It seems to be fashionable in the fitness world to snark about the “dreaded” January rush.
If you’re a regular at your gym/ studio/ CrossFit affiliate, you may well know the scene: High on New Year’s Resolutions and brand new spandex from Santa, hordes of new members invade your beloved sanctuary, the gym.
You have to wait longer than usual to get the squat rack. You have to swap sets with a stranger on a cable machine. The yoga class is slam packed, mats from wall to wall. You might roll your eyes at the girl taking a selfie, or want to tell off the dude who is taking way too long on the bench. It’s freakin’ Monday, dude! International Chest Day! You might internally bet against them. I give ’em a month.
But I implore you, fitness veterans: Be nice.
Yes, it matters!
Remember what it was like to get started
I’m spectacularly lucky. I grew up in strength and conditioning. I started my barbell education at 12 years old, and I’ve mostly kept that up for two decades. I’ve dabbled in spinning, yoga, and pilates since college.
But you know what? When I signed up for CrossFit, I almost didn’t show up for Foundations because I was absolutely terrified. I still take a deep breath before walking through the door of an unfamiliar gym or yoga studio. All this despite possessing the luxuries of a body seen as “fit” and being extraordinarily “qualified” to feel comfortable.
The picture below is from one of my first weeks at CrossFit9. Despite possibly coming off as a fitness humblebrag, I really just wanted to express how fucking hard all of this was, that I was committed to changing my life for the better, and that I was really proud of myself for doing it.
We all know why it’s so hard to start. That awkward moment when you walk in and everyone turns to size you up. The thought you might not know how to do everything (or anything) correctly. What if the instructors are mean, or you hold up the class? Suddenly we’re flashing back to memories of our first day of school.
Imagine how that effect might amplify if someone doesn’t have a “gym body”.
The internal dialogue can be deafening. For someone who is brand new, they’ve often just now figured out how to quell that negativity enough to hit the “sign up” button, or dial the phone number. That takes guts!
Everyone goes through this process, and it’s very likely you’ve been there too. You already know the negative nagging voice fades with time. The feeling of unease gradually fades into the feeling of comfort and belonging. The newbie will get there eventually.
Your gym or studio is a place where people come to change themselves for the better. They’re battling against a barrage of information and misinformation, the sticky allure of staying in the comfort zone, and challenging the current role they play in their families and social circles. They might have a doctor pressuring them to lose weight and burn off stress, or else a heart attack is looming. They could have a spouse who isn’t attracted to them anymore. Maybe they can’t keep up with their kids. And they’ve said enough.
This step deserves respect, not derision.
The gym newbie probably isn’t a moron. This person knows the statistics about how many resolutions hold up past January, and yet they showed up anyways. They don’t need nasty naysayers, they need support.
Don’t even get me started on gym fail posts. You know the ones– someone manages to seat themselves upside down in a quad extension machine and use their face instead of their shins. My stomach clenches every time someone feels the need to take video of someone else in a gym without their consent. Are some people inept and wildly unsafe? Yes, absolutely. Are these instances the videographer’s business? Not even a little bit. This is a case for the gym manager to provide some education, not fodder for your Instagram followers.
If you are in a facility where this isn’t taken seriously, I have news for you: You’re the one who needs to find a new place, and you might need to pay more to do it. There’s a reason people will come to pay hundreds of dollars to get coaching from a highly rated CrossFit facility. Hard work is valued, education is provided for every skill level, and your classmates will be discreetly wrangled by a qualified coach. You do not get to be both picky and cheap. I’m sorry.
At the end of the day, remember every single newbie has as much right to be there as you do.
You’re an ambassador
Like it or not, you’re part of your fitness facility’s ambience and culture. It’s not your responsibility by any means, but as a seasoned member you can help that newbie stay on track, and isn’t that kind of badass and empowering?
Imagine if you saw a new person struggling to find a place to lay down their yoga mat, and using your rapport with your classmates, you made room for them next to you.
Maybe in a moment of a newbie’s confusion, you step in to gently share the deadlift trick that finally helped you keep your back straight.
Or maybe you just smile and –gasp– say hello in passing, because isn’t everyone aching for small acknowledgments of their humanity, and that it matters they are there?
I hope you’ll tuck away a new year’s resolution of your own, to make the gym or studio a little more welcoming. It’s not very hard, and you’ll get better at it with time.
If you can’t do that, just remember: Work hard and don’t be an asshole. ❤