A few weeks ago, I was met with a comment at the gym that almost stopped me in my tracks.
Towards the end of my workout, I was working on my pull ups, doing as many rounds as possible, as quickly as possible. I was trying to avoid the use of any assistance from the pull up machine, but I was slightly jumping into them. Right now it’s the only way I can do multiple sets in one gym session, but honestly, that’s beside the point.
As I was walking away and had turned around to head into the locker room, an older guy approached me, laughing and saying something I couldn’t hear because I had my headphones in. I took one out, asked what he said, with a smile on my face. And he asked, still laughing, “do you want me to show you how to use that machine?”
I could have responded in a myriad of ways. Such as: “Actually, I’m a personal trainer, so yes, I know what I am doing.” Or a simple: “I know how to use it.” I could have completely ignored him. Instead, I think I said something slightly cocky and along the lines of “Yeah, didn’t you see me complete that last set of pull ups?”
What I think is even funnier is his response: “Oh no, I just saw the end of your last rep.”
Oh, really? You made an assumption about my knowledge of a pretty standard piece of gym equipment by seeing me on my very last rep during the very last minute of my workout, completing an exercise that I have literally been working on for months? Had my husband been the one completing his workout, I highly doubt anyone would have approached him to ask if he wanted to know how to use the equipment.
By the time I walked into the locker room, I was incredibly annoyed. “Who does he think he is? Who has the nerve to approach other people in the gym, laughing at them and asking if they want them to show them a thing or two? Was that some sort of weirdo attempt to hit on me?” Bleh.
I left upset, annoyed, feeling altogether yucky and self-conscious (instead of feeling empowered and excited about the awesome workout I just had).
I tried to let it go for the night and not give it much thought until I could think about it with a clearer head. And I am glad I did, because it got me thinking not just about this interaction, but about the interactions commonly experienced, seen, or felt by many people while at the gym.
I don’t think you’ll disagree that gyms can sometimes be a scary place to walk into.
It can be intimidating for a gym-goer of any level, but especially for a beginner. Often in the beginning stages of establishing a workout routine, you are taking the initiative to walk into a new place when you aren’t really feeling the best about yourself, you don’t really know what the heck you’re doing and you aren’t really sure how other people in the gym are going to respond to your sudden presence there.
As displayed during my little interaction at the gym a few weeks ago, they can also be a breeding ground for assumptions. People at the gym look around and make snap judgments about others around them, based strictly on the workout they are choosing to complete, what they’re form looks like, the clothes they decided to sport that day, or who they have with them.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all gyms are like this. And not all gym-goers act this way either. But I think the fact that there has been a surge in popularity of videos like Gym Wildlife (yes, I think it is hilarious, too), it isn’t out of the question to say going to the gym is like heading into the Wild West. You don’t always know what you are going to get.
But in all honesty, gyms shouldn’t be so darn intimidating. Instead, gyms should be the ultimate place for community members to life each other up. It takes a lot of guts to walk into a gym with the purpose of making yourself better. And that initial step, as well as the continued growth afterwards, should be celebrated. The gym-goers around you should be accepted and welcomed.
All I’m asking is that the next time you head into a gym, take a little time to reflect on the fact that everyone there is doing the best they can.
The guy in the corner who is annoying you because he’s grunting so loudly and slamming weights may have had a really shitty day and needs to relieve some stress. Or simply has anger issues. He might feel completely ignored by his colleagues and needs to be noticed. Or may not even realize what he is doing.
The woman with the not-so-perfect form on the other side of the gym may have just started lifting weights. She’s trying something new and is a bit self-conscious about it, but she’s giving it all she has. And she’s learning.
The overweight dude on the bike may have had a really shitty year, is dealing with depression and anxiety, and despite all of that has made it to the gym today to try to move the dial the other direction.
And who knows – the chick choosing to perform unassisted pull ups, although not perfect, may also be a certified personal trainer who actually does know what she is doing and is psyched about what she has accomplished that day.
From my initial impression, I thought the old dude offering out free advice was being a condescending butt hole, but it is also possible he had perfectly good intentions. For all I know, he had helped someone with an exercise just 10 minutes prior and felt like he was on a roll. Or he was on a high from his latest run and just couldn’t help share his joy with someone else. Or, he was simply being an asshole.
You can never be sure. But what you can do is choose to create an environment that is that more positive, welcoming, and understanding. You can choose compassion over snap judgments, and kindness over smug self-importance.
And when you do, you will create a place where people help one another thrive and grow, where they can truly focus on living their healthiest, happiest lives.
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