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.









  • Jonathan Goodman

    So very true. I challenge Personal Trainers midway through last year to “be the change you wish to see in the world” and help these people. Too often fitness pros ostracize new exercisers instead of helping them or allowing them to find their own way.

    • Great point, Jonathan. Would any of us have developed a lifelong attachment to exercise if someone had corrected every move we made when we were starting out, or treated us like we didn’t deserve the chance to figure things out? I say that as someone who ALWAYS wants to point out what people are doing wrong. (Fortunately, over the years I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut unless someone asks!)

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  • Denise

    “And, without meaning to, we’re the ones who can make people feel even more lost and intimidated than they’d otherwise be.”

    Having finished the weight training book for women, I’m ready to hit the gym again. Yet, I find the most daunting thing before me is the nerve to step into that “forbidden” territory of the free weight section of my gym. I’m not a total newbie, I know the equipment and have manners. I fall into that catagory of woman who has let herself go over the years due to putting others first. So here I am at 51 with 80lbs to lose and I have to suck it up and enter the “man-zone” if I want real change. Mentally I’ve dubbed my phase one workout the Honey Badger workout. I just can’t give a s#@% as to what others think.

    I do appreciate your words of encouragement to the “old timers” to treat us newbies with care as we enter your territory.Thanks.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Denise, I see that all the time at the gym and every time I see one of the “Honey Badger” ladies pick up her dumbbells and take a seat on the bench I want to applaud! You’ve got the right mental attitude and drive, keep the headphones in, the eyes locked forward and do work. You have every right (if not more) to be there than anyone else in that gym. Besides Honey Badger don giv a sh*t.

  • Strini

    I have been training for almost 15Years in a gym enviroment and i can say with conviction that woman are getting wiser about lifting and looking better for it. Its all about longevity.

  • stacie schneider

    I agree.That’s why I workout with my trainer Stacie-she is passionate and doesn’t follow the fad workout of the day. http://www.fitnessx.com/contests/stacie-schneider/

  • I love the use of classic pictures in the Theme, great blog post! Beach workout’s all the way.