I almost punched someone in the gym.
And in some ways I’m upset I didn’t. Only doing so would have only made one of the more recent fitness trends even worse.
I was in the gym for a weekend lift. The gym was a little busier than usual, but typical for the time of day. The floor was crawling with all types of movements.
Burpees, bench presses, and butt shaking all going on at the same place. (And yes, someone was actually shaking their butt doing some sort of awesome dance workout).
But there was this one guy who stood out from the rest. He was wearing a beanie, half of his head covered the other stands delicately hanging out. Lean and muscular, there was nothing that should have made him pop in the room, except that he was repeatedly interacting with these two apparent beginners.
I switched off my headphones and listened in as the beanie mocked a complete stranger for not being stronger. The beanie then lifted up his shirt, showed off his 6-pack to overweight man, and says, “This is how it’s supposed to look in here.”
I’ve seen a lot of dumb things in the gym.
I’ve contributed to the stupidity in many ways. One time back in 2009 I wasn’t paying attention with moving weight plates. Naturally, I picked up a 45-pound plate and smashed it into my mouth. (Yeah, this was not my best moment.) I cracked my two front teeth and had slammed the weights so hard that the metal of the plates became one with my teeth. One could say it was my run at having grillz.
We’ve all seen some dumb stuff in the gym. And oftentimes it’s fun to make jokes about it.
But there’s a difference between making jokes and creating a culture that makes beginners feel like they don’t belong or that they are judged for every move they make.
It’s easy to say they need a thicker skin. Don’t be a baby. But we’re also not in their shoes and can’t tell them how to feel.
The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for those who are not comfortable with their bodies or gym culture. Some people will say, “If you think other people are judging you then you have bigger problems.” Then again, some of the most popular brands of fitness have worked to address this issue.
Look no farther than CrossFit. Say what you want about programming and injuries (and there’s plenty to discuss and criticize), but they have a created a culture where people feel welcome. Or why do you think P90X was so popular for so many? Working out at home means not working out at the gym and avoiding that environment.
We oftentimes try to understand why more people aren’t in better shape and can’t make their way to the gym.
We call people lazy.
Say they lack motivation.
Insist that there’s not enough time.
All of these might be true or might contribute to the problem or be a realistic barrier.
But every year many people decide to start fresh and still find themselves pushed away. Instead of making fun, mocking, or insulting people who are doing the same stupid stuff we all did at some point, we need to be more encouraging so that they can learn and become comfortable.
This is serious. Too many people feel the gym is not for them. Are some people too sensitive? No doubt. But for many people that threat is real and overwhelming.
Here’s the truth: Once people stop stressing about looking stupid or having people laughing at them, they are free to work hard, kick some ass, and make changes. But the judgmental, condescending attitude needs to end.
We don’t need to make the gym more welcoming for those that love to lift and spend lots of time in the gym. We do need to acknowledge their style of training and let them do their thing, whether it’s going HAM on some heavy weights or pushing a sled. At the same time, there are many more who are new and feel uncomfortable, but want this–a healthy life, fitness and exercise–to be part of their life.
All of us need to make sure we’re on the same page and create a culture where exercise–no matter what your activity of preference or level of expertise–is treated like a good thing and encouraged.
Fitness isn’t just for me or you. It includes the heavy lifters, the Crossfitters, the P90xers and the cardio crew. Sure, I have my opinion on what is best and what is more effective.
But I’d rather have someone find their place doing something active than settling for a sedentary life and health problems.
Fitness is for us all. Let’s draw the line, open the doors to all, and let everyone choose the option that feels best for them. That’s when fitness will live.
I encourage you all to open the doors. That’s what #BeTheChange is all about. Spread the word and let’s change the game.
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.