Okay, now you’re standing at the weight rack, inhaling an intoxicating blend of perspiration, inspiration, and leather. Believe it or not, you’re actually going to look forward to this olfactory trigger. Just thinking about it makes me want to adjust an imaginary pair of weight training gloves. Which reminds me…
- GEAR Check your gym’s rules on what you can bring into the weight room, a lot of places have inexplicable restrictions put in place because some idiot ruined it for the rest of us. The universal uniform is stable, closed shoes you can tighten and untighten, a shirt that covers your nipples, and pants that cover your secrets. Most places will insist that these be athletic gear, not jeans or sweaters or something.
Lifting chalk is for the sweaty-palmed who want stability, widely used by the pros.
Gloves are for anybody who A. Hates chalk; B. Doesn’t want callouses/blisters; or C. Wants grip assistance above and beyond optimized forearm strength. You can also wrap up with Ace bandages or athletic tape each time (handy during transitory hand and wrist injuries) but it gets pricey.
Even with phenomenal grip strength, I used gloves because I ran a landscaping company 6 days a week back then and it was just too much to ask my palms to endure. Also, slow reps were smoother with the added grip. Most importantly, the knurling on equipment can run the gamut from mild to WTF and you never know which bar or barbell you’re going to be forced to use that day–the new one with teeth so sharp it feels like a sand shark is having angry hate sex your palm or the old one that is so smooth, it’d be easier trying to palm a wet beach ball. Tip: Leather bicycling gloves are often cheaper and better made than weight lifting gloves, so your shopping may already be done.
Straps are strips of heavy cloth or leather that you secure yourself with to the bar to make sure that puppy doesn’t slip. Only heavy lifters ever really need these but the physically impaired often use it as a hack.
Weightlifting belts are holy, yet some eschew them, championing core exercises and proper form over all else. Yes, form is essential, do it right or go home. However, if you have any back injuries, former back injuries, other relevant medical considerations, or are lifting insane amounts of weight (power lifting), a good belt might be all that’s standing between you and a frowning orthopedic surgeon with a clipboard. Since you’re enhancing your aerobic sports performance rather than adding bulk, you probably don’t need one for the way you’re going to lift. On the other hand, if you get hooked (endorphins, baby!) and decide to go heavier while you’re still rockin’ an old herniation (Sometimes They Come Back isn’t just an old Stephen King movie), a soft Velcro belt can be your friend. I wore one to protect a nasty L4 - L5 herniation that prevented me from working my core to my satisfaction. I know the thick leather weightlifting belts look badass but they’re for the guys with no necks lifting small cars with their pinkies. Put it back.
Worn down 2 x 4s and wood chocks are usually laying around a good gym for raising your heels or toes during specific leg work. Also, long wooden dowels are typically in a corner somewhere for stretching moves. If you’re lucky, they’ll have foam mats and tubes, too. The mats are for floor work when you’ve got to kneel or lay down for a move (the floor is rubber but there’s often crap embedded in there and if you have bony knees…) and the foam tubes are for slipping over the bar during squats, etc. to protect your shoulders. That evil knurling is everywhere.
Most of the above equipment is often available at the sign-in desk, so ask if you don’t see it.
- ETIQUETTE The standard Don’t Be a Dick principle applies but weight rooms are foreign countries with their own rules that only the regulars know. Here’s how to blend in and be accepted by the natives.
a. If someone’s using it and you want to, wait until they’re done with their set, lean in, and ask, “Can I work in?” which means you want to trade off. If that’s not your thing or the answer is no, ask, “How many sets you got?” This is their cue to let you know how long before your turn. Then, walk away and do something else but keep tabs on them. A decent regular will sort of find you with their eyes to let you know it’s yours now, so stay in their line of sight. If another patron tries to horn in ahead of you, fight to the death. Just kidding, but I’ve seen some shit.
b. Talk to someone during their set at your peril. They’re concentrating, ain’t got no time for chit-chat. Wait until their weights are in a resting position again and they’ve taken a few recovery breaths before opening your gob. The only exceptions to this rule are when you are coaching them during a spot or informing them that the building is on fire.
c. If someone asks you to spot them, just say, “I’m kind of new here” to get out of it. You’re not obligated to spot anybody at any time but if you want to learn, just watching others will get you there. Spotting is the classic way to learn names and make friends but again, no pressure. Never spot a weight heavier than you can lift off of somebody.
d. The Golden Rule applies, so put your toys away, don’t clang them around or drop them (grip strength, people!), don’t step between a lifter and the mirror during their set, and give people space because you never know when someone’s gonna suddenly reach out with a set of dumbbells and smack you in the nuts with a twenty-pounder while doing flies. I’ve seen it happen. Okay, I might’ve done it. Deodorant is a must and cologne is anathema. Keep all bodily fluids inside your body. The sweat you can’t control is easily controlled with a towel. That you will wash regularly. Same goes for gloves and shorts, Mr. Stinky. Tip: Keep straight isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle and hit everything not leather or wood, it kills cooties and neutralizes odors on contact.
e. It’s apparently a law now that every gym must blast pop music while simultaneously broadcasting random talk shows and sporting events on a dozen flat screens like a scene from Minority Report. This is annoying but so is Kenny Loggins creeping out of your ear buds and into your neighbor’s zen. Think before you crank. I wore foam earplugs for years, now I just work out at home. (sigh)
f. If you can’t live without it, don’t bring it into the gym because if it disappears, nobody cares. I tucked a car key into my sock during my workout, everything else in my bag was disposable. Come on, unless you’re an attending physician or an emergency rescue worker on call, you can leave the phone in your car for the next 45 minutes, it’s good for you. I see too many 30-second breaks turn into 10-minute texting marathons while warm muscles grow cold. Get your mind off Farcebook and back in the game.
g. Water/non-alky light beverages in a plastic or metal bottle are okay, everything else will get you glared at, then kicked out, even gum. (I’ll admit I’ve snuck bites from a protein bar in desperation once or twice after a long, hectic day. What happens at the rack, stays at the rack, but never let 'em see you chew.)
h. It’s okay to laugh at people doing stupid things, just don’t let them catch you, 'specially not that big guy in the corner with the unibrow. If he catches you giggling at him, tell him someone told you to read the instructions for the exercise machines as if they were instructions for sex. Okay, you can tell him it was me.
i. Read the instructions for the exercise machines as if they were instructions for sex. This isn’t a rule, it’s just fucking hilarious and can really perk up a dull day: “Do not overload; Keep hands and clothing clear of all moving parts; Do not use if broken; If you are confused, ask an attendant to assist you.” Cracks me up every time.