
It’s totally normal to find yourself unsure of how to use a machine at your local gym. While some machines are entirely straight forward and almost all workout equipment now comes with stickered-on directions for use, sometimes the machine you find yourself standing in front of bears a stronger resemblance to a medieval torture device than it does to anything that can even pretend to be good for you. When you find yourself in that position, you’re faced with two options: you can climb aboard and start awkwardly mashing parts of you into its padded surfaces – or you can just ask the guy or girl at the desk to give you a brief rundown.
If you’re going to ask someone for help, start with the employees. It’s their job to not only help you, but to do so without judgement. Remember that although the guy in the next machine wearing headphones and a sleeveless tee-shirt might look like he knows what he’s doing, you can be sure he doesn’t feel like breaking his rhythm to exchange introductions and give you a crash course on leg extensions. Unless you’re a beautiful woman… they pretty much always get away with that sort of thing.
4. Be Courteous. Stop staring.
The gym may be a new environment for you, but it’s still just a place where people converge to get something accomplished – not unlike your work. You already know how to behave in a work environment: don’t touch other people’s stuff, say excuse me when you’re in the way, and perhaps most importantly of all, don’t stare at other people’s genitals while they’re trying to get things done.
In an office, no one would ever imagine staring at a woman’s butt or groin while she files papers, but for some reason, dudes seem to think girls won’t notice if they’ve got a dumbbell in their hands. She noticed bro. Move on.
Treat the gym like a workspace, and behave the same way you would around your coworkers (unless you’re still on active duty… in which case, you probably shouldn’t treat anyone like you treat your coworkers).
5. Stop worrying about it.
I realize that telling you to stop worrying so much about fitting in at the tail end of an article how to fit in may seem counterproductive, but once you’ve got rules 1-4 down pat, the most important thing for you to do is to stop stressing about the way you’re perceived. Being self-conscious about your behavior will not only make you stand out, it’ll keep you from getting done what you’re there to get done: improving yourself.
Nobody looks cool in the middle of a grueling workout, so disregard concerns about your appearance right away. The people that aren’t sweating enough to look gross aren’t getting anywhere, so who cares what they think, and the ones that are sweating and grunting in their own little worlds couldn’t care less about what you’re doing. The more time you’ve spent in gyms, the more you stop caring about how you appear to others, and the more productive you become.
At the end of the day, working out may be about looking good and feeling good – but it’s not about that while you’re at it. Your workout is work.
So get to it.