Posted January 5, 2015

Split Pants and How We Can Do Better

Today’s guest post comes from Mitch Calvert, a trainer from a similarly frozen environment of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

I ripped my pants in the gym once.

It started out just as any of my routine lifting sessions do. I had my tunes going and was getting into the mental head space to attack the weights, before catastrophe struck: I had forgotten my gym shorts. No lower-half gym-appropriate clothing to be found in my gym bag despite several look throughs. I toyed with the idea of skipping the session, but immediately felt a wave of guilt come over me.

Just to reaffirm I was foolish to skip out over such a thing, I asked one of the fellow trainers if he’d ever worked out in dress pants. He said yes, adding a kernel of additional guilt: “you’re just trying to skip it – get it done.” (He’d later admit he didn’t think I’d actually try to train legs that day, but I digress).

Sure, I’ve seen a lot of dumb things in the gym. Whether it’s exercises done horribly wrong, or dudes in their own world dancing and shadow boxing the wall, there’s quite a wide gamut of weird stuff that goes down. And, hey, I’m not one to judge. They’re making the effort. That counts for something.

I’m not completely innocent, either (as this article will outline). One time, I’d say it was 2011, I was dumbbell bench pressing and felt the need to drop the weights in heroic fashion after my last set. One dumbbell landed awkwardly on one end and propelled itself into the nearby wall-length mirror, cracking it from top to bottom.

I owned up to my mistake and the gym was cool about it (I didn’t work there), but boy did I feel stupid.

The ripped pants are a metaphor (or something)

Anyway, as for dumb mistake #2 of my weight lifting life… I was halfway through my workout that fine day when on my second rep of my heaviest lift on squats, I heard a ripping noise and knew instantly what had happened. Instead of racking the weight, I half tried another rep and then thought better of it. I’m pretty sure my balls were hanging out the back of my shredded pants (of course I’d been commando that day – mistake #3), and the brief moment of eye contact with the lady on the elliptical was enough to reaffirm my suspicions were correct.

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I was able to sneak down to the change room, thanks to the strategic placement of a weight belt behind me, but instead of calling it a day and leaving the gym never to be seen again, I borrowed a pair of shorts – from the aforementioned trainer I blamed for my plight – and finished up my workout no worse for the wear. But it got me thinking, had my 20 year-old self been in the same position – the awkward chubby shy guy that I was – would he have felt judged and laughed at even if it was only partially true, never to return? Entirely possible. And that may have been enough for me to quit right there. What could have been? Instead of pushing forward and making a life out of this fitness pursuit, I could’ve stalled and went back to my old habits.

What am I getting at? Sometimes the greatest obstacle for someone wanting to get in shape is that initial foray into the gym. It can be an intimidating place filled with muscle-bound jerks and gawking bystanders. Even if some of that gym culture is more perception than reality, there’s a sliver of truthiness there nonetheless (one look at the memes surfacing all over the internet these days – see Dean’s playful Royal Rumble comparison – gives you all the proof you need). A fragile person may see even the slightest gesture as rude, so it’s up to the existing gym community to go out of our way to be welcoming. We all can do better. We, being the so-called experts who have been here awhile.

This January, instead of gawking at the “newbies” and their poor form, maybe give them the benefit of the doubt. You were there once. Try to remember how hard it was to get to the gym consistently before the habit set in.

There are people in the gym everyday who are new and feel uncomfortable this time of year, but they are desperate to make a change. The guys and girls (that being many of you) who are established in the gym need to band together and change the culture. Pay it forward. You were in their shoes once, don’t forget that. It takes some serious intestinal fortitude for people to step foot into gyms as complete novices, especially those with previous failures or self-confidence issues.

If people are free of worry at the gym, they can focus on taking strides to get healthier, working hard without judgment, and that’s good for all of us.

The fitness industry is at the forefront of preventative care and is the only way to offset immeasurable health care costs and the skyrocketing rise in obesity. We must make it a comfortable place for all.

About Mitch Calvert

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Mitch Calvert is a certified personal trainer with a B.A. who has been featured on elitefts.com, STACK.com, and was ranked as one of the top 10 fitness blogs by BreakingMuscle.com in 2013. He is based in Winnipeg, Canada and bears a striking resemblance to Matt Stafford.

Since 2010, he has been working privately with clients, helping them break through their mental and physical plateaus. You can find Calvert Fitness online at www.mitchcalvert.com. In January 2015, he’ll be releasing Endomorph Evolution, a comprehensive program for guys and gals who want to get fit despite their endomorphic fat kid genes.