So, I'm back in the gym again, that strange place where we go to “exercise” because we have forgotten how to move about naturally in the world. I like lifting weights, always have done, resistance training suits my stocky body type as running suits the skinnier types. If I hadn't finally smartened up in my 50's and didn't like to be outdoors so much, I could happily go into the gym everyday to lift weights. Anyway, I joined one of those box gyms, there really isn't that much choice around here, and, it's OK, but just OK.
As usual, it is stuffed to bursting with the ubiquitous “cardio” machines that require electricity so you can work out (actually, that's not quite true, there are two rowing machines). Marketing an exercise machine that requires electricity displays, as if we ever doubted it, the incredible ingenuity of marketers and the stupidity of consumers.
There is also far too many (any more than one is far too many) weight training machines that put your body into anatomically incorrect positions while isolating muscle groups as never occurs in the real world. Most of these, get very little traffic from the gym users. And, there is one – why is there always only one? - squat rack, which, of course, gets very busy because all the meatheads (including me) use the squat rack. Actually, this gym is a little worse than most because there is no bench press cage so you have to wiggle a bench into the squat cage and stack it up on free weights to get the correct height – which just jams up the squat rack all the more.
There is no straight pull-up bar, just another goofy machine with really goofy hand positions, but, one of the advantages of being short is I can use the Smith machine (the only use for a Smith machine really) to do pull-ups. This is hard for tall folks so they are stuck with the goofy machine. The music videos drone endlessly in the background with the standard semi-pornographic wholly untalented bimbos grinding away, but, I listen to podcasts which helps block out not only the other patrons but also the vacuous music.
High quality pullup bar
Blocking out the other patrons is, in my opinion, almost mandatory. Certainly, I understand why some women are intimidated by the free weight area. These gyms always seem to be full of big bulked up dudes oozing testosterone out their eyeballs, frequently with freakish tattoos and black hoodies, just the kind of bloke you don't want to meet in a dark alley. I'm happy to block these dudes out of my consciousness. The other reason you have to block people out is because you'll otherwise be constantly wincing when you watch people dead-lift with curled backs, fling their weights around while they bicep curl as if they are having a grand mal seizure, do burpees that look more like downward dogs than anything else, and a hundred other strange, ineffective and possibly dangerous exercise routines.
But, enough rambling, here is what you need to know if you are heading into the gym:
- Understand first that an hour in the gym will not undo 23 hours of crap eating. The gym I go to is full of people proving the adage that “you can't out-train a bad diet.” Ditch the carbage.
- Use full range of motion when you are doing any lift or body weight exercise. You're in the gym to correct poor body mechanics not reinforce it.
- If you've got to fling the weight about using momentum to lift, stop, just stop. Reduce the weight even if that hurts your ego.
- Same goes for body weight exercises like pull-ups and ankles to bar. Do less sets or reps so you can use correct form, do negatives, but do not flop about like a gasping fish freshly hauled onto land. Body control, it's all about body control.
- The gym has mirrors, use them to get your form right. You're not a narcissist unless you have an Instagram account.
- Planks are great but your back should be flat, flat enough to lay a broom handle along. You're butt shouldn't be up, it shouldn't be down, it should be in line with the rest of your body. Remember a plank is not a downward dog or an upward dog, it's a plank.
- Same goes for push ups. If you can't lay a broom handle across your back while you do a push up, you need to start with progressions, against the wall or on your knees. Don't be embarrassed or ashamed. The only shame is reinforcing poor movement patterns.
- Ladies, get off the cardio equipment and lift weights. Heavy weights. If you want to look like that gyrating porno star in the music video you gotta lift heavy weight.
- If you must use cardio equipment, using the rowing machine which gives a good full body workout and none of this steady state shit. HIT the rowing machine.
- Everyone should get off those damned machines, unless they are being used purely for accessory work. Focus on the big lifts – deadlifts, squats, bench press, rows, presses. You can always finish off with some pull-ups and ankles to bar, but, if you are lifting heavy enough, it's unlikely you'll have the gas left for much else.
- Put your damned phone away. Don't text, Facebook, Snapchat, god forgive – Instagram – just workout. If you're lifting heavy weights you will have to rest between sets but use that time to work on your mobility. Very few of us have good posture or mobility any more thanks to too much sitting at a computer and too little natural movement. Hunching over your phone between sets is just dumb.
- Play nice, share, put your weights away when you're done, and smile at the other patrons, even the scary looking dude with the tatts and hoody.