David Letterman used to have a regularly occurring comedy segment on his late night TV show with “Top Ten” lists. One of his examples might be, “The Top Ten Reasons why Irish and Russian Men Love to Drink Themselves into a Catatonic Stupor.” I have created a fitness-related list of shame. There’s only room for seven rants about the unforgivable gym sins perpetually perpetrated at commercial fitness facilities.
Here are the seven gym infractions that boil my blood:
Sin Number 7: Not unloading barbells or machines when you’re done. This is blatant, passive aggressive gym territory piss marking. Usually committed by the facility’s nighttime clique of faux bodybuilders (who never compete), poseur lifters (who never compete), and “athletes” (who never compete). This unpardonable sin is committed by the male bimbos who close down the gym—do they have nowhere else to be? These late-night macho boys love to act out and strut in all their peacock glory, imagining they’re in a personalized version of their favorite reality TV show, Jersey Shore. They seem to know just how much they can get away with before they’re kicked out.
Imagine coming in for a blissful 6AM workout and strolling into the deserted free-weight area of your local fitness facility only to find your favorite power bench—where you’d start the training session—is burdened with a barbell loaded to 365 pounds. And the squat rack has a barbell with 505 pounds on it, the leg press machine has nine 45s on both sides, the hack machine has four 45lb plates per side, plus as a gift from the last idiot who decided to shrug last night, the deadlift bar is set on a high pin position in the squat rack with five 45s per side! What moron would purposefully leave a weight loaded for a perfect stranger? When the pure hearted early morning trainees arrive, the message from the night crew is, “Hey! Morning-time pussies! We left our bars and machines loaded to show you how f*%king strong, badass, and incredible we are! Now, we need you morning sissies to be nice little boys and girls and unload our bars and machines.”
These types need to leave their weights loaded in order to get to Hooters before their muscle pump deflates. This arrogant, aggressive, ‘You clean up my shit!’ attitude is the clearest sign that a facility’s night shift is out of control. A manager should stroll up and down the gym floor right before closing and loudly announce, “When you are done lifting, strip the plates or else!” A facility should have nonnegotiable penalties—first offense, a verbal warning; second offense, a one week suspension; third offense, a permanent ban from the facility. Leaving bars and machines loaded is an act of aggression and serial abusers need to experience harsh retaliation.
Sin Number 6: Personal trainers alternately torturing or babying clients. The success of the TV show The Biggest Loser has allowed personal trainers with a sadistic streak to run wild. Sadism masquerading as fitness is still sadism. I routinely see overweight, out-of-shape clients being beaten up and torn down to tears, while subjected to a mean-assed loud mouth—yet totally ineffectual—personal trainer who doesn’t know jack squat about obtaining real results. Their “boot camps” should be called “jack boot camps.” Much of the uninformed public associates “fitness” with physical torture and a certain type of personal trainer is happy to oblige. Too many personal trainers are embracing this “concentration camp prison guard” ethos. They love to dish out sadistic workouts that would result in war crimes indictments if Gitmo prison guards forced terrorist prisoners to do them. And these mean-ass personal trainers are paid to do this to their doe-eyed clients! The personal trainers who serve up this type of torture with such yawning nonchalance never engage in this type of training in their own pathetic workouts. Where do these savage trainers get their sadistic ideas? These Hitler-youth-gone-mad types are practitioners of fitness malpractice.
At the other extreme are the personal trainers who baby their clients. They’re paid friends, rep counters, life coaches, and chuckleheads who continually push “quality” products on their gullible clients to earn a commission. These sensitive good listeners and expert advice givers would be perfect if they could obtain any results at all. This type of personal trainer will seek to change the client’s perspective, maneuvering them to believe that there is more to fitness than just results. In other words they say real results are less important than developing a positive self-image. Unfortunately real results are the only thing that matters in real fitness. Pretend fitness is another matter entirely. The good-time smiley face personal trainer seeks to put the client on the magical path of subjective fitness, full of “healing”, “health”, fuzzy goals and warm scented baths. Some of these personal trainers coddle clients with ridiculous happy-time exercises that can’t possibly produce any measurable physiological results. At the other extreme the sadistic personal trainer beats helpless clients to a bloody pulp with crazed workouts that produce zero results. Both types give the personal training profession a black eye.
Sin Number 5: Loud and obnoxious screaming, yelling and cursing. We get it, you are young, immature, and full of piss and vinegar. These people populate every serious commercial gym at night and between noon and 5PM on weekends. They naturally cluster together and form training cliques. Once a tribe is formed, it’s just a matter of time before the acting-out begins. It starts with loud yelling and screaming. If management doesn’t stop it, the show escalates into foul-mouthed cursing, role playing, and macho posturing. This mutual admiration society of preening-peacocks shouts fitness clichés without the slightest hint of irony. With no concern for the women or children who might be within earshot, these macho man-boys have something to prove. They act as if they were cast as professional wrestlers. Eventually they assume pretend personas when they “train.” The tribe members take turns engaging in amazing (to each other) feats of strength and will do anything to grab attention.
Within their tribe, they are incredible, extraordinary individuals who richly deserve the undivided attention of the entire gym. The tribe grows increasingly loud and profane to draw this attention. The exclamations increase in direct proportion to the weight lifted in the featured lift of the night—usually bench press. Unless stopped by management, the tribe will act out with ever increasing ferocity. Their profane screaming, cursing, and antics are impossible to ignore. By screaming the loudest during the biggest man’s heaviest lift, they ensure a captive, resentful audience. Most of the iron elite avoid a facility when these tribes are present, but when forced into the same space, real men use iPods to drown out these attention-starved knuckleheads.
Sin Number 4: Sanctimonious stretching before lifting weights. This one used to get my goat, now I just laugh. Back when fitness and bodybuilding went mainstream at the 1985 inception of the so-called “fitness revolution”, personal trainers made clients “stretch out” before lifting weights. The stretching devotees were young, had advanced college degrees in physical education and sports psychology, and were uniformly attractive—perfect hair, great teeth, and fashionably lean. They’d tell us Neanderthal non-stretchers how stupid we were, “Study after study shows that stretching before a lifting session reduces injuries by 88%. Only a Luddite or someone who doesn’t care about their clients would neglect stretching out before lifting.” The loony “stretch to reduce lifting injuries” idea existed for decades.
Stretching before lifting was “settled science,” and beyond questioning. But, we questioned it, since static stretches with cold muscles at the beginning of a training session was ridiculous. For decades the iron elite have known that the best possible way to warm up a muscle or group of muscles is performing the specific weight training exercise that is to be trained using light poundage for high reps with a purposefully exaggerated range-of-motion. How will 25 reps in an ice-cold toe-touch or a full minute in the static hurdler stretch going to make muscles loose, warm, neurologically fit, and firing on all cylinders? It’s lunacy!
Hip personal trainers would spend thirty minutes stretching clients before taking them through a worthless all-machine, sub-maximal 30 minute “weightlifting workout.” I used to take great pleasure in walking in off the street, finishing a high-intensity back workout in 25 minutes—then leaving. I’d work up to an all out set of deadlifts for a limit triple, then rest and observe the stretchers before hitting a final, all out deadlift set of five reps, with less weight and more precise technique. After finishing my deadlifts in 15 minutes, I’d super-set heavy alternating seated dumbbell curls with weighted chins for five sets each, adding weight each set. I was blasted, body-shocked to my core, my back and arm muscles engorged, exhausted, and decimated in 23 minutes. I’d leave, wobbling as I walked while the tanned, spandex-wearing personal trainer was still only 2/3 through his stretch-a-thon. Most of these trainers loved to lecture their clients while guiding them through a stretch session. Lots of meaningful talk as everyone “eased into the posture.” The “pre-lift safety stretch” session was a joke and a complete waste of time. Good-bye and good riddance to pre-lift stretching.
Sin Number 3: Manic and Accusatory Sweat Wiping. The sweat wiper spends more time wiping sweat off a resistance machine then performing the actual set. They wipe and polish the cardio or resistance machines with more vigor and effort than when performing their sub-maximal set. The Clean Brigade will only use exercise and cardio machines. Before they dream of even touching a machine, the Clean Brigade will grab an ever-present spray bottle of disinfectant and vigorously scrub the machine handles and back pad with a wad of paper towels. The instant they’re done using the machine the same procedure is repeated with such rabid ferocity you’d think they’d exuded a bucket of putrid sweat during their set. Obsessive-compulsive machine wipers make sure any potential points of bodily contact get special scrub attention. The Clean Brigade has high standards of cleanliness and feels that it is only proper that YOU also abide by them. Any particle of sweat left on an exercise machine represents a biological weapon of mass destruction, and if you refuse to buy into their germ phobia, you’ll be the subject of glares, stares, and muffled complaints to management.
The Clean Brigade is usually incensed and irate. They hate anyone who may insinuate that they’re excessive or overbearing. Only a criminal or a hillbilly would use an exercise machine and just walk away without giving it a cursory swipe. These germ phobic people tend to be older, better-educated individuals—and female. They are in constant conflict with the hardcore gym goers, and love to complain to management. Their high and pious mission is the eradication of sweat from fitness facilities, and their true calling is to eliminate germs, no matter the cost to fitness gains. Heretics—those that don’t wipe—should immediately be banned from the fitness facility for life. They also think serial banning of the hardcore types would create a far more civil and sensible “fitness” environment.
Sin Number 2: Waiting in line to use a piece of fitness equipment. Have you been to a large urban or suburban fitness facility at prime time? Standard operating procedure is putting your name down on a freaking clipboard hanging off a piece of equipment to schedule your time to use it! People will line up to use a favorite cardio machine, the preacher curl bench, and the leg extension machine. Don’t you love having to change your entire workout at the last second because people are monopolizing the equipment you need to perform the exercises in your plan? This is the greatest single workout buzz-kill of all time! Waiting for equipment kills flow, timing, inspiration, and ruins time efficiency. The atmosphere of an over-crowded gym is like a manic madhouse, stuffed to the rafters with frantic exercisers. I’d rather have a barbell on a piece of plywood in an unheated garage with a single bare light bulb in February.
Here’s an epidemic variation of waiting in line: someone sits on the resistance-training machine until he’s completed all of his sets. I used to think this behavior was limited to senior citizens, but recently I was running late and had to hit the commercial facility at 9AM on Saturday—a big mistake, people were everywhere. I saw an oaf on the leg press machine as soon as I entered the resistance training area. With ten 45-pound plates on each side, our hero sat on leg press like it was a Lazy-Boy recliner in his living room. I knew this yahoo’s exact modus operandi and sure enough, he stirred, set his legs and pushed the 900 pounds upward to unlock the weight. He began to rep, but his leg presses might have moved up and down six to eight inches. Ridiculous! This man couldn’t push three plates per side using a full range of motion. Then he had to let out a blood-curdling scream on the final mini-rep. His grand finale for the set was dropping the 900lbs onto the support pins to make an awful racket before just sitting there awaiting applause. He performed two more goofy sets, between which he sat on the leg press pad like a couch potato. After doing three sets in fifteen minutes, he finally stood up. He was big, 6’4”, 240lbs, and he thought he had it going on—despite a lack of muscles. He wore a skimpy tank top and tiny shorts even though it was a freezing November morning. His legs were pathetic—a perfect testament to the ineffectiveness of his leg presses. He moved onto leg extensions and repeated his stare-into-space stupor between sets of grunting partial-rep leg curls. Between sets of lying leg curls, he laid frozen on the machine, like a zombie. Men like this are everywhere.
Sin Number 1: Putting the curl bar in the squat rack. This is the ultimate sacrilege. Just think about the lazy, ludicrous nature of this iron travesty! The guy doing curls is too lazy to pick the curl bar up from the floor! He thinks picking the 45-pound EZ-curl bar off the floor would waste valuable curl strength. This idiot ties up the sacred squat rack, desecrating the holy leg altar with set after set of cheat curls that go on forever—while keeping squatters from using the squat rack. Between sets, the squat rack curl dude spends ten minutes “recovering” while wandering around talking with whoever is dumb enough to listen. This guy knows only one subject: himself. Watch his eyes as he lovingly stares at the mirror while doing his squat rack cheat curls.
This type runs to management and squeals like a little tattletale if confronted or told to hurry it up. He’ll say, “I have as much right to do squat rack curls as you do to do squat rack squats!” Management loves this type because they pay in advance and their checks don’t bounce. In a confrontation between the hardcore and the pre-paying squat rack curler, the hardcore squatters are at the disadvantage. Management will just shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, the squat-rack curl dude has a point, he was there first and he is paid up for a year in advance.” Murder or maiming is an unacceptable conflict resolver in this situation, but this is yet another reason for creating a home gym.
Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, is an underground legend. Mentored by a Hall-of-Fame strength athlete as a teenager, Marty set his first national record in 1967 as a 17-year old Olympic weightlifter; he set his most recent national record in 2013 as a 63-year old powerlifter. He is a former world powerlifting champion who turned his attention to coaching athletes and devising individualized training templates for the finest strength athletes in the world. Read more about Marty here.