Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gym Ra(n)t

The other day at the gym I went off at one of the trainers. It was a long time coming.

I've been weight training regularly for over ten years, starting in college (when I stopped playing soccer). It is one of my routine sanctuaries, like meditation. When I am at the gym I like to do my thing and not be disturbed. In the US this works well because pretty much everyone else is in the same boat. But not so in India.

In Indian gyms everyone's in your shit. The trainers are always inserting themselves into your exercise, assuming you need their help and expertise. Usually the gym oversubscribes the membership, so it's crowded and other patrons are all around you using equipment. People don't really coordinate with each other to "work in", usually they will just take your weight or sit in your machine while you're between sets, without asking.

But the thing that really gets under my skin about gyms here is the spotting. It's preposterous. Trainers or patrons will straddle and/or grind each other in provocative positions. Take for example the bench press. In the US the spotter stands behind the bench and bar, and lends aid with his hands lightly as needed. In India, the spotter stands from the front and straddles the bench presser so that his nuts are in the guy's face. And he always seems to forget that he's only supposed to be giving aid if needed; he ends up doing most of the lifting so you're left doing 30 quick reps with no resistance. And also, people aggressively bark encouragement at each other. Imagine doing a bench press with a guy's nuts in your face ferociously yelling at you to lift while he does the lifting. That's basically the state of weight training in India today.

So all of this had caused a build up of negativity in me. I had an icy relationship with the trainers at my gym; I'm the guy that always has his earphones on and doesn't want to be bothered. They don't like it, but what can I do? India is full of people, the gym is one of the few places I get to be truly alone over the course of the day. I am protective of that space. It's a fragile truce that shattered the other day.

I think the initial trigger that day was seeing a particularly absurd spotting job going on. There was a guy on his knees doing a kneeling cable pulldown. The spotter was straddling the guy with his crotch in an inappropriate position near the guy's rear end. The the guy was bobbing up and down doing the exercise. It really pissed me off.

Later on I was doing seated chest press and out of nowhere a trainer (though he was uniformed so I didn't know at the time) comes out of nowhere and puts his hands out to resist my outward motion. His spot is working against me! I was totally miffed and in disbelief that he would do such a thing. I look at him and say a gruff "No", and motion for him with my head to move his hands away (my hands were still in mid-rep). But he doesn't and says something I can't make out from inside my headphones. I say for him to move again and wait, but he still doesn't. At this point he had crossed the line, so that's when I lose it. I slam the weight back and stand up and get up in his face, "Don't you EVER do that". And then just mean mug him for the next 8-10 seconds. I had a real bulldog glare going, I could feel it in my face muscles. From the fire in my eyes his face morphed from confusion (he probably didn't think he had done anything wrong) to fear. "Yes sir, sorry sir," and drops his eye contact. I was angry but in enough control to reflect in the moment, "Man, I just punked this poor guy!" I've never intimidated anyone in my life in any context. To be honest it felt empowering, like discovering a mutant power I never knew I had. Jay and Jo would have been proud.

But in the end it sucks because it added to my negative reputation at the gym. I'm pretty sure all the trainers hate me. That's not a good feeling. But what to do? I want to be friendly without them thinking it's an invitation to get in my business. Maybe I'll bring them some snacks one day, like energy bars from US. Till then I'm the belligerent anti-social foreign a-hole with headphones. Maybe I'll have to take the hit on this one.


  1. I read this at 6 in the morning when I awoke and couldn't stop laughing...thanks:)

  2. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this fitness article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well..

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