The Modern Gym
The modern gym is designed, first and foremost, to make money for the gym owner. Somewhere much further down on the list is the gym’s desire to see you get stronger and more conditioned.
The reasons for this aren’t particularly malicious. The truth is, it’s easier for them if they load their building with deluxe looking equipment and let you choose. This is fine until you start with a trainer, and then you’ll find yourself doing a bunch of “functional training”.
Functional training involves a mixture of weights, weight machines, bodyweight exercises, cardio of different kinds, and instability mechanisms to …. well, what exactly? The promise is that you’ll get stronger and more conditioned. Depending on how much you want to pay them and how long you’re willing to wait for meaningful results, as well as the quality of your trainer, that may happen. But this method has real limitations.
Will you get stronger and more conditioned by following a trainer at a gym like Gold’s, LA Fitness, O2, or Planet Fitness? If you have never really done much in the gym before, or if you’re totally out of shape, yes.
This has less to do with the quality of the program and more to do with the fact that your body is at the point to where it will adapt from any stress. It hasn’t reached a plateau yet.
This is why you often see people at the gym doing the same exercise month after month (cardio especially) without any significant increases in strength or conditioning.
At a certain point, and this could be as early as 12-weeks in, progress gets replaced with continuity, lifestyle, and the good feeling one gets from working out.
It’s worth asking the question: Is this how it’s supposed to be?
For some of you, that answer is yes! You enjoy going to the gym. You enjoy the variety. You like changing things up from time to time and trying new things. It’s exercise done in the “hunter gatherer” sense of things. Pick up a little bit of this, pick up a little bit of that.
If that works for you or if you’re already doing a plan that you’re satisfied with, this article isn’t meant to make you feel bad about doing something you like. If you like doing something in the gym, do it.
There are many different goals one can have in the gym and what’s about to be presented won’t be the answer for all of them. But, if the gym has always seemed like a bit of a mystery, or if you’re looking to take your workout to the next level, well then, hold on to your Lululemons.
Introducing: Strength Training
If you want to see real progress in the gym, and we’re talking about adding 30-60 lbs. a month to your lifts, you want to start a strength training program.
It can be difficult for a non-athlete to consider doing strength training. For the uninitiated, the visual model of what strength training looks like is full of non-normal people and ideas: The Mountain, The Rock, Arnold, and other huge looking monster dudes. Or fat, but strong, weird white trash rednecks who like to drag metal plates around dirty parking lots. Or maybe you model is Crossfit, which can look like a group of people who intend to murder themselves through the use of physical fitness. However you slice it, it’s not an everyday thing to see people of all ages, shapes, and sizes working on their low bar back squat.
It’s weird. Unless you’ve had some personal experience with strength training, it can feel intimidating. Once you start a strength training program, you’ll see the real irony of most gyms: there’s a shortage of the most effective equipment.
This, of course, isn’t an accident. Strength training requires some knowledge and some skill, neither of which are necessary on most strength or cardio machines in a gym.
What this means is that you’re unlikely to be recommended a strength training program in a modern gym. Instead you’ll do something else, and that will get results for a period of time. The biggest ongoing result you’ll get is that you’ll feel tired and that you’ve had a good workout.
As we’ll see in the next article, this is an insufficient metric if ones goal is to live in the healthiest body possible. In the final measure, strength is the most important part of the body one can build in the gym.