David’s Declassified Gym Survival Guide

[Calling all 2000’s Nickelodeon kids: This show did not get the love it deserves.]

College gyms suck.

As if college weren’t crazy enough, the barriers and challenges to maintain a gym routine present preposterous predicaments. 

For starters, they’re a pool of hormones, emotions, and stress. Once you add the sweat, stench, and close quarters, many students just run to the bar after class instead.

Other challenges include:

That one bodybuilder guy who’s always flexing in the mirror.

The guy who’s had his water bottle on a bench for five minutes and freaks out at you when you move it to do a set.

Front desk people who yell at you for doing a dynamic warm-up in the weight area—oh wait, is this just me?

People doing sit-ups in the middle of the turf. This is why I had to do my warm-up by the dumbbells.

No open squat racks ever.

All the benches occupied by guys waiting four minutes in between their bicep curl sets.

The top to bottom silent stares of strangers.

The puzzled looks when people see you doing sprints, or chops and lifts, or any exercise that’s not part of mainstream gym culture.

With so many barriers to overcome, initiating a fitness journey grows into a daunting task. I’m a trainer for chrissake and even I struggle in college gyms.

But, through exploring the college gym terrain, I’ve uncovered how to conquer it. Even at a crowded college gym it’s possible to crush your fitness goals, impress your crush from calc class, and overcome all your fears.

Gym Survival Tip #1: The power’s in the hour

“All right so I have bounds, then trap bar jumps, then sprints andddd somebody just laid down in the middle of the turf.”

Forget about doing anything resembling athletic performance at a busy hour. 

Or anything that uses a bench. 

Or a squat rack. 

Or a cable. 

Basically all you can do is jerk off in the corner with a foam roller.

Even the saviest of gym goers can’t dominate it at its busiest hour. So don’t go at its busiest hour. 

Between five and seven in the evening you’re better off doing some push-ups in your dorm room. 

Luckily, most college class schedules are sporadic, leaving ample time in the morning or afternoon.

Plus, most college students are nocturnal by nature. Likely the gym will resemble the Krusty Krab during the graveyard shift (minus the hash slinging slasher) anytime before 1pm. 

This, however, is not a cure-all. 

Even before the hours of doom, you’ll still have to navigate other gym goers while being respectful yet assertive. Even if there’s one person in the whole gym, bet on it they’ll be lying down on the turf preventing me, wait I mean you, from warming up. 

This is where you’ll have to flex your courage muscle, get over the fear of talking to sweaty strangers. 

“Hey can you move over a little bit?” is a respectable question, and people nearly always comply.

For the inverse scenario, you can simultaneously prioritize yourself while offering a solution.

“I am using this but you’re welcome to work in with me while I rest,” allows a safe entry point.

“Go right now, I’m on my other exercise,” similarly provides a win-win option.

If you’re naturally apprehensive of entering gyms, this will be a difficult task. Your timid default will leave just you and your foam roller in the corner again. 

When you cultivate this practice, you’ll realize how often this happens in other scenarios. With practice, you can similarly cultivate the courage to say no in any disagreeable situation life throws at you.

Gym Survival Tip #2: Accountability is King

Your phone alarm blares with your favorite song. Motivated like Spongebob before work, you slide on your gym clothes, and check your texts: 

“Hey! Alec Baldwin is in Washington Square Park right now. Hurry!” a text reads.

Forgetting your “commitment” to go to the gym, you run down to the park and to stare at Baldwin reading a newspaper. Sick. 

“But, David…” you continue, “I couldn’t miss that.”

Yes, you could’ve. And you would’ve if you had a system to hold yourself accountable.

What if you had a gym partner? You wouldn’t cancel on a friend last minute. What if you hired a trainer? Then definitely not, because you’d be throwing away money. 

Accountability changes the game, rigs it in your favor and against your commitment-breaking, instant gratification monkey brain. 

A gym partner’s a great place to start. But if they’re just as unmotivated as you are, you’ll bail on each other without remorse. 

Gym Survival Guide
Great point, Ned

Alternatively, hire a trainer who gives you a specific time, in addition to financial skin in the game.

Or, if you don’t have the financial means, hire a trainer with more affordable online training services. Accountability at the initial stages ensures success and prevents self-sabotage.

For anything important in life, creating accountability improves our impetus for practice. In whatever you want to improve in, finding a friend to join along, hiring a coach or mentor, or creating incentives ensure consistent progress.

Gym Survival Tip #3: Acknowledge the Spotlight Effect

“I just hate all the weird looks I get in gyms.” 

Now there’s something I can relate to. As somebody whose training program consists of almost nothing “normal,” I probably lead the NYU gym in weird looks.

“Why is that guy sprinting?”

“What is he jumping so much for?”

“Why is he just carrying a heavy dumbbell?”

This is what I feel their judging eyes tell me. And god forbid if those judging eyes belong to a cute girl.

To overcome it, I had to embody another reality of human nature: we’re all too self-absorbed to care what other people are doing. Nobody really gives a fuck.

Imagine the reverse. You’re at the gym, self conscious about your split squat technique and you see some weird guy (that’s me) doing bounds with a med ball in his hands. You give him a puzzled look, then return to focusing on your pelvic position during split squats. 

You’re occupied with yourself. You may think, “Oh, what’s he doing? What a weirdo,” but it still will have no tangible effect on me. 

With this realization, you can workout without concern for what others think, empowering you to just do your work.

Once again, this skill transfers to everything. You can stop caring what other people think about the way you dress, the way you talk, and allow yourself to be the most authentic version of you. As I wrote in Rosie’s Rules for Life (Rule #18), we should embrace what makes us unique.

No longer will your friends ripping on your taste in music, or your regional accent lead to a spiral of self-consciousness and insecurity.

Gym Survival tip #4: Consistency

Your foot anxiously taps as you stare at the classroom clock, gym bag in hand. As soon as the professor dismisses class, you strut to the gym. It’s 1pm, your gym partner is waiting for you, you don’t give a fuck what wandering looks of others imply. “I’m ready I’m ready!” You call out. You crush your workout. 

You’ve vanquished the college gym. 

But, each day, the beast comes back to life, and defeating it just once doesn’t lead to results. 

Over time, the end of class becomes a trigger for the gym. Soon, six months pass, and you haven’t missed a single tuesday after econ.

The judging eyes morph into friendly faces.

You’ve conquered the gym, and achieved all your physical goals. Yet, along the way, you’ve achieved so much more. 

How to manage a schedule more effectively,

be decisive,

cultivate accountability,

not care what other people think,

build habits.

You sought to survive the gym, but what you got were skills, strategies, and practices to dominate all areas of life. 

Now go forth, and conquer. Declassify these strategies for much more than the gym and become the best goddamn human you can be.

If Ned can do it, you can too.

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