Mistakes Skinny Guys Make: Training Environment

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In case you missed the previous installments, in Part One I basically told skinny guys around the world what time it was and said that they needed to eat something.  In Part Two, it was all about covering the basics.  This is a barbell.  Place it on your back.  Now, squat it.  Repeat.

It was a little more detailed that that, but you get the idea.

Today, though, I want to discuss something a little less, how should I say…..direct.  Unlike the past two installments which covered, in some detail, the nutrition and training side of things (you know, stuff that plays a quantifiable role in your progress) –  today’s rant discusses something a little less concrete.

Training At a Non-Poopy Gym

Honestly, this is something I feel is VERY important and is an often overlooked component of training success.  I can’t tell you how many times I hear guys commiserate about what it’s like to be all fired up to train, only to head to the gym and have their t-levels zapped to oblivion the second they walk in and hears Michael freakin Bolton on the radio.  Yeah, that sucks!

As someone who’s been there, done that – I get that it’s kind of hard to get amped up for a deadlifting session when you have Susie B. Elliptical Trainer in the background gabbing away with her best friend about who got eliminated last night on Dancing With the Stars throwing you the look of death everytime you add another plate to the bar. 

Even worse still, how many of you train at commercial gyms where none of the trainers walking around even look like they lift weights? 

In fact, no one there trains, they all workout.  What’s the difference?

In no uncertain terms – training actually entails doing something with purpose and intent.  Training means you hate life by the time you’re done, and you brag about the size of your calluses.  Working out, on the other hand, is cute and fun.  It’s reading the newspaper WHILE exercising.  It’s thinking your 185 lb quarter squat is somehow impressive (Hint:  it’s not).  It’s step-aerobics class.  In short:  working out is what everyone else does.

It’s kind of hard to get better – let alone bigger and stronger – when you’re surrounded by people who only workout.

Which is why, time and time again, you hear me talk about training environment and how it’s often the missing link for many trainees.  

To me, walking into a facility that has loud music playing, encourages the use of chalk, actually has more squat racks than pieces of cardio equipment, and instills the attitude of “I’m going to make this barbell my bitch” into all of its clients is where it’s at.  Not coincidentally, this is, in part, what makes Cressey Performance so successful I think. 

Of course, there are other things that separate us from the masses – we take the time to actually put people through a thorough assessment and write individualized programming based on what we find, for starters.  But, in some way, I think it’s the attitude that’s the “x-factor.”

As an example, a few months ago we had a guy start up who’s first day entailed pushing the Prowler.  OUCH.  Anyways, as a guy in his mid-20s, he admitted to always having a hard time putting on any weight.  He decided to nip things in the bud and make the trip out to CP – which was like a 45 minute drive for him (both ways). 

After his third set, one of our high school FEMALE clients – Becca – asked if she could jump in on the fun.  “Sure,” he said, “do you want me to take some weight off?”  Becca responded, “naw, I’m good,” and proceed to ADD MORE WEIGHT.

Pwned!

How awesome is that?

Taking it a step further, look at the picture above at the start of this post.  What started as more of a joke, has resultingly turned into an annual event where we take a bunch of our skinny guys – or otherwise kids who need to put on some weight- and have a “Race to 200 lbs” contest.  

Admittedly, while not all of them get to 200 lbs (actually, most don’t even sniff it), you’d be surprised as to how many end up slapping on anywhere from 15-25 lbs during the off-season.  

Do you think this would happen if they chose to train at their local commercial gym where the heaviest set of DBs goes up to 70 lbs?  I think not!

Basically it comes down to this.  If you want to get good at chess, you hang out with chess players.  If you want to improve your dancing skills, you hang out with people who dance.  If you want to get good at not getting laid, you stay home and play World of Warcraft. 

Likewise, if you want to get better at putting on weight, getting stronger, or just increasing your general sense of badassery – you need to train at a place where people are bigger, stronger, and more badass than you.  It’s as simple as that.

Even if it’s only one time per week – it’s worth the time spent, gas money, and wear and tear on your car.  Get it done guys (and girls).  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

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  • JB

    There is one more factor to training environment: drafting. If you lift at the local 26 hour fitness, and you've never seen anyone dead lift more than 365. If you're particularly mentally tough, you might get to 405.. maybe. It's outside of what you view as possible, but if you're in a room with guys who regularly pull 500+ then 400 is easy. People get mentally blocked, and training with stronger people takes that block away (or pushes it further out).

    As always, great stuff Tony.

    P.S. Sorry about the Sox.. Go Cardinals!

  • Tony I couldn't agree more my friend. This is exactly my attitude on the matter. If you have nothing else, but the attitude and the right environment that can take a guy (or girl) a long ways. I like to refer to it as the Clubber Lang factor! Great article as always my friend.

  • I'm so glad I read this as I'm about to go to the gym and now I want to go pick up the heaviest things I can find. My gym is an odd assortment… there are squat racks/cages, platforms, PILES of barbells, tractor tires, tanks for farmers walks, and dbells that double my bodyweight and then… there are a million and 1 pieces of cardio equipment and horrible music.

    I generally refuse to leave the locker room without my iPod already on play.

  • Barath

    I work out in a university gym, and I work out early morning. So the few dudes/dudettes that are already there are busy curling their biceps and the squat racks (there are two of 'em) are always free. I don't generally care about music. I have an mp3 player but I never take it with me to the weight room. And though my gym plays music, I couldn't tell you what kind as I almost always shut myself out. To each his own, I guess.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ JB: Ohhhh, good call on that drafting comment. When I started training at South Side Gym back in 2005, I thought I was king shit with a 500 lb DL. That is, of course, until I saw dudes using that as SPEED WEIGHT.

    Seeing those guys get after only fueled my fire to train harder.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Brandon: Thanks for the kind words!

    @ Juliet: Sheesh, your gym sounds kind of baller if you ask me. I bet you're the only girl who uses the farmer carries…..LOL!

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Barath: I hear you on the music. When I don't train at CP, I just bring my iPod with me……problem solved. But outside of that, I can't, for the life of me, see how people can constantly be surrounded by mediocrity and expect to make long-term gains. Sure, it can happen (inner strength and fire DOES come from within), but it's few and far between I think.

    And again: congrats on your PR from the other day!

  • LOL Probably. Also one of the few who have tried flipping the tire: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HtTi1VPTWU

    hmmm… I should try that again…

  • Collin

    Are there any sites or apps that review gyms by local area, rate them on how many squat racks they have per square inch or something like that? Or is it just word-of-mouth?

    I live in SoCal (Orange County) and I haven't run into anyone who doesn't train (work out) at 24, Bally's, or… Planet Fitn… not worth mentioning.

  • Rick

    My buddy and I both train at university gyms and he came back from a good deadlift day and told me about something that happened. Apparently he was working up to his max and people started to form a circle around him as he got into the upper 300's. The upper 300's!! He ended up pulling 425 and it seemed no one could believe it. I think he could have been the first to pull over 400…make that 300. Not me, I train at a ladies college where no one even knows,or cares, what Im doing. Plus surprisingly the ladies college has two more squat racks(3) and one more deadlift pad(1) then the major university its affiliated with.

  • pete

    I love reading this blog, Tony. I think your wit is spot on and training advice is excellent. I would say though, in my opinion, that guys struggle to gain weight because they find it difficult to eat on a regular basis (every 2-3 hours). It's easy to become obsessive about this stuff. You can't go anywhere or do anything because you have to eat in half an hour etc. I found people adapt much better to eating 2-3 huge meals. It's very, very easy to adapt to eating 1500 cals in one sitting. It allows you to keep your appetite so that you still enjoy your food. You get a huge hormonal response from a feast of meat and potatoes. And you can effectively run your life, instead of having food dictate what you do on a daily basis. Just my 2 cents.

  • I have experienced a massive growth in clients attending sessions with me and then using my training program in their commercial gym so they dont need to train in a specific gym as long as they have decent instruction or a properly applied program.

    I think this trend is set to continue but said clients will always be see as the 'weird' one that rolls on this stupid round thing and does that deadlift exercise that everyone knows is bad for their back!!

  • My gym has one squat rack and lots of Susie Elliptical yappers. (Sometimes I want to ask them to shut it so I can concentrate, ha!) No music playing, but lots of tvs around. I've never seen anyone deadlift and only seen 1 person to do an actual real squat. And I've never seen a female touch a barbell. This must be the way of suburban gyms, at least where I live. Basically, I train while everyone around me works out. 😉

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Juliet: That in one MASSIVE tire. Nice work! Although, you should tell the guy in the corner doing his DB presses that it would help to use a full ROM (and to keep his elbows tucked in)….;o)

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Collin: you know how there are a million and one reality shows that go around and eat at different restaurants and rate them? Someone needs to do the same thing for gyms. I nominate myself!

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Rick: HA! Yeah, well, a 400 lb pull is something that you don't see everyday at your local commercial gym – so it doesn't surprise me that your buddy is a rock star there.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Pete: totally agree. I'm not married to the whole idea that people NEED to eat every 2-3 hours. But at the same time, for skinny guys, it can be a daunting task to try to ingest a 1500 kcal meal (which is why telling them to eat more sporadically may help). In the end, it DOES come down to personal preferences and what is actually manageable. I do feel that there are a lot of people who let food dictate their lives, and that's definitely not a healthy approach.

  • Tony Gentilcore

    @ Tasha: you're following what I like to call the 180 Rule. You're doing the exact OPPOSITE of what everyone else is doing. So, it's probably no surprise that you look a heckuva lot better, too!

  • Mike A

    Another mistake skinny guys make is thinking that their ab's are legit.

  • Barath

    @Juliet: Yeah, yeah, that was impressive and all that. But check out the green shirt dude behind you – inspiration, that's what he is.

  • I worked out in a commercial gym (think smoothie bar and everything) for the first time while traveling last week. While it was great that the gym actually had a squat rack and everything I needed for my powerlifting training, it was fascinating to see the environment, and watch women being 'trained' with tiny dumbells and on machines. I mean, I hear about this stuff, but I'd never seen it before in real life because all the women at my gym –well, garage — lift heavy weights. Best moment of my time there was when a dude asked me if I was a trainer. 🙂

  • Ugh, where I live we don't have much choice. I train at LA Fitness and the equipment choice is okay. I really like the fact that A) no one every uses the power rack, except to check his bro-ness out in the mirror, and B) I can out deadlift all but two of the guys there (one being my husband). I really like when my training has the antelope senses a lion effect on the men in the gym. “Is that chick really doing snatches?” (okay, they probably don't know what a snatch is). “Is that chick really going to pick up all that weight?” “Did she just do 8 chin ups in a row without me holding onto those sweet cheeks to hoist her up?”

    I would indeed prefer to be at a CS-type establishment, but I gotta go with what my community has to offer.

    PS- I think it states on the LA Fitness employment application that one must test positive for steroids in order to be considered for hire. I've trained at several and this seems to be the standard. They don't have to be in shape. They just have to look swole.

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