I love when I have training sessions where I’m not rushed and can really take my time.  Today was one of those days.  It’s not so much that I need to be in there longer.  It’s just that not having an event or appointment waiting for me allows me to appreciate what’s going on around me better.  It affords me the opportunity to observe and reflect.

I still like training in larger, more traditional gyms.  Although I must admit the dynamics have changed a bit over the years.  In smaller, box type gyms or at certain magical places you can still find an incredible camaraderie that comes from a shared sense of purpose. But those gyms can be few and far between and your best or closest option may be something more modern and commercial.  In those places, there is a much more diverse crowd than the “good old days” when just about everyone there was pretty much like you.  This can make you feel less connected and it’s easy to be, or at least feel, somewhat invisible.  That doesn’t bother me as I usually like flying under the radar.  But I can feel it and even see it all around me.

There is a hierarchy of members and relationships that take place in most training facilities.  Every gym usually has the elite group, those better developed regulars who can act as if their membership and workout is somehow more important than yours.  They are the “in-crowd” and they exist almost everywhere.  As a group they don’t often acknowledge outsiders.  They keep the circle pretty close or else it would be easier for the rest of the world to discover that they are really no more special than anyone else.  Some may have the advantage of time on their side, others great genetics.  Some may add a chemical advantage to this as well.  The funny thing is that the things they are doing in the gym are not magical or special or capable of making them worthy of any special treatment.  The in-crowd is largely self proclaimed and has no value beyond its own circle.

So when I overheard one of the “in crowd” girls mention that she looked up to a particular pro competitor who I happened to know well, it was mildly amusing.  I could have offered to introduce her sometime or connect them through social media.  But since I was an unacknowledged member of the out group, it wasn’t my place in her eyes to even speak to someone in her circle.

I’m just a guy in the gym training to get better.  I can relate to the beginners who are trying to learn and improve as well as to the goal oriented veterans trying to reach a new level.  I can travel in my mind back to when I first started and was hungry to learn everything.  I devoured every book, article, magazine, and absorbed any advice, seminar, or visual observation that presented itself. It was not an easy search to find information on a thing that very few considered important.  But what I did find was gold and immediately put to the test 5-6 days a week, 2 or more hours a day, without the slightest possibility of distraction.  I would ride my fitness vehicle until I reached where I wanted to be or until the wheels fell off.  And if the wheels did fall off I would simple just continue on foot.

So as I still pursue this journey I reflect on its many twist and turns.  Having a top pro bodybuilder drop by the room with a pizza after competing that evening just to see the pictures that Terry took for the magazine.  Watching that same pro become a national tragic news story some years later.  Sitting in on an after dinner conversation with the most powerful group of people the industry would ever see.  People who could make or break someone’s career with one paragraph, text, or post. Doing a TV spot for an ESPN show with my fitness pro friend who was the host of the most broadly viewed bodybuilding and fitness show in the world.  Getting to know top amateurs who became pro’s, then legends, then almost forgotten retired competitors.  Having a customer at the health food store I worked at spend a half-hour asking questions on supplements and diet.  Then watching him pick up my personal training flyer off the counter and ask me if I would be willing to train him.  He didn’t hold it against me that I had not recognized him as the pro bowl guard of the reigning Super Bowl championship team.  Getting my very first submission published by Muscle and Fitness magazine while I as still in college.

In the gym, none of this matters.  The weights will not become lighter or heavier based on who you know, what you’ve done, or how much money is or isn’t in your pocket.  The work is there for you to do and it is cleansing and pure and keeps you grounded.  It is honest labor and you get out of it only what you put into it.

So you don’t need to be part of a crew, or have the most fancy equipment.  You don’t have to wear the latest clothes with matching shoes.  You don’t need to be the youngest or biggest or strongest or richest or best looking or most popular.  The gym is your place as much as anyone’s if you care to claim it.  It’s for you to work on making you better.  It’s for you to remain humble as you see how much further you still have to go, yet at the same time to be proud of the work and effort you’ve put in and the distance, no matter how long or short, that you have had the good fortune to travel.

Today I was able to reflect on the oh so many workouts, sets, reps, pumps, pulls, and pushes that have made up my fitness life.  The pounds lost, gained, and lifted along the way.  The people, places, thoughts, and things that crossed my path.

Through this reflection I feel connected to everyone

in every gym


as I do my thing all by myself,

alone and invisible.

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