It may come as no surprise that the ancient Greeks were the first people to have purpose built training areas. Our word ‘gym’ comes from the Greek word ‘gymnasium’, which literally means ‘school for naked exercise’. I’m very thankful to the Greeks for their invention, but I’m also very glad that nowadays we seem to be just fine training with our dignities covered!
The Greeks would use gymnasiums to train for the Olympic Games. Their training was functional, heavily based upon the most common occupation of young men at the time - fighting for the army. Greek training regimes included full body movements such as javelin throws, shot-putting and boxing.
We have certainly come a long way since then, or so we think we have….
The common modern day gym is awash with the latest gizmos and gadgets; machines that count your reps, machines that train each individual body part from every conceivable angle… It’s a wonder there isn't a machine that just ‘does it all for you’!
We have an obsession with technology - the latest iPhone, the latest car, the latest app. We believe technology can solve all our problems. Don’t misunderstand me, I love technology. It’s hard to think where we would be without some of the latest technological advancements. However, in the fitness industry we seem to have moved so far into the realms of the latest assisted-lever-cable gizmos that we may have actually taken a step backwards. Let’s face it, deep down, we all know that sitting on a leg extension isn't as effective as performing a squat. But we know which is easier - plopping yourself down on the comfy seat of a leg extension and casually flailing your legs up and down doesn't require much effort, whereas squatting to full depth…that hurts!
As humans we will inherently take the easier option. I often laugh to myself when driving around the car park of my nearest Cambridge cinema where people will do laps and laps of the lower levels, or squeeze into the tightest space on level 2. Drive just 3 floors up and there are loads of spaces, but now there is a set of stairs to contend with… Steps… How awful! These individuals fail to realise that taking the harder option often pays off. To me, those 5 flights of stairs is an extra 50 kcals burnt, which means an extra 6 Malteasers earned whilst I’m watching the latest blockbuster - a trade I’m willing to make! Taking the harder option is often the best thing we can do for ourselves; we shouldn't be looking for ways to make our training easier, we should be looking for ways to make our training effective.
My thoughts on the modern day gym cause me to reflect on my early gym experiences. I joined one of the latest commercial gyms, assuming this would stand me in good stead. I remember my first ever training sessions in the gym well. I would just do circuits of every machine they possessed. Like most, I assumed that the machines and technology could solve my problem of not being happy in my body.
It wasn't long before I became disinterested with sitting on the same old leg extension machine week in and week out. One night a small group of young men were in the very small and cramped free weights area of said gym. They were all in phenomenal physical shape and they began throwing around weighted implements with such ease and in ways I had never seen before. Peering over the foot plate of the leg press, I was awestruck and nearly fell off my cushioned pew. I quickly realised, I had been doing it all wrong. I eventually plucked up the courage to talk to one of them. “Great gym here, isn't it?” I asked. “Not really mate, not much space, the weights don't go up very heavy, and too many bloody treadmills” was the response. As a fresh faced 17 year old I quickly realised I was out of my depth and retreated to the comfort of the leg press. Later on I scoured the internet in search of where these mutants could possibly train and after a little while I could tell I had been fooled by the shiny machines and excellent sales pitch of the gym manager. I wanted weights, I wanted space and I wanted to start working seriously toward my goals.
Thankfully I realised the error of my ways before I became disinterested with going to the gym altogether, and since then I have developed a passion for visiting new gyms outside of Cambridgeshire to soak in the atmosphere and learn more about the industry. I have visited countless gyms and have trained in facilities all over the world from Dubai and Budapest, to Italy and Sweden. I have seen a lot of what gyms around the word have to offer. There is certainly a variety available; however my observations haven't just been of the facilities themselves, but of the people. It has been my observation that the more treadmills, ellipticals and machines the gym has, the less results and enjoyment the members seem to be having.
The environment we choose to put ourselves in can say a lot about how we view our goals and can have a significant impact on the results we achieve and the enjoyment we get along the way. If you choose to join the cheapest available gym, how much do you value the results you expect to see? If you choose a training facility where the gym floor hums to the sound of electrically propelled cardio equipment, how much are you placing your faith in technology to help you reach your health and fitness goals?
This leads me onto the question of: “Why do you pick your gym?” For most, it’s not something they have put a lot of thought into; it’s mainly a question of price and convenience. Certainly those factors have a bearing on your decision, but they shouldn't be the only factors. You should choose your Gym because it’s the place that gives you the best opportunity to make as much progress towards your goals as possible.
People can often be the spark for change - they were on that day in my first gym when I witnessed those mutants flinging weights around. The people you choose to surround yourself with can have a huge impact on your life and the same is true in the gym. If you choose to surround yourself with glum faced individuals who sat in traffic to come to the gym and plod away on the treadmill, you will likely become one of those glum faced individuals. Chances are, if you are serious about your goals, you've read this far. Choose to surround yourself with like-minded people who share your passion to make change, work hard towards achieving their goals and being the best version of themselves they can be.
Observe how much the gym you choose places faith in technology to deliver results to its members and how much it places faith into people. Lastly look at the members: make sure you are surrounding yourself with like-minded and motivated individuals who share your common interest of bettering themselves and reaching their goals.