If you think about it, “normal” is a bit of a moving target. What’s seen as normal today, 20 years ago, or 20 years from now, might be seen as unusual. The fitness industry is a perfect example of this. Walk into a gym today and you’ll see people taking selfies in the mirror, texting or emailing from their phones, or searching for the perfect song for their next set.
We didn’t take selfies back in the day. Not just because we didn’t have phones with cameras. We didn’t even have mirrors! You had to know and feel that you were doing a movement correctly. We also didn’t have trainers. You had to rely on other fitness buffs with more knowledge and experience than you to check your form and see if you were doing things correctly. You had to rely on progress and results to verify if you were on the right track.
And you didn’t need to tell anyone or post to social media that you made it to the gym that day. The people who were there would see you. The ones who weren’t didn’t care!
There was also a lot less equipment in general and machines in particular. You had to first learn to master the basics with barbells and dumbbells. Machines were developed to duplicate the standard movements you first did with free weights, to make them easier in some cases, safer in others, and occasionally even better in certain specific ways. But having the right foundation of basic training knowledge was an important first step.
There were no aerobic rooms or cardio sections in those earlier gyms. There were no treadmills or ellipticals or stepmills or spin bikes. There was no Hammer Strength or TRX or Bosu balls or foam rollers or stability balls. There weren’t even 45 degree leg press machines at the first gyms I trained at. If you wanted to build your legs, you did squats! Training became much more interesting as fitness evolved and the progress allowed for a lot more toys to play with. Some were designed to take you to another level. Others more for comfort and to attract the masses.
So I reminisce a lot when I’m at the gym. Things that are easy to take for granted by newcomers don’t go unappreciated from the veterans. I am enjoying watching a resurgence in functional training. But I smile when someone acts like they are discovering something new, like medicine balls and kettle bells and bodyweight movements, which were old-school before I even started.
I remember training in my college weight room and how I would do a set of barbell incline presses with 225. Step one, load four 45 pound plates onto an Olympic bar on the floor about a foot in front of me. Step two, clean the bar to my shoulders. Step 3, take one step back and front squat down onto our incline bench (which was basically a plank anchored at 45 degrees against a rail on the wall). Step 4, crank out as many reps as possible. Step 5, front squat back up and recover the bar to the floor. Add weight (if your cleans were strong enough) and repeat! Functional training? Core training? Nope, just training.
One of the biggest changes is in the gender break down. There were very few (if any) women training in the more hardcore gyms when I started. The aerobic classes and cardio equipment were largely a strategy to bring in more female members. “Let’s get them in here and get their money, but let’s put them somewhere out of the way!” or “let’s not give them a reason to worry about getting too big!” seemed to be the fitness industry philosophy. Fast forward to current times and practically as many men do cardio as women with an ever increasing number taking group exercise classes. If you wander out to the main gym floor you’ll find that very often the most dedicated and serious iron lifters are female. Women are definitely more than holding their own in the new world of fitness and putting on quality lean mass, building strength, shape, and taking control of their physical appearance without apology. Awesome!
Life is about adapting. You have to keep moving forward and learning. At the same time, you have to understand that the earth was not invented the day you were born. Personally, I will never be on my phone texting while I’m supposed to be training. For me that would take away from my focus and I can’t imagine it leads to the best workout intensity. At the same time, if you joined a gym for the first time today, that would seem normal to you, so you might simply act like everyone else around you.
If you want to be the best you can be, then don’t strive to be like everyone else. Be you. Be the best version of you. Learn all the information and options that might be applicable to your goals. Learn yourself well enough to know what it is you wish to accomplish so as to be able to develop a clear cut path towards reaching those goals. And then seek out the things, people, circumstances, and information that will allow your success to happen.
Your path is your path. Travel the roads that are best for you. But don’t forget that those roads didn’t pave themselves.