Do you enjoy your training? I love to train. Even when it’s hard and I don’t really want to do it, I get started and I end up loving it. I love following a program, feeling my skills improve and sharing the experience with my coaches and training partners. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, unfortunately, and I’d like to present a hypothesis; without the right training conditions, it’s pretty hard for anyone to enjoy it. We should be able to improve ourselves because of our training environment not in spite of it.
Kati and I got to take our first quick trip out of town since before the pandemic a few weeks ago. After the demands of the last 16 months, it was a much needed break not just to recharge our personal batteries, but to reconnect with some of the reasons we decided to open our own gym 6 years ago. We have many colleagues that we know personally, and know of several local fitness establishments that either decided to get out of the game, or had no choice but to close their doors for good. Getting the chance to step away and breathe confirmed for us that the “whys” we had for initially starting Breakthrough still hold true.
Before we had our very own special place to train, I chose to lift at home because I couldn’t find an environment that worked for me. I didn’t lift alone, though, I always had training partners, programming and coaching. It was great, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as training with our amazing community of athletes at Breakthrough Strength & Fitness is now. Thanks to new advances in technology, we’ve even been able to transform spaces all over the country into remote Breakthrough Strength & Fitness locations so that our trainees can enjoy our coaching and community while traveling or from their home gyms in distant locations! We’re very fortunate to be able to continue our mission of celebrating strength in all its forms with more good people than ever before, but I sometimes think back to the days before we opened our coaching business and wonder why I was never able to feel welcome in other commercial gym settings. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’ve had a similar experience.
Why couldn’t I find the right training environment? Well… The gym culture, especially in Los Angeles, is pretty messed up. There’s a fairly prevalent unspoken rule in many training communities which decrees that for gym-goers to feel welcome, they are supposed to be a certain size and shape (not necessarily strong or truly healthy, mind you) and they’re required to emphatically embrace a “the more painful the better” attitude. There’s an expectation that you already have attained a certain level of skill and physical prowess before you join and that you’re going to demonstrate your awesomeness with each visit. As if you need to somehow get pre-fit on your own before you go to a gym to get even more fit. This bias is what led me to believe I didn’t belong. Where was I supposed to learn the skills I needed to eventually feel accepted in this setting? Was that even a community I really wanted to be a part of?
One of the big reasons we opened a gym of our own is that we were tired of this culture. Fortunately, I spent many of my younger years learning martial arts, so I had an example of what a positive physical training experience could feel like. What made that environment so different from what I felt whenever I visited a gym? A good martial arts school is considered a place of learning, not a place for grandstanding, or big egos or taking your frustrations out on your training partners or equipment. In such a community it isn’t expected that everyone is already good at everything; there is no shame in being a beginner, or hubris expressed by the advanced student. The school where I first had the privilege to train in martial arts never made me feel self conscious about training there, or trying new things, learning new skills. It was okay to not be good at something yet because it was understood that we were all there to practice and help each other get better. New students avidly learned new techniques and black belted aces practiced the basics with just as much enthusiasm, if not more! In a school with this attitude, everyone is always working on improving their skills, and helping others improve theirs with no time for self doubt or judgement.
So why can’t a gym be like that? A training facility should be a place where everyone is there to help each other reach their goals and a skilled, passionate and professional staff leads the way. Unfortunately, this isn’t how you might describe most of the fitness industry or the gym scene in general. But we can be part of a change for the better! We know that the right training conditions create an experience that extends well beyond the four walls of the gym. In such an environment, where physical strength and movement capabilities are taught, practiced and developed within a nurturing community or people, our lives are improved in many surprising ways. Strength of character and spirit emerge along with strength of mind and body. I believe we can forge a new future for the business of fitness, and that it’s necessary now more than it ever was before. Strong people can lift each other up, after all. Let’s work together and continue to grow a community eager to learn the secrets of becoming strong, to move well, to become resilient, and to welcome anyone with a desire to improve themselves. We can change the image of the fitness industry from one that expects us to look a certain way, or be a certain way. Personally, I know that I need my gym to be a place for coaching, practice, learning, encouragement and fun, not a place for self doubt and suffering! Those are my training conditions and they help me love to train.