Everyone that has spent time in a gym has seen some interesting things. There can be guys or gals with muscles popping out everywhere, people going crazy intense, people going easy, people doing some really weird looking things, and more.
People tend to watch people. This is true at the gym, airport, food court and many other places. It satisfies our curiosities, but also on a fundamental level, it keeps us safe. If we see others doing some activity that is harmless, then we can have higher confidence we will be safe. A small example is at work or a conference when there is some procedure such as checking in. The newbie may not know what to do, but by taking a moment and watching others, they can follow suit and be fine. Another example is deciding where to eat. Finding a full restaurant with many people usually indicates the food is good. This is a concept of following others is called “consensus” in Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, here is a link to a quick summary on our webpage.
This concept can be very useful in the gym as well if used properly. As I’ve mentioned, there is a variety of people and experiences in the gym so observing with the right lens is critical to maximizing the usefulness.
The lens to have is one of growth. This means identifying what people are doing right, and what can be improved upon. Regardless of knowledge and skill level, intuition will provide a basis for identifying what is safe and what isn’t. For those still new, as you watch over time, it will be easier to see commonalities and outliers for exercise technique. A way to accelerate this growth is to look at good resources for exercise technique.
One good resource is here on the CrossFit website. Some people bash CrossFit and say there is poor form, but it is like many things where many do it properly and some do not. The craziness of poor form tends to stick in people’s minds more than proper form, but it is still a worthwhile resource.
Another resource is Strength Training Anatomy by Frederic Delavier as it has amazing illustrations showing exercises per muscle groups. Understanding what the muscle looks like and how it functions can aid in correctly performing the movement.
There are some people that love Arnold and some that don’t but his book, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is another wonderful resource for weight training.
The last resource is a bit of a shameless mention, but it is still valuable in my biased opinion. Your Future with Fitness is written by yours truly and gives a good foundation towards being effective with your workouts.
Now that we have taken a bit of a detour with some resources, we can get back on the main topic. Watching people at the gym can be beneficial for those with experience as well. As we train more, we need to maintain vigilance in our own form. Our body is great at adapting to make a movement easier, such as bending the back during shoulder press to engage the larger pectoralis major (chest) muscles. The issue is that through this change in movement, it increases the likelihood of injury. As such, we must maintain our focus on form.
The exercise or weight can be easy, but to continue our progress we increase the weight, which brings us to the need for attention again. A good way is by keeping ourselves honest by using mirrors for feedback and asking a workout partner to correct us if our form is slipping.
Keeping a growth and learning mindset can help us learn from others. The gym then becomes a wonderful human experience.