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Looks (at the Gym) Can Be Deceiving

Gyms are home to an assortment of body types. There’s the hulking, muscle-bound guys with arms the size of California, the noobs with arms the size of California raisins, and everyone in-between. Your first thought might be that all those jacked dudes must be doing everything right. I mean, they’re jacked and you don’t know jack, right? Wrong.

Be your own body

Amidst small talk about last night’s game or the “bangin’” girl in Juicy pants on the elliptical, you’re sure to hear endless theories at the gym as to what makes for a fit/ripped/cut body. What’s more important: weights or reps? Are the machines really useless compared to free weights? Should you load up on protein before or after working out? Sure, some people offer useful, informed advice –these people are known as personal trainers—but a good majority of this “advice” is nothing more than guy after guy espousing his personal regimen or stuff he read on a message board.

It can be tempting to take Mr. Universe’s fitness advice as definitive. Definitely keep your ears open and always be on the lookout for advice from people with great fitness regimens, but take all of it with a grain of salt.

Don’t, I repeat, don’t copy some guy’s movements just because he looks like the Situation-meets-Schwarzenegger. Not only do you run the risk of serious injury, but of emulating a possibly horribly workout. Honestly, the old guy in the Myrtle Beach T-shirt might have a more effective approach to weightlifting, cardio, etc.

Speaking of which, there’s an older gentleman I see at my gym often. Let’s call him Fred. Fred looks to be about in his 50s. He’s a big lug sort of guy, but not overly muscular. You wouldn’t pick him out of the crowd for being the most jacked, not by a long shot. You know what you might do however? Ask him for fitness advice. Fred just so happens to be a world record holder in weightlifting. The thing is, I was totally unaware of Fred’s weightlifting prowess until I went to get a drink one day and noticed several of his awards hang framed near the water fountain. There are bigger guys at the gym, ones who look more Men’s Health-ready, but Fred towers above all, unassumingly powerful.

I’ve heard many a fitness horror story while listening in on gym conversations: guys pulling muscles, falling ill from poor diets, etc. I’m sure more than a few of these instances have to do with overzealous amateurs attempting either a workout beyond their fitness level or something unsafe and stupid in order to keep up with the fitness Joneses. The irony is that these guys end up falling behind because they end up in bed for months nursing wounds.

You know the term “keep your eye on the ball”? How about keeping your eye on you and you alone the next time you work out. The dude in the Tapout shirt on the next bench over is not your personal trainer (well, unless he actually is.) Work out at your own pace and follow a routine based on sound, practical advice. Blindfold yourself if you have to. Actually, some guy at the gym told me putting on a blindfold improves your speed on the treadmill. Not.

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About John Brhel John Brhel is a freelance writer from upstate New York that enjoys picking apart life's idiosyncrasies and listening to Huey Lewis & the News.

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