“Tear it up brother!”, “Go hard or go home!”, “Can’t handle the weight then get out of the gym!”
These are common quotes from free weight or power lifters, social media posts and advertising. The more aggressive the better it seems, when it comes to the gym atmosphere.
It’s no wonder why there is such a huge backlash of gyms embracing a non-macho marketing plan. Many would be, exercisers have felt alienated from the fitness floor because they are afraid they will get called out on something they can’t do. The gym seems to be the number one place to display how masculine you can be.
Men have been raised with the message of macho for years. Think G.I. Joe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rocky and the more recent popularity of wrestling mania. We talk a lot about dysmorphia for women and how debilitating that is, however, I feel it is just as debilitating for men who feel they are somehow inferior to other men in the gym. Whether we intend to listen or not the message is there. The more muscular, the more aggressive, the bigger you are the more masculine you must be. From childhood to adulthood the message is consistent and unrelenting. This is particularly true for men in the fitness industry.
Currently, I’m training John, a 54 year old man who was advised by his doctor to start working out and lose some weight, before he became a diabetic. John was already on high blood pressure medication and had little or no interest in the gym. John admitted he was basically sedentary and that the most physical activity he had experienced was when he played football in highs school. After that he simply lost interest in working out, going to the gym or free weights. Needless to say he was less than thrilled by my dietary suggestions or the prospect of going to a gym. He said “…who needs to go to a gym and be reminded of how weak I’ve become. All those gym rats would laugh at me.”
John’s situation is not uncommon. The need to appear macho poses a particularly difficult issue for middle aged men looking to get in shape. Very often sedentary men or men who need to get in shape or lose weight avoid the gym at all costs. This avoidance is simply because they feel they no longer appear to be as masculine as they used to appear. In some cases men ask me to train them at their home or at a track where their physical ability is not under scrutiny by some sweaty hulk, or group of weight lifters.
We see this a lot in the fitness industry, men who for whatever reason need to workout and lose weight but feel intimidated because they simply can’t perform the way they used to or the way others think they should be able to. It’s a dilemma I’ve faced for years; how to train men in a safe and progressive manner that is suitable to their current fitness level without emasculating them. Thankfully there are many wonderful behavior techniques to help men feel better about themselves and good about their process.
You may want to try some of these great ways to empower men during their workout process if you have a man that wants a fitness plan. The path to a healthy self image and the commitment to a healthier lifestyle is a multi-level job. The goal is to get men to love their process, the environment and the new habits they are creating for a better lifestyle.
Here are some simple tips for your self conscious man:
1)Structure your time with him to strategically heighten their sense of accomplishment. “That was awesome!” Give a lot of praise for specific tasks or milestones.
2)Give them different focal points to track progress; like their ability to now touch their toes or lift a heavier weight than when we first started their workout.
3)Create a support network.
Find other people who enjoy going to the gym. Good friends and family that can provide encouragement or join him for a workout, perhaps even let him show the family member how to use equipment or correct exercise form. Sometimes giving them the opportunity to help someone else will take the edge off of what he most fears, appearing weak.
Also remind him of these facts:
We are all here (at the gym) for the same reasons
Unless it’s an old-school heavy weight or power lifting gym, everyone is usually very encouraging and rarely judge each other
We are all at different levels of fitness or weight loss and it’s inappropriate to assume anyone is better or worse, than you are at any of it.
He will never regret his ability to get off of high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol medication (great for him even better for your family).
Giving the thought, time and energy to his process now will show him a level of respect and recognition most men thrive under. The macho gym persona only has the power we give it and by giving him ways to make his process easier and acknowledging his efforts go a long way toward his ability to cope with gym stress. He may even begin to enjoy his time at the gym and start encouraging others in their fitness goals. Whatever strategy you choose for him now, know it will definitely pay off later and well, he is worth it.