My gym experience has taught me a lot about people, about human nature. I love observing human behaviour in action, it fascinates me.
As most of you would agree, there is no doubt that people are different. We are all different and unique but we also are more alike than we like to think. We are all wired differently and that wiring lends itself to certain skills, environments and roles rather than other skills, environments and roles.
Some people find it very difficult to change. Some people need to learn to be more coachable, if they are to achieve their full potential and avoid some of the mistakes other people and previous generations have made.
There was this member of the gym I used to own for a number of years that was very stuck in his ways of training. I always tried questioning him on why he did things the way he did and he was very inflexible to learning something different. An alternative.
His reason: he had been training with weights for longer than me and he didn’t have anything to learn. Fair enough. I did not want to force him to stop doing harm to himself but I felt it was my role and duty of care to point out the potential risks he was putting himself and others in the gym, now and in to the future.
This a story about how too much of a good thing can be bad for you and relates to one particular exercise: the wide chin-up exercise.
Let’s call this individual “Dave”.
You see, he loved doing chin-ups. Some of you may know it as ‘pull-ups’. He loved it so much he did it every time he came to the gym for his ‘session’. He came to the gym about four times per week. He really loved doing very wide chin-ups and prided himself on lifting an additional 40kg dumbbell hanging from his waist for reps. He was certainly strong. He was very dedicated.
The one major drawback with his weight-training sessions was the fact that he loved doing chin-ups so much. Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a favourite exercise and this exercise is a great one.
However, one should always be aware of doing that particular activity too often as it increases one’s risk of injury. And this is exactly what happened to our poor friend Dave. As we have all been told over the years – “too much of a good thing can be bad for you”.
I had a great chin-up bar. Matter-of-fact, I had another installed beside the original just because men had different size hands and preferred varying grips. It was a winner – for Dave and for every other enthusiast.
At the very start of his relationship with me, I gave him a piece of advice regarding his training regime that was rejected stubbornly every year for five years, before his accident.
Yes, he did have an accident.
My piece of advice was: don’t overdo an exercise.
I told him that he should probably cut back on the frequency of his chin-ups (doing it every day, every week for the whole year) to consider doing it in one workout every fortnight, that he should consider doing the many other exercise options available that would target the same muscles that chin-ups did but with minimal risk to his joints.
Minimising potential risks to his tendons and ligaments around the elbow joints. I basically tried to tell him to give his joints more rest and recovery, which in turn would probably see him spur on more muscle growth than what he was used to.
I suggested the traditional “Lat Pull-down” machine. A perfect alternative and there were a few ways of doing this exercise too.
That was unacceptable to him. Period!
He said that only ‘sissies’ did the exercise. I couldn’t believe he said that, calling everyone who ever did machine lat pull-downs a ‘sissy’, including me! I reminded him of some of the best backs built over time due partly to machine lat pull-downs. They used the machine lat pull-downs religiously!
He didn’t want to hear it. He was happy doing what he was doing and had been doing all his life. We went through this same conversation at least once every year. Me warning him about the excessive nature of his exercise choice of chin-ups and the damage he was potentially doing to his elbows further down the track.
Dave wasn’t open to other ideas, he did not want to be coached.
Anyway, in his fifth year of training in my gym, Dave went missing from the gym for about a month. I called up to see if he was ok like I did for anyone of the hundreds of members that I didn’t see for more than four weeks.
He returned to see me in the gym the next day.
He wasn’t able to train in the gym, in particular he couldn’t use his arms without experiencing excruciating pain through the elbows. All pushing and pulling movements were no longer possible. He basically couldn’t train and he wasn’t coping with this lack of activity very well and didn’t know what to do.
Dave felt a little embarrassed and admitted it was one of the biggest training mistakes he had ever made – not listening to my little piece of advice over the previous five years. The high risk of injury I had made him aware of every year for five years had manifested and now he couldn’t do the exercise he loved to do but even worse, he also couldn’t train. Period!
He was a mess. Physically, emotionally, spiritually. He needed help.
I sat him down and let him rest his head on my shoulder. I said it was alright to cry. All grown men have a license to cry. He did just that.
I told him to forget about the past but to learn from it. I gave him two options to help him make his way back to where he was but I needed him to listen and let go of prior beliefs regarding training.
He needed to set new beliefs. He needed to understand and introduce a new paradigm. He needed to learn to be more coachable and unlearn some irrelevant old habits. He was going to have to accept the guy that looked back at him in the mirror now – not twenty years ago in his youth.
He needed to be agreeable. Kinder to himself. He needed to love himself more.
He learned to do this after almost twenty five years of training in the gym. Yes, he was training and gaining a lot of ‘experience’ but it was not getting him anywhere. He was just getting more and more experience of getting it wrong.
Not good. He trained mainly with his ego and did not leave it at the door each time he walked in to the gym. Does not get you anywhere and generally leads to disaster as his case showed.
I devised a plan of recovery for him and he got back the use of his arms, particularly his elbows. As the pain sub-sided and he started exercising after a little while, his whole demeanour and life improved.
As you know, ‘knowing is one thing, doing is another.’ A wise man once told me that ‘elephants don’t bite, mosquitoes do!”. It really does apply in this case and in many things in life, where too much of a good thing can be bad for you.
Dave did not take care of the mozzies (like the frequency of performing the exercise) and as a result, the compound effect of incorrect technique combined with unnecessary frequency leads to unwanted joint injury.
The message in this story could apply to all areas of life where too much of a good thing (chin-ups for Dave) can be bad for you. Dave learned the hard way and didn’t want to learn from other people’s experience. He didn’t allow himself to be coached. It takes courage to understand your faults but it takes even more courage to make changes to help prevent a huge mis-hap later.
Life is short. There are rules in the gym and gym training, just like there are rules of life. Learn the rules, so that in time you can have the wisdom to discern what is relevant and not.
Have fun with your workouts and have fun with life.
Until next time,