Are You a Fitness Bully?

By Jen Comas

“The Biceps Guy” — That's what I had nicknamed a gentleman who I always saw at one of the gyms I went to.

As a gym regular, I often see the same people working out, and I have become pretty familiar with the exercises that they do. I know who I’ll see squatting on Mondays, and who will be deadlifting on Thursdays.

I had only ever seen The Biceps Guy do arm exercises. Standing dumbbell and barbell curls, and then seated preacher curls. Those were his jam, and he did them every time I saw him. The movements never varied, nor did the order in which he performed them.

While usually I try to mind my own business, I couldn’t help noticing this man and the unwavering routine he did for his guns.

As a strength enthusiast, I wondered why he didn’t switch things up. Didn’t he know that bigger movements would provide him with more bang for his buck?

One day, The Biceps Guy strolled over to me and struck up conversation.

“You’re pretty serious about lifting weights,” he said to me.
“I love it!” I gushed. “Being strong just makes life easier, ya know?”
“Yeah, probably. I just come here to escape, he replied.

The way he said it, paired with the expression on his face, told me something was up. His home life, his job… who knows? He didn’t elaborate; he just wished me a good day and walked off.

That conversation forever changed the way I viewed people’s exercise choices. All of the questions that I had about his bicep routine were suddenly answered: he didn’t care.

He didn’t care if he progressed, if he could get more out of his workout, or if he’d ever move more weight than he currently was. He was just there to escape. For whatever reason, he found solace in his arm routine, and that was all that mattered. It was easy to look at him and make judgments about his daily arm routine, but it was helping him. Maybe not physically, but perhaps mentally. We never really know what’s going on with somebody.

Fitness Bullies

shaming-gym-newbie-guy-450x388As a trainer, and a self-proclaimed advanced exerciser, I have my own opinions as to what workouts are best for certain people. But where should we draw the line when it comes to sharing our opinions? At what point are we overstepping boundaries, and being a Fitness Bully?

I can’t scroll through my Facebook newsfeed anymore without seeing posts bashing CrossFit, endurance sports, aerobics classes, and so much more.

Even worse, I see people posting pictures or videos of someone else, taken with their cell phone at the gym, just so everyone can join in making fun of them online. I’ve even seen trainers and other fitness and health professionals participate in this type of behavior, and it’s always so disappointing.

shaming-woman-laughing-360x272These posts have the potential to be very hurtful, and I cringe every time I see this stuff, regardless of what the person is doing at the gym. Could you imagine if a post like that got back around to the person who it was about? That could be embarrassing and devastating, and worse, discourage that person from stepping foot in the gym in the future.

I caught a man taking photographs of me with his phone while I was squatting one day, and while there wasn’t anything I could do about it, it felt very violating.

We all see plenty of things going on at the gym or on social media that we find disconcerting, or downright amusing. That doesn’t give us a right to be unkind. Rather than passing judgment on what somebody is doing in their workout, let’s take the following things into consideration:

They Enjoy What They Do

shaming-jen-handstand-327x387Some people don’t care about getting shredded, or having the beefiest squat. They go to the gym simply to break a sweat, move and groove, get a pump, or whatever the case may be. That is their prerogative, and it’s quite all right.

I can be found practicing handstands between sets on any given day. It’s not making me stronger or leaner, but it’s fun and it makes me happy, and that’s all I care about.

They May Not Know Better

When I first ventured into the weight room, I was incredibly self-conscious and scared silly. All of the machines, weights, and people intimidated me. I had no idea what I was doing, and so I did the same movements every day that seemed the easiest to execute: leg press, bicep curls, seated rows, and tricep extensions. I did them as quickly as I could, and then I scurried out. I was proud of myself just for going in there and doing those movements!

It’s important that we give people grace and compassion. Perhaps just getting to the gym is a huge step for them.

It's a Social Thing

ggsformula-molly-jen-450x388Many people go to the gym for the social interaction. Typically that’s found in group fitness classes, whether it be Crossfit, bootcamps, or cardio kickboxing. I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve worked with who tell me that going to a class at the gym with their friends is the highlight of their otherwise tedious day of work, and they need it for their sanity.

Before scoffing at a group fitness class, know that for many people, it’s about much more than the exercise; it’s about being with friends. That is their idea of a good time, and we should respect that for what it is.

It’s a Journey

only-way-is-up-jen-ready-to-squat-450x338Like anything else in life, we should appreciate each person’s unique timeline and journey in regards to exercise. Working on our health and fitness will inevitably involve some trial and error. Nobody goes into it knowing everything. We must try things, learn, and move on when we are ready.

Over the last 18 years, I have bounced on BOSU balls, done hundreds of hours of Spin class and Step aerobics, shaken my groove-thing in Zumba, done a ton of Pilates, focused on body building, trained in power lifting, and more. I have truly done it all, and it’s all gotten me to where I am today. I have met amazing people along the way, and learned things from all of my various workout experiences.

Women Do It Too

less-exercise-better-results-jen-comas-punching-bag-450x338I’m excited to see that so many women are getting into strength training, but that isn’t a free pass to tease or make fun of anybody, including the men. I know it can feel empowering to lift more than the guy next to you, but that doesn’t give us a free pass to make anybody else feel inferior.

Every time I have posted a squat or deadlift picture to Instagram, and there happens to be a guy in the background lifting less than me (he could just be warming up, or injured, for all we know), he gets attacked in the comment section. I end up having to delete a ton of mean remarks. Ladies, we are better than that!

Girls Gone Strong stands against fitness shaming.

I saw something going on in the gym just a few weeks ago that was pretty wild, and I started to pull out my phone to record it, but I stopped myself. The exercise that this person was doing, regardless of how unconventional it was, simply was not my business, and behind that exercise was a human being with feelings.

I think many of us have been guilty of this type of behavior to some extent in the past; I certainly have been, but we have the opportunity to change, and learn from our mistakes. We work to improve ourselves and evolve, and then pass along the lessons we learned.

At Girls Gone Strong, we do our best to arm you, our valued readers, with the best information out there to help you get the results that you desire in the healthiest way possible. We will remind you of the importance of proper strength training for optimal health, as well as physique change. We will encourage the usage of the Minimum Effective Dose when it comes to exercise in order to make things easier on you. We will guide you when you need assistance. And, if we feel that what you’re doing is dangerous, we believe it’s our job to speak up to help you.

What we won’t do, however, is tolerate anybody putting someone else down, or making them feel inferior. We are all in this together, and we want to support and cheer for each other on this rewarding path to fitness!

Rather than bashing what we hate, let’s promote more of what we love. Let's put an end to fitness shaming for good!

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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