Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Is the fitness industry judgemental?

I was doing a gym orientation the other day, going through a programme. I noticed half way through that the woman was a bit off, and I don't know how we got onto the subject, but she said "I bet you're judging people all the time working in a gym."

Firstly, I was taken aback that she would think that. My response was 87 to 88% of the population don't go to a gym or a health club or leisure centre, I have respect for anyone who walks through the door and decides they want to go to the gym or a class for whatever reason. And I genuinely hope they start to enjoy exercising and get all the benefits from it that I know exist.

So no I'm not judging anyone who makes the decision to try something new and get out of their comfort zone. She perked up at that point.

But it got me thinking as an industry do we come across as judgemental and elitist, am I giving off that vibe subconsciously?

All the coaches I personally know are willing to help people. If someone is new to exercise, is open to new ideas of what will work and actually shows up for appointments, most coaches I know will go above and beyond to help this person and want them to get results and enjoy the process.

I am not immune to it either.

Actually on the same day the above event happened, I signed a lady up to the gym and was showing her around. I asked if she wanted to get booked in for a class as she had expressed an interest in certain classes. Her response was along the lines of "one step at a time, it was hard enough for me to join today, its easy for people like you, you don't understand what its like."

When I thought about it, we all fear judgement and looking like we don't know what we are doing.

My response to the above lady: I too recently joined a new gym, and you know it's the same for me walking into a new place. Will the pin code work? How do I get through the door, where are the changing rooms, where is the equipment I need, are people looking at me because I'm new? Are they judging the free t-shirt that I'm wearing.

Yes, I probably didn't have the same level of fear and apprehension as this lady, but it was there.

Another example is going to a Yoga class. I have the flexibility of a breeze block and have gone into a few yoga classes. And the feeling for me is probably the same as a woman walking into the freeweights area. Yoga classes are 99% women and the occasional Yogi  guy doing a back bend. I walk in and my monkey mind starts racing with a thought train along the lines of "everyone can do this, they are judging my lack of co-ordinated yoga clothing and my cheap mat from Sports Direct, they are wondering why a lone guy has wandered into their class, no I'm not a weirdo, I just want to improve my flexibility and work on mindfulness."

Of course, in reality they are all welcoming, not everyone is an expert and the teachers are always friendly and helpful.

But if  I'm thinking that, (and I have been in gyms 20 years plus and have no problem walking into a Bro-central area and start doing some dynamic effort front squats), what does the average non gym going sedentary person feel like when they decide to get fit and lose weight.

Sorry to every woman I ever asked if they were entering a fitness competition.

Along with judgement are the pre-conceived notions and assumptions.

If I ask a woman what she is training and she says something like "arms". My next reflex question is "are you going on stage or competing?".

Yes its wrong, and I'm sorry woman-kind. If I ask a guy what he is training today and he says "arms", I don't assume he is going on stage or is going to be a bodybuilder. I assume that's what most guys do in the freeweights area, its their hobby.

But of course, women can lift weights and have an arm day, because they enjoy it, and they like lifting weights, and they like getting stronger and they are not trying to lose weight.

If a woman was doing 12 spin classes a week I wouldn't assume she was training for the Tour De France, I would assume she just liked spin classes.

And if a guy wants to go to an LBT class that's fine too, as they can be freakin' hard.

Fitness people, are we all judging each other?

There can be a subtext of "my workout is better than yours".

Powerlifters judging guys 'just' train for aesthetics, or crossfitters judging powerlifters, or if I am training for a sport or athletic endeavour then my training must be more valid than yours. None of this is true, we are all just training, we are in the gym mainly because we enjoy it.

Recently I had to  stop training for a while, I would walk in and all the Bros with their gym caddies* would piss me off. Now its not their fault, it was my problem. They were just doing what gym Bros do - wear vests and do chest & arm day.

Eventually I got over it and started training again.

We are all in it together. From the powerlifter to the old lady on an exercise referral scheme.

Judging other trainers.

These days if I see personal trainers in the gym I don't judge what they are doing. I don't judge other peoples programmes, I'm not in possession of all the facts.

I am curious why they may be doing certain exercises. Why they have chosen them for their client.

We all have our own biases, our favourite exercises and routines.

But I am cognizant of the fact that if some trainer saw me training some of my clients or if I posted up their squat technique in the perfectionist world of social media they would flame me and say how terrible the technique is.

But they don't know how far that person has come, what their mobility and strength was like before, their injury or medical history. The specific adaptations I had to make for them.

Hence I'm willing to cut other trainers the same slack as well.

Only dogmatics and dictators think they have all the answers.

Exceptions to the rule.

Of course, I wouldn't be me if there weren't some exception, it can't all be a 'love in.'

I will judge you if:

You don't put your weights away. You do partial rep speed alternate bicep curls standing right in front of the dumbbell rack. Someone asks if you have finished with a piece of equipment and you say yes and walk off with all the weight still on the bar. You bully or intimidate other people in the weights area, especially beginner or smaller guys.

I will also be somewhat judgemental if you keep cancelling appointments at short notice and wasting my time.

I have even had guys tell me that there are too many women in the power racks, and they are "not lifting enough weight to justify using them" and should make way for them as they are doing "proper training.". Yes, misogynist Donald Trump types in a training vest.

The Power Rack does not judge or discriminate.

In short, be polite and courteous, don't be a douche bag and realise the training environment is for everyone. It is still a select band, and we should support each other.

Don't be so hard on yourself.

Ultimately, we are constantly judging ourselves and end up thinking others are doing the same. The self critic in the head can be overwhelming and you start to think that's what everyone else is thinking about you as well. Except, they are all locked in their own battle with the inner critic and don't have time to think about you as well.

Don't be so hard on yourself. If you are training, making an effort, you are doing the best you can do today.

We are all fighting the good fight and confronting our inner demons on a daily basis.

(Top tip: Loving Kindness, Metta meditation can help. First it makes you not be so hard on yourself. 

Then it makes you thing about strangers you meet on a daily basis but don't really know, like the guy serving in the coffee shop. Think about all that is going on in their life, all the things you don't know about them and then wish them well and happiness. 

And then think about difficult people and people from your past as well; wish them well. Of course, this in no way changes how they think or feel or react, they have no idea you are doing it. But it changes your mindset, makes you be more kind to yourself and ultimately others).

You can never tell who is going to make it. Don't judge a book by its cover (there I said it).

In ultra runs elite sub 2.30 marathon runners drop out at aid stations, meanwhile you can be passed by a 4ft11 mother of two going up some mountain pass. And there is always some old guy in a pair of shorts he bought in 1986 who finishes.


Our job as an industry is to make the environment and atmosphere as welcoming and as comfortable as possible. And then letting people know that the training they will have to do to reach their goals is going to be uncomfortable.

Hats off to anyone who made it through the door of a gym or laced up a pair of trainers and hit the road.


"Cut yourself some slack. Remember, one hundred years from now, all new people." 

-Message tacked to a tree by monks at Wat Umong, a 700-year old temple in Thailand (Quoted in the book Pivot by Jenny Blake)
*Gym Caddie - a term invented by me. When gym bros train, they normally train in pairs, the alpha gym bro who is normally bigger and more experienced and his smaller gym caddie. The gym caddie is responsible for making the alpha bro look good and tidy up after the alpha bro. If the gym caddie neglects his duties, the gym can be full of loaded bars and dumbbells on the floor. This is a disaster for everyone.