the joy of strength training


June 14th, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Sharing the squat rack (or ‘peace and love, man’)

Meathead sniffing a flowerOnce again the issue of too many people wanting to use the only squat rack in the gym rears its head on an internet forum.

This old chestnut crops up time and again but I was inspired to write about it because it reveals an example of what I think is one of the great pleasures of strength training, one which often gets completely disregarded in high street gyms: working with others.

I don’t mean training buddies, but just being able to work together in an environment, help each other out, feed off each other’s energy – even if you are doing different workouts.

There’s a nice atmosphere of fellow feeling as you help each other change plates, shout out a bit of encouragement, maybe spot them on a heavy attempt. Instead of being in your own little bubble thinking nasty thoughts about everyone else, you start to care about how well someone else is doing. Their success often breeds your success, and vice versa.

I believe that everyone lifts better in that sort of environment.

Play nice with others

This collegial atmosphere is something I instill when I teach weight training courses like Ladies Who Lift. A big part of this course is learning how to work with others in the weight room. To take one example, if one of the group is significantly shorter or taller than the others, we change the rack height for every set, even though it might seem a bit of a faff. It’s fair to everyone and, as it turns out, not so much of a faff when you get used to doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when, deep down, I’m annoyed if I have to share. Sometimes you are in that ‘lone wolf’ kind of mood, or you have a hard workout to do and just want to get on with it.

But the reality is that there is never enough space when it is busy for everyone to have their own private car parking space, so you are wishing for something that isn’t going to happen. Anyway once you get into the swing of sharing your space and equipment, it ain’t so bad. You might even end up having a better workout!

Peace, man

That all sounds very peace and love but why should you care? Because hating other gym users and dealing with equipment conflicts is stressful and emotional stress is not conducive to good training. In fact, it is the last thing you want to be undergoing.

Let’s face it, just being in a commercial gym at peak time can be stressful, let alone having to navigate these issues of etiquette, all the while wishing your fellow gym users could be blasted into outer space with a massive rocket.

It is in your interests to be calm and friendly, so that all your energy is focussed on your workout and not composing withering forum posts in your head about the imbecility of the unfortunate in the squat rack that is rightfully yours.

Aggression can be helpful in training but psychologists differentiate between ‘channelled’ or ‘instrumental’ aggression, which is directed towards a goal, and hostile aggression. All too often we experience the latter in gyms and not the former. I’ve often seen people with a lot of apparent hostility try to muscle out their own space, only to then do their reps like a complete pussy!

More racks often means more lifters

You might think that more equipment is the answer, but in my experience the more and better equipment a gym has, the more it attracts lifters! My lifting club has around seven racks but at busy times we can still be three to a platform. The difference is that we all know each other and work together.

So what is the answer?

Well, one person can set a tone. You can be the one to start the trend. I know this is possible as I’ve done it myself. I didn’t stand there with a bottle of coke singing while looking at a sunrise, I just behaved in a certain way and people started to adapt to it.

A lot of people don’t share because they don’t know how to; that is, they don’t know what the options might be or how best to organise things. You might not realise how intimidating you look to other people. If you think you are the dog’s bollocks (because you want to squat when they are bicep curling), it’s up to you to take the lead, not up to the newbie who barely knows what they are doing.

So here are a few things you can do to make it better for everyone (including you):

  • Invite someone to work in if it’s obvious they are waiting for you; don’t wait for them to ask.
  • Be aware that a short ‘how many sets you got left?’ spoken to a stranger can sound aggressive and instantly poison the atmosphere; mind your Ps and Qs and try to smile!
  • If there’s an equipment clash, discuss the problem in a friendly way (‘how about if we do this…?’), don’t just storm off giving a dirty look.
  • Don’t compromise your workout just because someone bigger and nastier than you wants to dominate; you are both entitled to get your work in.
  • If there’s an ongoing equipment clash with a regular, work out some sort of schedule between yourselves or train together.

It’s not always sunshine and light and there will sometimes be difficulties but you will get a much better workout if you can find a way to work with people rather than resent them.

More from gubernatrix

How to have an awesome time at the gym

Why you shouldn’t train in front of a mirror

Too many goals?

Femininity and muscle

Basic barbell programmes reviewed

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  • 1

    Awesome Gubes. I love the part discussing stress. Such a small detail can have a large impact on yourself.

    Niel on June 15th, 2011
  • 2

    I’m encountering this problem at a new gym. Love the advice, just going to have to work on how to take it when I really am a complete n00b.

    Cate on June 15th, 2011
  • 3

    Was trying to track down the origin of the image (weight lifter with flower) for a project. Do you know where you pulled it from? the source?

    Brandon Murphy on March 3rd, 2014
  • 4

    I’m sorry, I don’t remember.

    gubernatrix on March 5th, 2014


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