There’s a big sign on the main wall of my gym that reminds everyone of one of its main principles, aka core values: No Judgement. [Yes, in the U.S. that would be spelled Judgment!]
Clearly, the message is that we aren’t there to compare ourselves to each other, or to compete for having the slimmest, trimmest body, or the most muscular body, or the most upscale spandex outfit. We’re there simply to work on our own wellbeing. As with recreational running communities, everyone should feel welcomed, encouraged, and celebrated for doing their best to their own abilities. People of all ages, genders, cultures, shapes, sizes, and abilities should be welcomed in the same way. And in my gym, at least, that’s how it feels.
When did this gym thing start, anyway? When I was a kid, the only gyms were in the schools and at the Y. And the gym at the Y was something your parents drove you to and picked you up from, not somewhere they went themselves. The grownups in my neighbourhood occasionally went for a walk around the block after supper on a pleasant summer evening. Our fathers occasionally played golf, taking turns getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning to nail down a tee time. Our mothers occasionally dipped their toes in the water when they took us all to the beach. Occasionally. But gym attendance or any other noticeable form of physical activity wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen. (Interestingly, people still weren’t as heavy as they are now. I wonder if that’s because of the preponderance of fast food these days or because they smoked! 😉 )
These days gyms are a huge industry. There are gyms and fitness centres to suit every need and every whim. I live in a pretty small town (~60-80,000 people, depending on what boundaries you count from), and we have about 1 gym (including specialized fitness centres, cross-fit, and yoga studios) per 1,000 people. And that doesn’t include school and church gyms. Nearly everyone I know, mostly grandparents, belong to a gym. How things change!
I live about a 7-minute drive from my gym, actually driving past two other perfectly fine gyms on my way there. That’s not a statement against those gyms, I just joined my gym before the other two were built. And the location is a huge draw for me – it’s in my go-to grocery store, along with the dry cleaner and post office. Convenience is an asset!
When I started at my gym it was a women-only facility. I has initial qualms about this because my world has always been very much otherwise; computer science and women-only is something of an oxymoron. However, I found that I quite liked it. I liked the environment it engendered, whereby women of all ages, shapes, sizes, fitness levels (or lack thereof) and cultural requirements of modesty felt comfortable to try a fitness class, try out those scary-looking machines, or work with a trainer. It was a refreshing change from earlier years in the university gym where I worked, when the fitness classes were filled with lithe young people who were already strong and fit. As a middle-aged non-lithe, non-overly fit person, it was a difficult environment for avoiding No Judgement on yourself!
Then, a few years ago, things changed. The head office of the company that owns and operates our gym changed the model at our location. We became one of their new “low end” gym options. Cheaper, no frills, co-ed. The nursery where Moms could leave their preschoolers while they exercised became the men’s changing room. The room where popular fitness classes had been held became a serious weight room. A very serious weight room. Personal trainers were relocated to gyms that remained “full service”. I wondered whether I should switch locations myself.
Several of my gym acquaintances did switch, because they wanted their fitness classes. But lots of new clients came, probably because of the low cost. I stayed, partly because I never used the classes or nursery anyway, partly because I love being able to go to the gym when I go grocery shopping or to the Post Office, but mostly because the status quo is the easiest path. And I am so glad I stayed.
“No Judgement” is in action at my reconstituted gym, just as it was before. The large weight room (which I never enter!) has attracted a number of exceedingly muscular, heavily tattooed (mostly) men. Rather than being an intimidating presence, which I admit I had some concerns about, these folks are focused, fascinating, and friendly. For me, they actually help strengthen the “No Judgement” atmosphere.
Focused to meet their goals and to avoid injuries. Weight training is serious business and they treat it that way. This from someone who had never given this subject the least bit of thought before. It’s a learning experience, for sure, just watching.
Fascinating because they do things with the equipment that I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams. I love to watch and see what creative new ideas they’ve come up with to challenge both their bodies and the original intention of the machine. Like the rest of us, they come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. Serious strength and weight training is their version of running a marathon: a personal physical goal. I can relate to that, even if I can’t pick up the smallest weight. They have my full respect.
Friendly, just like everyone else there.
My gym is an excellent example of the philosophy of “No Judgement” at work. I don’t know if it’s because I am lucky enough to live in a part of the world where snobbishness and one-upmanship doesn’t go too far, whether it is a serendipitous function of the particular gym I’ve been frequenting (sometimes more regularly than others) for the past 15 years, or whether it is a trait of most gyms these days. I hope it’s the latter.
My gym – my wellness community – provides an environment that is in keeping with its stated core values of tolerance and inclusion, summarized by the corporate tag line of “No Judgement”. It’s good for their business and it’s a good message for us all. Let’s work towards ensuring that all our communities – schools, work places, and neighbourhoods – provide the same sense of welcome and respect for people of all abilities and backgrounds. And then let’s hope that this spirit percolates up to our higher levels of government.