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:
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.