Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 01/02/2012

Occupy Muscle Beach!




I love working out in December. The January newbies are long gone. Even the novices who work out with the gym’s trainers have mostly given up. It’s easy to get to the equipment I need, and to find space to use it. There’s an easy camaraderie among those of us who lift 52 weeks a year. Even if we don’t know each other by name, we know the woman to the left won’t try to step over the bar we’re about to lift off the floor, and the guy to the right won’t bump into the arm that’s pressing a 70-pound dumbbell.

But it’s January now, and January is different. January is when you see people you’ve never seen in your gym before, some of whom are there for the first time. Most of them will be gone by St. Patrick’s Day. Some won’t last to Valentine’s Day. The odds of any of them working out next to you in late December are too small to contemplate.

All the more reason to treat them with courtesy and respect, argues Robin Owens, a moderator at the menshealth.com fitness forum:

Are you ready? The time is near. The time for another occupy movement. Prepare yourselves. It is going to happen Monday morning, Jan 2nd. And it is going to happen in your gym. They are going to move in and set up camp. They are going to take up all the cardio machines; park themselves on the weight machines; leave weights on the floor; curl in the squat rack; spend hours naked at the locker room sink; leave gym towels on empty benches. They are your new 99%.

99%. The amount of people that want to do better this year. The number that wants to be a part of something great. The volume of masses that wish they had what it took. How will you treat them? How will you act toward them? How will you respond when they occupy yourgym? Will you treat them like the 1% that you already know and have come to work with at your gym? Or will you treat them like outcasts?

I challenge you this year to again Be The Example. Lift smart, lift hard and lift with purpose. But also lift with one thing in mind: You are being watched. It does not take a lecture, advice or even a nod of the head to make a difference in the lives of a newb in the gym. It simply takes one small act of respect to encourage one of those 99%ers to come back time and time again.

It’s trickier than it sounds. Gym culture is odd and mysterious to people who aren’t part of it. If you try to help someone, there’s a chance he’ll take it the wrong way, like you’re big-dogging him or pulling rank.

Besides, where do you begin to point out mistakes to someone who’s doing everything wrong? He’s using the wrong equipment, or blocking equipment she’s not using, or doing something distracting or inappropriate, or just wandering about cluelessly, forcing you to worry about her safety when you should be focused on your form.

That’s why I was struck by Robin’s advice. Most of us don’t consider ourselves to be part of any elite. We’re regular people with regular families, muddling along from month to month and year to year. But those of us who show up to lift the first Monday in January because we also showed up to lift the first Monday of every other month are the inner circle of gym culture. We’re the ones who wear the knurling off the barbells, and have the calluses to show for it. We’re the ones who use the weights on the bottom row of the dumbbell rack. And, without meaning to, we’re the ones who can make people feel even more lost and intimidated than they’d otherwise be.

We don’t have the power to turn January newbs into lifelong gym rats, like us. It’s not our job to teach them what we know. All we can do is go about our business. If someone’s paying attention and learning from our example, so much the better.