So writing about the dumb shit people do at the gym is fun so I am going keep doing that. Part 1

Gyms have mirrors. Some have more mirrors than others, but pretty much every gym I have been in has at least one wall of mirrors somewhere. The gym I worked in had a wall of mirrors in each of its weight rooms. And it was pretty much a given that at least one mirror panel was shattered once or twice a year. How? Do patrons chuck their weights at the mirror? Were drunk froshies allowed to party in the weight room? Did some guy finally flex his bicep so hard the mirror shattered from how epic the flex was? If so, why was it always the same mirror that shattered?

It was because of people using the bench press without putting clips on the bar.

The purpose of the clips is to prevent the plates on the barbell from sliding and causing the weight on the barbell to unbalance while someone is lifting it. If the bar becomes unbalanced as the lifter is lifting the bar tips and the weight can fall off making things worse. So usually the mirror got shattered by the falling plates and/or the tipping barbell the lifter couldn’t control anymore. It was for the this reason management asked all staff to enforce the use of clips for all barbell exercises. They were tired of forking out to replace the damn mirror.

Like a good little staffer (that hadn’t yet learned the hard lesson of how much doing your job can suck) I went to work trying to enforce use of clips and was faced with lots of grief from guys that thought they new better then management (and didn’t have to pay for the shattered mirrors or be liable for any other accidents that might occur as a result of improper equipment usage). I was yelled at and cussed at by guys because they thought the use of clips was stupid. The guys that protested the use of clips generally fell in one of two categories: 1) those that were just too lazy to bother with clips and 2) lone lifters.

The lazy guys would make excuses like “hey nothing is going to happen” to convince me that using the clips was ridiculous. (Gee thanks fellas, you really opened my eyes with that amazingly well thought out, clear, concise, and original argument.) They would just flat out ignore me (or scoff rudely at me then ignore me) when I explained it was a safety directive from gym management and it was expected that all gym users comply with gym policies. The lone lifters rejected all of the safety reasons for clips and argued that they were actually dangerous because if the lifter failed on his bench press he would not be able to get the weight off his chest by himself by dumping half the weight (by deliberately tilting the bar). I would always point out that that is why spotters should be used and why there were staff manning each weight room so no lifter was alone and would alway shave access to a spotter. The loners would just scoff and ignore me too. Because that is what jerks at the gym do.

As far as I know people are still to lazy to use the clips. The shattering of the mirror only ended when management swapped the bench press next to the problem mirror for a preacher curl.

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Everyone is an expert.

I have done a lot of research about how to eat healthy, how much I should eat, when I should eat etc. And it always the most frustrating thing to find such a wide range of advice and information on the subject. As far as I can tell everyone is an expert that knows exactly what you should do to reach your goals and they all think anyone who preaches differently is off their rocker. In short there is no way to eat food and not have there be someone somewhere claim that what/how you are eating is the wrong choice and will lead you to disaster. There is so much advice out there that is just contradictory.

People seem to have just divided up into factions: the no carbs faction, the vegetarian faction, the raw vegan faction, the paleo/caveman faction, the healthy carbs only faction, the healthy carbs but only after your workout faction, the eat five-eight times per day faction, the eat three times per day faction, the intermittant fasting faction, the low-fat faction, the intuitive listen to your body faction, the clean eating faction, the eat for heat faction, and the fuck it just do whatever faction. (I am sure there are more.)

Some factions claim their regime is the best for being healthy. Other factions claim that if you want to be lean their way is the only way. Many claim theirs is the method that will help you avoid the dreaded slow metabolism and be a fat burning machine. And what I always find amazing is that many seem to be able to come up with some physiological/hormonal based reasoning as to why they are right and why the other guys are wrong.

My original goal for this post was to post a few basic eating pointers that seem to more or less be common to many styles of eating, such as avoiding overly processed junk, and looking for high quality foods etc. An while these statements may not be terrible advice I don’t really feel like I should write anyting advice wise because if eating properly was really that simple wouldn’t there be some kind of consensus amoung the “experts”?

I have been thinking about this and only thing I can come up with is that noone is really an expert when it comes to deciding what method of eating works for people. At best they are just experts at eating the way that works for them.

“Oops. I guess I needed help with that after all.” Part 2

As part of my responsibilities working in the weight room as a student I suppose to try to keep the plate weights, dumbbells, and other equipment in some kind of order. This was usually a never ending task given how zealous people could be about loading their machines and doing their reps then walking away. (And holy excercise balls rolling everywhere! Why do people find it so difficult to return the exercise ball to the rack they got it from?) It really annoyed me when the same person who would be too lazy to unload the leg press after using it would have the audacity to approach me while I was tidying other weights and ask “Hey, can I help you with that?”. My response was always a polite “No. Thank you, this is part of my job. Thanks for offering”. Because that was what was expected of me, but I what really wanted to say to that person was “No. I don’t need any help thank you, but that little old lady over there who wanted to use the leg press after you really could have benefited from you unloading machine when you were done.”

Being asked “do you need help with that” in the gym environment also sometimes felt like some kind of commentary on my strength and/or ability to lift the weights in question. I admit some of the really large dumbbells were tough because I couldn’t always grip them with two hands and my greatest limiting factor is my grip strength. But I generally managed. Moving the 45lbs plates was no problem (the shape made them easy to grip). But guys would see me begin to shuffle the plates and interrupt me to offer help as if they didn’t think it was possible for me to do it. (And holy crap people, if you put your weights away properly to begin with I wouldn’t have to.) I was always polite of course, and in the case of the really large dumbbells that needed to be moved I occasionally accepted their help. 

The question also gnawed at me because of the possible sexist connotations it hid. I didn’t accept the occasional bit of help because I was “weak little girl”. I accepted help because I acknowledged that there was a limit to my personal strength and some of the weights were past that limit. One male co-worker actually complained about how the girls were offered help but he wasn’t. The point is that if these helpful patrons were really just being helpful then 1) they would have put their weights away to begin with and 2) they would offer to help all staff not just the ladies. 

I also had a female co-worker who never put weights away herself. The guys working during her shift did it for her. She would brag “my boys are well trained.” Although whether that worked because she was gorgeous or because they were afraid of her (she was a scary type A personality) I was never sure. Or maybe her thinking was simply that these guys used the weights so she was going to teach them put them away properly. 

A friend whose girlfriend had complaints about guys getting in her way at the gym asking if she needed help when she clearly didn’t, suggested that next time someone asked us if we “needed help with that” we should turn them down then later accidentally drop the weight on the guy’s foot and say “Oops. I guess I needed help with that after all.”

“Oops. I guess I needed help with that after all.” Part 1

I used to work in a weight room and teach fitness classes part-time when I was a student. It was great since it was shift work on-campus that fit well between classes, and it was something I was interested in. I also received a complementary gym access as a bonus. Generally speaking I enjoyed myself. I especially enjoyed the early bird shifts where there were always the same six die-hards working out so remembering all their names was a piece of cake. When working in a weight room it is a given that someone would eventually need a spotter and if they didn’t have a friend with them they would of course ask staff. My supervisors had made it a point to teach everyone proper spotting techniques for all the typical exercises and gave a basic list of does and don’ts for spotting. Problems generally only occurred when people asked me to spot for the wrong reasons.

The primary purpose of a spotter is to act as a safety net for the lifter in case the lifter, in their of goal pushing to “just before failure”, actually fails. A ready and alert spotter can help the lifter control the weight and set it down safety to avoid injury. A lifter’s last rep is suppose to be the rep just before failure. So actual failure shouldn’t happen if the lifter is experienced and has a good feel for detecting their personal limits. If a lifter and spotter are both doing their jobs properly the spotter should never take more than 5-10% of the weight. Essentially the spotter takes only just enough weight for lifter to finish their last rep safely. Once the spotter is needed to take the 5-10% that should be the end of the lifter’s set.

Unfortunately, some people think that a spotter is there to let them squeeze out 1, 2, 3, 4, or more extra reps. For every rep past the “just before failure” rep described above the % of weight the spotter has to take from the lifter so they can keep going just keeps going up. So in the end the lifter isn’t even lifting what he thinks he is lifting. If your spotter is lifting over 10% of the weight for you the rep doesn’t count. Guys often do this then get up and chest bump each other as though they accomplished something big when in reality they just cheated the last few reps. (If you noticed I just shifted from gender neutral “they” to “he”, well I just couldn’t keep the male factor out of this forever because it is the guys that are primarily guilty of misusing spotters in my experience.) Looking beyond the ridiculous macho ego thing that is the only thing I think of to explain this type of behavior, lets go back to the safety role of a spotter.

I was often asked to spot for patrons at my gym. And it was predominately men who asked for spots because they were often (but not always) the only ones lifting heavy enough to need spotters. It was a good thing when someone asked for a spot because I would rather be standing there spotting them from the beginning of their set instead of running over to the whip the weights off their chests after they have already failed. I would regularly spot for guys bench pressing far far more weight then I was capable of lifting on my own. No problem. The reason I could is because as I spotter I am not suppose to ever be taking all that weight on by myself. I should never take more than 5-10%. Problems occurred when guys asked me to spot and did not stop at “just before failure” but kept going expecting me to take more and more weight and refusing to listen to me when I told them they needed to rack the weight. One guy was so pig headed about completing as many of these cheater reps as possible (and ignoring my directions to rack the weight) that it got to the point that some other dude had to come over and rack the weight for us. Being staff I had to be polite to Mr. Pig Head, but fortunately the dude that saved Mr. Pig Head from crushing himself via misuse of a spotter made a choice comment to Mr. Pig Head about his level of intelligence which made me feel better.

Another bad practice that tends to come from the “spotters are meant to help me squeeze out a few more reps and nothing else” mentaility is incorrect spotting form. To illistrate this point there is the story of the guy who dropped the 30lb dumbbell on his head. This incident was before my time at the gym, but it was always used afterward as an example of how critical proper spotting technique is. The gentlmen in question was doing dumbbell shoulder presses with a friend spotting for him. His spotter however made the mistake of spotting from the elbow. I have seen this done many times. The spotter essentially just gives the lifter a bump under the elbows to help them past a sticking point or the spotter grips at the elbow. The problem with this is that by gripping at the elbow there is no way for the spotter to control the fall of the weights if the lifter fails. The lifter can still fail at the elbow joint and with the way the human arm bends the only place for the weight to go is right into the lifters head. So that is how the guy with a spotter dropped a 30lb dumbbell on his head. The correct way to spot for shoulder press is from the wrists so that as a spotter you can help the lifter direct the weights down to either side or (in the case of emergencies only) drop the weight on the floor to either side.

Put some weight on the leg press already!

It is a very easy thing to do to go the gym and waste your time. I see plenty of people in my gym wasting their time. The time wasting can takes many different forms. It can be people chatting and hanging off equipment. It can be people plodding along on the treadmill or barely moving the peddles of a bike while reading. It can be someone lifting a winky dinky dumbbell for 20 some reps for 3-5 sets. But what always bugs me the most (I have to make a point of facing the other direction when I notice it happening) is people on the plate loaded leg press doing lazy relaxed looking leg presses with no plates loaded on the machine. When I finally see someone reach for some weight they pick up a 5lb plate or two . Why would some one walk over to a machine on two perfectly good legs sit down and then lift less than their own body weight?

Latter I usually get to watch that person’s eyes then bug out of their heads when I slide multiple 45lb plates onto the machine. My leg press isn’t even all that amazing. There are plenty of people out there who can leg press more than me. Some people even argue that what you leg press is meaningless. It is only what you can squat and deadlift that counts. Either way when strength training the entire point is to apply enough weight that your leg muscles (the largest and strongest muscles you have) are challenged. If you can chew your gum, gaze off into lala land, and not break a sweat while pressing you need to add a shit ton more weight. If you are not going to add enough weight to make it challenging you might as well not bother with the leg press. You will get far more out of practicing your squat, deadlift, lunges, and step up variations.

To the guy who workouts in yucky flip flop sandals.

Ah! Put on some shoes! Not only it is not safe, it is not hygienic. I also don’t like seeing you rub your bare feet on the equipment. Especially since I also noticed you don’t wipe those parts of the machine down when you are done.

Also when you bought your gym membership, I know you signed the same contract I did and that contract includes an agreement to wear appropriate workout attire. Appropriate workout attire includes actual closed toe/closed healed shoes not nasty old beach sandals that keep falling off your feet.

Inability to afford a gym membership should not stop you from being active.

 I hear all sorts of excuses and reasons from people for why they can’t or won’t workout. They range from “I don’t have time”, “It is too hard”, “I don’t want to get bulky”, “I am too lazy”, “I have kids” to “I can’t afford a gym membership”. I could write a post on each of these items, but I am going to focus on “I can’t afford a gym membership” for now.  I hate hearing this reason for not being active. It is a completely bogus reason/excuse.

I didn’t have a gym membership for years. I love having a gym, but I simply could not fit a membership into my budget for a long time. Even if I could have fit it in my budget, I didn’t have car (and still don’t because it does not fit in my budget) and there were no gyms within walking distance of my home. Even now that I have a gym membership I had to trim other areas of my budget to make room for it. So I get not being able to afford a gym membership. That is ok. But not having a gym membership should not stop you from being active if you want to be. You can workout efficiently and effectively for free. How? That floor space in the middle of your living room is free (or rather you paying for it anyway so why not use it some more?). The sidewalk is free. Community running and bike trails are free. The park with the monkey bars, public tennis courts, and baseball diamond down the street is free. Your body is free. All you have to do is move it.

When I had no gym membership I worked out at home. To begin with all I had was a yoga mat. (You don’t even need that. You can use a towel.) I did body weight exercises and skipped with no rope. I added plyometrics moves to make it harder. Over time I did slowly begin collecting some equipement as my budget allowed. An exercise ball. Some resistance bands. A couple dumbbells. A step block. My one large purchase was a spin bike. They helped keep things interesting. But the single best purchase I have ever made for my home workouts was my GYMBOSS. My GYMBOSS still goes to the gym with me.

As I mentioned in pervious posts there plenty of places to get ideas for home workouts using minimal equpement. My favorites are Zuzka Light and Dr. Sara Solomon’s website (see links on side bar). But there plenty of others.

Here is a list of basic equipment that can be used for homeworkouts that is inexpensive, doesn’t take up much space, and is versatile:

1) yoga/pilates mat – Lots of options out there. Take your pick.

2) interval timer – I love my GYMBOSS. You can also get interval timer apps.

3) resistance band or resistance tubing

4) chair (steady enough to stand on)

And keep walking the dog.