Burn Out

August 5, 2007

Rest is an important part of every athlete’s training routine. I find that after just a few days away from the gym, I return to workouts that possess more energy, more enthusiasm, and that joints and sinews bend pain free.

The same principle also holds true for creative intensity. I’ve decided to take a break this week from blogging about craziness at the gym, and write instead about the blog itself.

After a little over six months, I’m about to pass 10,000 hits on gymsanity.com. This number doesn’t count the people who also read my blog without actually visiting the site, either through a feed reader or direct email subscription. While the (free) WordPress platform I use offers no information about the geographic distribution of my readership, my subscribers’ email addresses span 12 time zones.

I can also tell you that the hits coming into my site represent more than just me refreshing the same page over and over: WordPress knows enough to ignore my visits to my own blog. On the other hand, I am also aware that not every visitor recorded by the site came looking for gym humor. WordPress shows me daily the search engine terms people used to find my blog. Such terms have included “guys getting off in the steam room” – an indecent reordering of the words of this perfectly respectable post.

Most people assume I was motivated to start this blog for some financial purpose – or that it was an excuse to post a half-naked picture of myself online. In reality, this blog gives me the opportunity to be published without anyone’s permission; to touch and influence others without securing approval from an editor or boss. Most importantly, I found a forum where I can get my music out and let it play.

For many, that’s also what the sport of bodybuilding is all about. Now I know plenty of people who find bodybuilders’ superhero proportions to be unnatural, even ugly. But these naysayers are missing the real achievement on display: a group of athletes that have found their passion and are fulfilling their destiny. Bodybuilders endure a remarkable degree of pain for their sport, whether it’s hoisting some agonizing load in the gym, or resisting the urge to indulge outside it. Still, the fact remains: it’s only work if you’d rather be doing something else.

Like Fine Wine

June 10, 2007

Long time imaginary reader Serious in Seattle has dropped me another note:


Your blog is beginning to affect my motivation to go exercise. Frankly, I don’t know how you do it. Just since January, you’ve survived terrible gym music, exasperating slobs, crazed gym ball users, noxious fumes, busted equipment, and idiots trying to fight, not to mention the general circus-like atmosphere.

I’d think it’s tough enough to get psyched for your regular workout, let alone prepare for the daily adventure that awaits you.

So what’s the trick? How do you keep your head in the game?

Seriously in Seattle

Serious, thanks for writing again. I find that weight training is unique among athletic pursuits in the way that the body responds to age. Every running enthusiast, for example, experiences the moment when he’s literally gone over the hill. One day when he’s speeding along the jogging trail, two strapping young lads will blow by him, while casually engaged in conversation.

That depressing, Flowers for Algernon moment, is much delayed in bodybuilding.

I found that I got substantially stronger throughout my 20s. My bench didn’t take off until I was 26 or 27, and I’m still pressing my peak weight more than half a decade later.

I imagine that former varsity athletes in football or basketball look on with jealousy at the youth now dominating their sport. On the other hand, I can go to the gym and be inspired by the guy with a face in its 40s but a body in its 20s.

Even among the professional ranks, bodybuilders peak well into their 30s. Jay Cutler won his first Mr. Olympia last year at age 33, defeating the defending eight time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, who last won at age 40.

Then again, I do struggle whenever I see a woman at the gym with sharper abs than mine. Now to me, that’s depressing.

Customer Service

March 12, 2007

Today at the gym I watched a personal trainer and his beginner client spend a good 10 minutes exploring the all-important torso twist machine. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for a well-defined set of internal obliques. But I have to believe there are better places in the gym for this novice to spend his time, and money.

Personal trainers are expensive. Just one session can cost double or triple the price of an entire month’s gym membership. Are people getting their money’s worth? Not according to this serious lifter:

Some of the training stuff that goes on at my gym these days drives me nuts. It seems like every trainer is trying to see how much “functional/balancing” crap they can use on new trainees … They jump up and down on benches, use a medicine ball and other toys. If you are a seasoned and/or experienced athlete and want to do wall squats with a swiss ball, or incorporate the new koosh ball feet thingies into your workout … no problem. But shouldn’t someone that looks like they need a major overhaul start with real weight training and some real cardio?

The dubious certification process for personal trainers accounts for some of these misplaced priorities. I did a little research and found that over 300 different certifications exist, with many – perhaps most – earned simply by mailing in a check.

Still, I’m beginning to think that clients are in fact quite happy to pay for the illusion of fitness. I’m reminded of the very average couple down the street that likes to brag about their retention of a financial planner. Perhaps the value for gym members comes not from actual physical improvement, but from the opportunity to start sentences with the words “my trainer.”

For sure, it’s the exceptional client that looks forward to a challenging workout. True story: On my last day as a personal trainer, a client who had been making steady gains told me he wanted my replacement to be “less of a drill sergeant.”  I’ve also noticed that some of the loudest, most animated conversations at my gym take place between trainer and client. Furthermore, why does every client seem to progress through her workout with a giant grin on her face?

I’ve reached the conclusion that the sorry state of personal training actually reflects a high level of customer service. They’re just giving the customer what she wants.

But Seriously

January 29, 2007

It’s mailbag time!

Actually, I haven’t received any fan mail yet. But if I had, at least one would probably read like this:

Dear Muscleman,

This is a really terrific blog! You tell riveting tales with your spectacular writing and rapier wit. I look forward to each daybreak so I can bound out of bed and read your latest post.

I do have one comment that I hope you’ll consider. Yes, people generally approach their workouts with all the preparation and intelligence you’d expect from a small child. But people’s carelessness in the gym can also cause grievous harm to themselves or others. This is no laughing matter.

Anyway, thanks again for your enlightening and enjoyable blog.


Serious in Seattle

Serious, thanks for your note! I’m always delighted to hear from my readers, irrespective of the question, comment, complaint, issue, protest or objection. You raise an excellent point which I’ll briefly address. First, you’ll notice that I sprinkle training tips throughout my posts. In fact, this entire blog is about exactly what not to do. Second, I am acutely aware that gym mishaps can lead to horrific injuries. It’s a miracle this kind of thing doesn’t happen more frequently.

In any event, since this post is all about sheathing the sarcasm for a day, I’d like to share my top 5 most outstanding things I’ve ever seen at the gym:

5) The guys who showed me how to use lifting straps properly. With the first loop, the strap goes under the bar, not your palm. Otherwise, the barbell will just slip out of your hands.

4) The guy who at about 5’9’’, 170 lbs, performed 7 clean, strong reps of bench presses with 115 lb dumbbells. Oh wait, that was me.

3) Saturday aerobics class, third row, purple crop top.

2) Most creative abdominal move ever: guy straps belt to waist, hooks belt into low cable pulley. He puts Frisbee-like plates under each foot, assumes a pull-up position, and brings knees to chest. Looks hard.

1) Basketball great Patrick Ewing walking on a treadmill. He’s taller than the machine is long.