Gym Etiquette – Unsolicited advice vs. Solicited advice

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Warning – this post will likely appeal mostly to hardcore gym rats and/or inveterate students of human behavior.  As I have said in a previous post, a gym is to human behavior what a watering hole is to the Serengeti.  You see a lot of different types of behavior concentrated in a relatively small space.

Today’s topic of discussion concerns what is perhaps the thorniest topic in the entire canon of Gym Etiquette – unsolicited gym advice.  Should you ever offer advice to somebody at the gym and, if so, under what circumstances?  Also, how should you handle unsolicited advice?   Finally, on rare occasions you might be asked for advice or will ask somebody else for theirs – what is the best way to do this?

First let’s establish the parameters:  we are talking about a large commercial gym and you are interacting with somebody you don’t know.  I will also assume that you, dear reader, are reasonably adept at reading social cues.  In a commercial gyms we need to:

  • Realize that a big commercial gym is, sociologically speaking a public space akin to a subway or a shopping center.  The norm for interaction with strangers in these cases is usually limited to a brief smile or nod and maybe brief eye contact.  You might speak briefly to strangers in all of these contexts, but you would not normally  share your unsolicited opinion.  It’s the sort of behavior that makes people change seats on the subway.
  • Realize that people in big commercial gyms have wildly different goals.  Some people want to lose weight, others just want to get jacked, or just get out of the house, or might not even have a clear goal just yet.  How do you know your advice is relevant to a complete stranger?
  • Be sensitive to social norms when travelling.  Social norms for public spaces such as gyms differ from country to country.
  • Realize that the business model of most large commercial gyms does not always empower the client.  It’s more profitable to install weight machines (almost zero knowledge or technique needed), change half-baked classes frequently (Zumba-combat) and have trainers who run people through bosu ball and mini-trampoline workouts.  Novelty sells.  In short, a lot of people in the gym aren’t learning a new skill or any useful information.  It engenders constant beginner syndrome which is psychologically fatiguing.  Approach with caution, Mr. Knowitall.

Given the social dynamics we’ve just explored, in my opinion, I think you could or should offer unsolicited advice in the following situations:

  • Imminent danger – Barbell training is a skill that has to be learned.  Done improperly you can potentially harm yourself.  People new to the sport sometimes unintentionally put themselves in danger.  I have pulled failed bench presses off solo benchpressers who didn’t use safety pins or ask for a spot.  I’ve also had to jump in more than once to re-rack bars for people who squat backwards (i.e. go forward out of the J hooks and then back up (blindly) to re-rack the weight).  Deadlifts are a grey area, sometimes you will see somebody with terrible form attempt weights that are way too heavy.  In most cases, I don’t say anything unless they are kids or seniors.
  • Advice hacking – Every so often, I’ll be in a commercial gym and I can see that somebody in the rack next to me who is obviously new to barbell training but visibly enthusiastic about it.  Clues include new weightlifting belt and shoes while making some obvious beginner errors (example, knees caving in while squatting or leaving that foam thingy on the bar).  I have soft spot for these people because I remember how enthusiastic I was in the beginning and also how (at first) I had nobody to teach me the finer points.  So I might start-up an innocuous conversation  (hey, I am looking for a pair those shoes, where did you get them?) and if the conversation progresses, talk a bit about technique cues that I like to do.  Notice I did not say “you should fix a, b and c”.

Those are only scenarios in which I think one could or should interject themselves into a strangers’ workout.  I should also point out that I’ve never attempted to give unsolicited “beginner” pointers to a woman I don’t know.   One could be accused of Mansplaining, having ulterior motives, etc.  Finally, I should point out that the unsolicited advice dynamic is not the same in speciality gyms (powerlifting, etc).  These gyms are smaller, people share the same specific goals and the social dynamic is more like a club than a public space.  Chances are people are only too happy to get feedback or discuss technique.

I have received my share of unsolicited advice in commercial gyms and it doesn’t bother me.   I don’t understand why some people get so butt-hurt about it.  I think in most cases it’s simply a way of starting a conversation.  It shows some concern on the other person’s part so God bless ’em. Also, I have actually received some pretty good unsolicited advice – it’s not all bad.  Yes, sometimes you run into Gym Haters but that is the topic for another post.  The unsolicited lifting advice I find objectionable is usually outside the gym.

Solicited advice:  Sometimes I’ll see an experienced lifter doing something new or cool.  In most cases, I might just straight up ask them about it.  If you ask a legit, intelligent question most people love to talk about themselves.  The other day a guy asked me about floor presses I was doing as an accessory to my bench workout.  It was a good question so of course I was cool with discussing it for a few minutes.

That time I did a Strongman contest

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About 18 months ago I did a very, very silly thing.  I participated in a local Strongman contest on a whim.  I just signed up a week before the contest and then I participated.  “How hard could it be?”, I thought naively.  I should preface this by providing some context at this point:  I know the organizer and for some mistaken reason I was under the impression that the contestants would be mostly my fellow Powerlifting (PL) team members and maybe a few other people.  So I thought it would be fun afternoon with a bunch people I basically know.  At the time I was doing a fair amount of overhead press, Atlas ball and some weighted carries in addition to squat, bench and deadlift so I thought I had an advantage.  Well, an advantage in the sense that I did more of this than some people in my PL gym so, since I thought they would be my main competitors.  Did I bother to learn about Strongman rules, strategy or do at least minimal contest prep?  Of course I didn’t.

I should also explain that at this point in time I was a strength-building “bulking” phase which is just a cool way of saying I was eating a lot (clean, yes, but a lot) and getting, well, sort of thick around the middle.  So, yes, I was relatively strong but my cardio capacity was even worse than usual thanks to the additional weight.  Additionally,  I had badly sprained my ankle 2 weeks before the event.

Sunday morning comes around and I nonchalantly roll up to the parking lot where the contest is being held.  First thing I noticed is that event looked a bit more “serious” than I was expecting – nicely set up, TV cameras, the works.  Second thing I noticed is that there weren’t many people from my PL team in attendance.  Those that were there were helping the organizers, not competing.  OK, I thought, no big deal.  Then as the other competitors arrived I realized that they were all Crossfitters and I easily had a good 18 years on the next oldest male competitor.  The horrible realization dawned on my that I had made a very foolish and potentially embarrassing decision to compete in a sport I know next to nothing about against a bunch of young guys with the strength and cardio fitness of race horses.  However, the only thing more mortifying than actually competing would have been to chicken out, especially in front of people I know.  My goals were clear – finish the competition and, for my self-esteem, not come in dead last.

Things got real even before the competition started.  The organizers took the competitors through some warm up stretches and light cardio.  In my “fuscular” bulking state, I was winded from the light cardio, and hobbling around to boot due to my sprained ankle.  It occurred to me as the events and rules were explained that Strongman is a lot more cardio intensive than I had anticipated and that, dear reader, did not bode well for yours truly.

The first event was the yoke carry over a 100 meters which I, of course, had never practiced.  Guess what, it’s harder than it looks, much harder.  Carrying a very heavy yoke over 100 meters takes a great deal of cardio.  (Strongman in general demands more cardio conditioning than people (or maybe just me) suspect)  After my carry I discretely went over to the side of the parking lot so fewer people would see me retching into the bushes.  I was the last to do the yoke carry so of course I was first up for the next event – farmer’s carry.   I was already winded to the point of seeing stars and now I was expected to pick up two weighted frames and move them 100 meters.  Ugh, my grip strength is my greatest weakness in the best of times, but in my tired state and with a sprained ankle, it wasn’t pretty.  I was dead last, by a country mile, in that event.

Two of the crossfitters were just absolute beasts, strong as hell and in all around excellent shape.  They were literally running away with the competition.  As the competition progressed I saw that the rest of my competitors were young (20 somethings), in much better cardio shape than I was but for the most part not as strong as your average powerlifter.  I did fairly well in those events that required upper body strength and/or resemble squatting or deadlifting.  So I placed well in one event that required us to pick up a 70kg ball off the ground and throw it over our shoulders for as many reps as possible (AMRAP) during one minute.  I came in second in the log press (pressing a weighted metal cylinder overhead for AMRAP during one minute) and probably would have done better if I knew how to do a push/press (i.e. utilizing your legs to help push the bar overhead).  People were screaming at me to stop doing a strict Overhead Press (which does not use the legs) but it was the only technique I knew.  Yep, a little contest prep would have gone a long way.

So I stumbled from event to event in an exhausted, hypoglycemic, trying not to retch daze.  Then, almost magically, the competition was over!  I had managed to get points in all of the events (not a given – some people, for example, couldn’t do even 1 rep of the log press and therefore got no points for that event).  Lo and behold, I managed to not place dead last.  OK, I was 6th from the bottom but on the other hand, I was old enough to be everyone’s father.  Aside the public humiliation that was my farmers carry attempt, I didn’t completely disgrace myself.

As I hobbled back to my car, every muscle and sinew in body was crying out in pain.  Uh-oh, I thought, this going to be even more sore tomorrow.  And indeed tomorrow was not kind.  I staggered into work and grimaced in pain every time I did radical things like get out of a chair or walk down a few stairs.  I am a manager in a conservative bank, where the sport of choice for people like me would be golf, tennis or running.  I am always the weirdo nursing some sort of injury like torn-up hands (due to deadlifting) but for the most part these injuries fly under the radar.  Impossible to remain un-noticed with the DOMS I was feeling from that competition.  I have never felt that physically trashed after a sporting event.  So big, big respect to all you strongman and strongwoman competitors out there.  You’re crazed masochists, the lot of you.

As I reviewed the video from the event I also came to the realization that there is a fine line between bulking for strength and looking like you’re wearing one of the tires you’re supposed to be flipping.  I also realized, in rather dramatic fashion, that I had an appalling lack of cardio conditioning.  I learned some honest to goodness respect for crossfitters.  It’s fashionable in some circles to talk trash about crossfitters because they are the jacks of all trades but masters of none.  You know what, if taught well and practiced with strict form, crossfit turns people into beasts.  If I was 20 years younger, I might be tempted to search out a really top-notch crossfit box.  Any sport that gets masses of people excited about compound barbell movements is all right by me..And, finally, it was fun to push the envelope a bit.  Wish I had done some contest prep and actual training for the events, but hey, hindsight is always 20/20.

 

Down the Youtube rabbit hole

Over the last few years I have realized that I tend to watch more Youtube content than I do mainstream TV.  My habit began when I realized that YouTube contains some fairly solid powerlifting content.  Then I discovered a number of good cooking resources, some excellent podcasts, alternative journalism and down the rabbit hole I went.  While the recent “de-monitization” policy has hit certain youtube content providers somewhat hard, I find it’s still viable and capable of producing informative content.   Below is a list of past and current favorite Youtube channels:

General interest

  • Joe Rogan Experience –  Yeah, he’s a guy’s guy and the talk tends towards the locker room but I know of no other podcast that addresses so many different subjects and fascinating thought leaders.  I was initially floored to find out he’s an intelligent, hard-working and highly capable interviewer.  This one goes far and wide – excellent to listen to while driving or getting ready in the morning.
  • Casey Neistat – just because…admit it, he’s strangely watchable.
  • VICE – Thought provoking journalism that covers a huge range of topics.
  • Great Big Story – similar to VICE, a bit less edgy.
  • Tim Ferris – Similar to Joe Rogan, but more geared towards personal growth.  Also very good to listen to during long trips or in the morning whilst shaving.
  • First we feast – Hot Ones:  How can you not love this premise?  The guests eat increasingly hotter buffalo wings while the host peppers (sorry, it was low-hanging fruit) them with questions.  Also, the guests just keep getting better and better the more popular the show gets.
  • BroScience Life – Gym behavior is fertile ground for parody and, surprisingly, only “Dom Mazzetti” has consistently funny material.  The Buff Dudes mine this same vein (with better production values) but lack the gonzo riffs and creative edge.
  • Awaken with JP – Love this channel, love it.  His deadpan delivery is second to none.  The Prancercise video went viral recently…but there are so many other good ones on this channel as well.
  • Bill Wurtz – Unique, mind-blowing animated shorts.  “history of the entire world, I guess” is the single most brilliant thing I have seen on Youtube.

Powerlifting/Strength Training –

  • Supertraining06/Powercast/Silent Mike – Supertraining06 was the very first powerlifting youtube channel I followed and via guests/collaborations introduced me to a host of other excellent channels.  I’m aware that I listed 3 different channels and that Silent Mike is no longer affiliated with Mark Bell, Super Training gym and the PowerCast but to my mind these 3 channels were at their peak when Mark and Mike worked together.  I don’t watch these channels nearly as much as I used to.
  • Alan Thrall – Tons of great information done in an engaging style.  Alan recently drank the Starting Strength kool-aid which is fine.  I have nothing but respect for the SS body of knowledge regarding form, linear progression, etc.  Like just about everyone else, I own a dog-eared copy of Starting Strength.
  • Omar Isuf – Very informative, one of the original OGs of youtube Powerlifting channels.  Collabs quite a bit with Silent Mike and Bart Kwan of Barbell Brigade.
  • Barbell Brigade – Like Supertraining06, I used to watch this channel quite a bit but now much less so as the content has become less entertaining and almost devoid of information.  It’s now more about marketing than lifting.  BB seems to have fallen victim to their own success.  Say what you will about Mark Bell, but Supertraining06 is about the sheer joy of lifting, not hard-selling his products.
  • Juggernaut Training – For the serious strength athlete.
  • Calgary Barbell – Not a huge following yet, but excellent production values with informative content for the serious powerlifter.
  • Starting Strength – An excellent resource for the beginning powerlifter or anybody interested in Strength Training.  Yet, while I respect his knowledge I find everything else about Mark Rippetoe to be extremely grating.  People say CrossFitters are smug and condescending but they’ve got nothing on the SS community which is dogmatic to a T.  Still, if you had to pick only one channel strictly for information on how to do the lifts, this is the one to pick.
  • Buff Dudes – Lots of very good general strength training content as well as the aforementioned parody skits.
  • Brandon Campbell – How can you not like the homey from RI?  His low-key humor, training vlogs and equipment reviews make this a must watch for Powerlifting nerds.
  • Strength Wars – the bonkers German channel that a few years ago came up with the brilliant premise of pitting various types of strength athletes against each other.  Pure entertainment with no educational value.  Nobody in their right mind lifts like this, which is what makes it so compelling.
  • Strength Sensei – Charles Poliquin has forgotten more about strength training than I’ll ever know.  Lots of information regarding training and nutrition here.
  • Elliot Hulse – this is more of a Hall of Shame entry.  WTF happened, Elliot?  Elliot used to put out somewhat informative strength training content liberally interspersed which his thoughts on life, philosophy, the universe, etc.  Elliot was the sort of guy who always had an answer to everything, though that answer might be 90 percent pure BS.  It made for offbeat, interesting content so Elliot gained a large following.  At which point he started believing his own BS, got full of himself and the videos became unwatchable.  You’re not the next Messiah, Elliot, chill.

Cooking, Nutrition and Health –

  • Food Wishes – Chances are whatever recipe you want to make, Chef John had already made video about it.  The unique delivery and bad puns keep me coming back for more.
  • Jamie Oliver – Like Food Wishes, Jamie Oliver has a huge back-catalog of recipe videos.
  • Gordon Ramsey – Love him or hate him, you can’t deny the quality of his recipe vids.  I can’t say I’ve ever actually used one of them to cook a dish, but they are informative.
  • Binging with Babish/Basics with Babish – a must for cooking nerds, one that is becoming a sort of pop-culture reference in some circles.
  • Dr. Josh Axe – “food is medicine” One of my go to channels regarding nutrition and how our food choices influence our health.
  • Dr. Eric Berg – Another excellent nutrition channel.  Not as slickly produced as Dr. Axe, but informative nonetheless.
  • Bon Appetit – Strangely enough, more gonzo and personality driven than dryly informative, but that’s OK.

Year End Random Musings

As the year 2017 draws to a close and the world is trying it’s utmost best to go hell in a hand-basket, I share with you the following utterly random and sometimes shallow observations:

  • Adversity“There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in this world; there is merely the comparison of one state to the other. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss.”—Alexandre Dumas”   I know this sounds like a proud parent speaking (guilty as charged) but my daughter is highly intelligent, motivated, outgoing, opinionated, athletic, pretty and inquisitive.  She is self-driven and constantly striving to learn new things.  Consequently she has encountered a lot of success in school, sports and is a natural leader.  She hasn’t really encountered that many bumps in the road in life until now, with the exception of her parents divorce (which was amicable as those things go).  Recently she has encountered a health issue that, even though it’s temporary, is the sort of thing that  puts you on a crash course for learning some of life’s hard truths.  She’s learning a lot about the importance of character, both in herself as well as others.  She has always been a popular kid, but this experience has allowed her see who her true friends really are. (Lo and behold, her true friends “just happened” to be the ones her parents liked – to paraphrase Richard Pryor’s Mudbone “you don’t git to be old by bein’ no fool”).   Life is not fair and it’s periodically filled with physical and/or emotional pain.  She’s learning that sometimes the only thing to do is to hang on and to keep fighting.   Both her mother and I faced more than our share of adversity when we were my daughter’s age.  My Ex used that experience to forge an absolute iron will to succeed which she still has to this day.  I used my experience as an excuse to go off the rails and add self-induced adversity to the equation until I finally smartened up.  I’m happy to say that my daughter takes after her Mom, her Grandmother (my mother) and her Aunt (my sister) in choosing the correct reaction to adversity.  She is fighter, she knows her worth and she’s nobody’s fool.  I couldn’t be prouder of her.
  • Injury:  On a somewhat lighter, more sports related note, I recently injured my left rotator cuff in the weeks leading up to a competition, and then tore a muscle in my right hamstring a minute before my first squat in said competition.  The rotator cuff injury happened 3 weeks before which meant I couldn’t bench anymore (my best lift) and to be honest I probably shouldn’t have been squatting either.  I continued to train the movements I could do and hoped that I’d be able to compete in some, albeit diminished, form.  On the day of meet, I realized that I was able to bench if I respected absolute strict form (always the best policy anyway) and utilized lats, triceps and leg push as much as possible.  Then, a minute before my first squat, I managed to tear my hamstring simply by taking a 25kg plate of the bar when I was off-balance.  It literally hurt to walk.  While it was a stupendously stupid move, I continued the competition and was able to do a good squat of my opening weight on my 3rd attempt.  To say it hurt a great deal would be pretty close to the truth.  I then was able to bench press and consequently set a world record (WR) for the age\weight category in the federation that I compete in.  By this time, I was literally hobbling so I deadlifted 70kg once (a very humbling experience) to finish the competition and called it a day.  It’s funny, but I got much more props from fellow competitors, team members and judges for that injured squat than I did for the WR bench.  Fast-forward 6 weeks – my hamstring is healing nicely due to regular physical therapy sessions and intelligent training.  My rotator cuff is more of a longer term issue.  This effectively means I can’t do any movement that utilizes the shoulder to a great extent (low bar squat, overhead press and dips, for example) and I haven’t really been training legs hard due to my injury.  Faced with this reality, I’m doing what I can:  light safety bar squats, Wenning belt squat machine, strict form flat bench, farmer carries, glute ham raises (carefully).  I am also using machines for things like leg extensions and “light” leg curls, which is something I don’t normally do.  I’m concentrating more on core training than I usually do.  It’s frustrating, but doing nothing is out of the question.  Lessons learned:  mobility work is essential and tis a far, far better thing to listen to your body and back off a set than to be out of the game for a few months.
  • Dating or what’s with this older man/younger woman thing :  I know this going to sound disingenuous, but I never seriously considered dating a much younger woman until recently.   Let’s be honest, if I went on a dating app and stated a preference for pretty 25 year olds I’d get absolutely no responses except for catfish scams.  Unless, perhaps, I took one or two casual pictures in a recent model 911 with an understated Patek Phillipe on my wrist.  Sadly, as I know from at least one acquaintance, this approach works albeit it attracts exactly the sorts of women you’d expect.  It’s baldly “transactional” in nature, but provided he gets what he wants, he isn’t complaining..  In any event, about 2 years ago I stopped actively trying to rustle up dates as  I’ve been busy with work, my kids’ activities and, of course, powerlifting.  Also, I won’t sugarcoat this, dating women my age when I was 42 was fine but 8 years later it’s another situation entirely.  I know this is unfair and I know only too well how hard menopause hits some women physically and mentally.  A dear friend has been dealing these changes for about 2 years now and I can see how she is being whipsawed by the experience (see above re: adversity).  So a certain percentage of women my age are undergoing disorienting physical changes and consequently they’re not really in the mood for dating.   Almost completely by accident, I have dated some women in their mid-20s recently.  All of these situations were initiated by the women themselves and came about, I think, simply because I was out there, pursuing my interests and having fun.  I literally spoke to these women the way I’d speak to anybody else and wasn’t even considering an ulterior motive.  Yes, I understand one of the main reasons younger women date older men but I wasn’t picking up the tab any more or less than I’d do normally with woman closer to my age.   (News flash – some women, irrespective of age, will expect nonstop expensive restaurants, trips and gifts, while most others won’t.  When I was freshly divorced I fell rather hard for a physically attractive age appropriate woman who expected wining and dining of a certain level, nothing less was acceptable.  Never again.  I am not cheap, it’s the crassness and lack of imagination that I find objectionable).  So, other than money, why would a younger women date an older guy?  Maybe it’s because the 50-year-old me is probably a better guy to date than the 25-year-old me (more confident, more accomplished, happier, wiser and still in half decent shape).  Perhaps it’s because older guys know what they want, have certain amount of experience with women and are less likely to be drama queens.  Maybe it’s because these women are still in an experimental phase whereas women in their 30s are much more focused on getting married, preferably to somebody just a few years older.  I don’t really know.  And the end result in these cases was really quite positive.  Again,  had I gone on a speed dating or an internet site to meet these women, it’d have never happened.  Attractive 20 something women have a power of attraction that is akin to something like a super-power (this is a fascinating subject – the positive and negative aspects of this power – how it affects the person in question – and what happens when it wanes).  Pit that power against a few cheesy photos of a 50 year old man – it’s laughable, not a snowball’s chance in hell.  If I hadn’t been out there, pursuing an interest, displaying some sort of “worth”, absolutely no chance.  I firmly believe, also, that had I treated these women as potential “hook ups” it wouldn’t have happened either.  Finally, these women don’t “do” dating sites or speed dating – they really don’t need to the same way the The Flash doesn’t need to take the subway.  Nor do I have a need to date a younger woman at all costs.  I’d like to think that we see are capable of seeing each other as unique human beings and not as a type.  I find it creepy when people of either gender express a clear preference for a certain race or type to exclusion of all others.  Needless to say, I don’t discuss this older/younger thing that much with my female friends as it tends to be, as they say in French, “un sujet qui fache” (Loosely translated, a touchy subject).  For the record, y’all, I’d love to meet a happy, in-shape, cultured and intelligent woman closer to my age.  It’s just that those situations are not presenting themselves.  To be continued…
  • Training goals for 2018:  My goals for the upcoming year are to recover full use of my right hamstring and left shoulder, squat and deadlift for reps at least 60kgs more than my 1RM for bench, add 10kg to my 1RM bench press and, finally, to drop about 9 kgs bodyweight while preserving strength.  By the end of the year I want to be clearly the only game in town regarding my age and weight class.  As an aside, I have always found bodybuilding-style training tremendously boring, but since I’ve recently been unable to low bar squat, deadlift, overhead press, etc I have had to concentrate on more body building style training that targets isolated muscle groups.  You know what, I get it now, sometimes esthetic gains are nice and that whole pump thing is fun.  But being strong is more fun.

Happy holidays, everyone!  If you’ve made it to the end of this post you certainly deserve an eggnog or any other libation of you choice.  All the best to you and yours in the new year!

 

Life under the bar

black-and-white-alcohol-bar-drinksAside from spending time with family and friends my absolute favorite things in life are reading, physical activity and, during a certain period, booze.  Reading, if one reads broadly, is obviously a way of cultivating one’s intellect.  Physical activity (running, yoga, weight-lifting, etc) is  the second part of the equation – Mens sana in corpore sano.  Most of us adopt these habits organically, not consciously adopting them because they are “GOOD HABITS”.  Like an anxious dog who has been locked inside all day, your body and mind will give you explicit hints that they need to be exercised.  Weak and flabby is not a great feeling, whether it’s intellectual or physical.

Addiction, in all it’s forms, is the flip side of the coin.  Addicts have an instinctive need  to retreat from some aspect of their life.  All addictions, be it alcohol, weed, social media or cheesecake, are methods of changing one’s brain chemistry and ultimately changing one’s perception of reality, however briefly.  Addiction is also an attempt, albeit very counterproductive, by the addict to assert control over their life.  It’s an attempt to quiet the ceaseless background chatter, the ever-present feelings of anxiety that lurk in the margins, the monkey mind.  The irony of addictive behavior is that in the immediate aftermath of a binge, the background chatter is foreground and the volume is pegged at 11.  Interesting that clichés about addiction employ circular imagery; a vicious circle, a downward spiral, spinning your wheels, etc.

It’s not surprising that gyms, yoga studios and running clubs are filled with ex-addicts.  For one, it’s a logical reaction to want to offset the damage of the addictive behavior.  Physical exercise can also be somewhat addictive (in a good way) unless taken to extremes (which, let’s be honest, are rare).  It’s a time-honored tradition to swap an addiction for one that is relatively harmless (i.e. people guzzling coffee at AA meetings).  Most important, I think, is that physical exercise begets a calmer state of mind and ultimately puts one far closer to the goal of quieting the monkey mind than guzzling tequila till 4 in the morning.   When you start to train seriously you set in motion behavioral patterns  and interests (exercise, nutrition, quality sleep, meditation) that reinforce each other and, yes, help you become that “best version of you”.  (Eeech, horrible phrase, but fitting in this context.)  Physical training makes you feel better, look better, clears your mind AND gives you regular hits of endorphins.

Probably less well-known is the number of people who still engage in addictive behavior and for whom training is a way of offsetting, somewhat, self-inflicted damage.  It’s also a handy psychological crutch, it allows you to feel just a little bit better about your sorry-ass, bleary-eyed self if you drag yourself to a heavy squat session.  And, yes, sports training is the ONLY way you’ll offset all of the calories you’ve ingested and clear the cobwebs a little.  (It goes without saying that this refers to people in a certain stage of addiction, not hardcore addicts. Also, I am not referring to addiction to extremely dangerous drugs such as crystal meth or opiates) In a way, training might empower some people to continue their addictive behavior by serving as a physical and psychological counterweight.  I like to think, though, that if the person stops the destructive behavior, the good habits they formed in training will help them through the rough patches on their way to sobriety.

I have mixed feelings about alcohol.  I appreciate good wine and beer.  I was a wine enthusiast for many years and did, at one point, take some preliminary steps towards a job in the wine trade.  The closer I got to this goal the more I realized that I didn’t want to make my living from a product was potentially harmful.  Like many,  my life has been negatively impacted by alcohol.  I have family and friends who were alcoholics and are now sober, some who are still fighting that battle and 2 friends who ultimately lost their lives as a direct result of their alcoholism.    In high school, college and “after work” I binge drank with the best of them – only I couldn’t keep up.  I was usually, but not always, the drunkest of the group.  I have done a number of idiotic and dangerous things while drunk and it’s truly astonishing that I’m still here to tell the tale.  Worse still, a perpetual hung over state meant that I often “less than present” for family or on the job.  Some people can take or leave alcohol while others are on a spectrum of “where have you been all my life?”.  I’m in the latter camp.  It’s only in the last few years that it dawned on me that  alcohol was getting far more out of me than I was getting from it.  So I decided to spend less time in the bar and more time under it.

It might surprising, then,  that I still go out for the occasional beer with friends or have wine with some meals.  I also like to scuba dive, hike, go camping and pursue other interests that have inherent risks.  An intelligent adult identifies and mitigates potential risks as much as possible.  A better analogy is having an aggressive dog in your house.  If you aren’t in control, the undisputed Alpha, that dog is going to bite you on the ass eventually.   I haven’t had hard spirits in my house for decades, and I rarely have wine or beer in the house.  I don’t go out much any more, especially when the occasion is a thinly veiled excuse for excessive drinking (which is most of the time in the country I live in).  If I do go, I offer to drive (thereby taking myself out of the boozing equation) or I go only if it’s within public transport or taxi range.  It’s matter of recognizing what could happen.  To thine own self be true.

Gyms are full of dogmatic cliques;  cardio freaks, Crossfitters, bodybuilders and powerlifters.  While each group looks down on the others they are united in their disdain for the New Year’s Resolutioners that pack gyms in January like salmon swimming upstream to spawn.  OK, it’s annoying to be in a more crowded environment but we all know that by February things will be back to normal.  I really love seeing new people in the gym, people who are little out of their element(for the time being) but are giving it a go.  There are so many good excuses to not go to the gym;  I’m tired, it takes too much time, it costs too much, gyms are full of shallow, judgemental douches, I feel self-conscious etc.  I say silence that background noise, get greedy and go get yourself some.  The bar will lift you up.