I often encounter people who are seeking fitness advice that tell me they are hesitant to go to the gym because they don’t want anyone to watch them. They feel awkward, they feel uncomfortable, and worst of all, they feel like they are going to be judged. Judged by their size, judged by their lack of fitness, judged by their novice status. And every time, I assure these people that they will not be watched nor judged, because the truth is, everyone else is too self absorbed in their own workout to be worried about what you are doing.
And for the most part, this statement is true. Especially in the state of our current Apple obsessed society; 99% of people are either in the middle of a set, or they are sucked into the vortex that is their iPod/iPhone/iPad, oblivious to the goings on around them. And as for me: I will never judge you. I’m happy to see anyone step foot in a gym; it means they care about their health, or at least are taking that first step to try and care about their health. I don’t care if you are running 6 minute miles on the treadmill, or struggling to pick up a five pound dumbbell, I don’t care if you are wearing an overpriced lululemon tank or a free t shirt from the local Jiffy Lube, you are still going to get two thumbs up from me. No, I will never judge you, mock you, laugh at you…but if I’m on a treadmill, you better believe I’m watching you.
Watching you like a gym hawk.
The treadmill, in my opinion, provides better people watching opportunities than the best food court in the biggest mall. Perhaps it is the curious and always observant personal trainer in me. Perhaps it is because I can’t read on the treadmill and so my eyes wander in an attempt to keep me mildly entertained. But from my perch atop the mighty human hamster wheel I watch everyone, and like Santa Claus, I know what you are doing. I see your bad form, I see your victories. I see you cheat yourself out of repetitions, I see you push through when you are clearly struggling. I wonder what motivates you, and I wonder if you know that you motivate me. But most of all, I watch because I’m happy to see other people doing the same thing that brings so much joy to my life.
I’m beginning to sound like a creeper, so let me further clarify (or make my creeper status worse, I’m not sure.)
I watch the woman on the treadmill next to me, with her GU and electrolyte drink mix, who was running when I arrived at the gym, and is still running when I put my jacket on to leave over an hour later. I imagine she has to be training for a race, and wonder which one it is. I wonder if she chooses to do her runs on the treadmill, or if she dreams of the open roads during the early morning hours, but has no other choice than to be here at night. I wonder how long she has been a runner. I wonder, but mostly admire, how she has the dedication to put in so many long runs on treadmills.
I watch the elderly man who comes in at the same time every night and does the exact same workout every single time. Perfect form, never increases his weights, never changes his routine. I wonder how long he has been doing this. I wonder how many fitness trends he has seen come and go. I wonder how much fitness has had a positive influence on his life; I wonder if many of his friends are stuck at home with pain and limited range of motion, while he exercises freely. I admire him for his consistency, and I hope when I am his age I’m still showing up and putting in the work.
I watch the overweight, barely teenage boy who trepidly moves from machine to machine all by himself. I wonder what brought him to the gym in the first place; a family member, the suggestion of a doctor, teenage peer pressure, or his own desire to better himself. I hope it is the latter, and hope even more that he sticks around and gains the same love for physical fitness that I have. I also sort of want to hug him and tell him that being a teenager is awesome and horrible at the same time, and I promise it gets better.
I watch the young woman who tries to hide in the corner and struggles to do a modified push-up, and I want to go over and cheer her on. Mostly, I want to give her a high five when she finishes ten push-ups in a row, even though I could tell she wanted to quit after five.
I watch the miles tick away on the screen of my treadmill and wonder why I can’t mind my own business.
But here’s the truth: as much as we tell you that no one is watching you workout, some of us are watching. And not because we are judging you. While you think you look awkward on the treadmill, some of us are admiring how hard you are pushing yourself, and it makes us want to push ourselves. While you feel embarrassed that you are only lifting an 8 lb dumbbell, some of us noticed that you’ve already increased from the 5 lb dumbbell you were using a few weeks ago. While you may feel frumpy and ugly in your over-sized t shirt, some of us are genuinely happy to see you. Because believe it or not, maybe we didn’t want to get out of bed and put on workout clothes either, but we did, because seeing your dedication to show up no matter what inspired us to get out the door too.
Point of my rambling: I know a huge hindrance at first for beginners is the fear of judgement, or feeling self conscious around those that are significantly more fit. But that fit girl running on the treadmill who glances your way while you are trying to figure out how to adjust the leg extension machine? She isn’t laughing at you, she’s genuinely happy you are here.