Invasion of the body snatchers gym article Marty Gallagher

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Obsessive- compulsiveness invades the gym

Humanity is being forcibly metamorphized, a shotgun wedding of the Soft Machine with technology

I belong to a local YMCA. I arrive when they open at 6:30 AM. It is always deserted, or nearly deserted, so I have near-exclusive use of a free-weight section, an extensive collection of resistance machines, strength equipment, the various cardio training machines, and as an added bonus, a wonderful steam room and a sauna. Show up at 6:30 PM and the place looks like rush hour at the Dupont Circle Metro subway stop on the DC redline. No problem, I never go, other than early morning. It would never occur to me to train there in the evening.

On a road trip this past weekend, I got a bit of a fitness facility reality check. Once I got outside my hermetic bubble, I observed a widespread sea change in acceptable fitness facility behavior, what we used to call gym etiquette. My quick take: the zombie apocalypse is here, and it is real. Only, instead of sci-fi humans deformed and molting, MM (Modern Man) has a collective crack-like addiction to what is occurring on the screens of their iPhones.

There is an epidemic of obsessive-compulsive behavior, i.e., the irresistible need to interact with a device: to send and receive, to continually bathe in the firehose gush of incoming data, interspersed with game playing, or porn watching, continually watching, everywhere everyone all the time, eyes glued to screens. The instant the addicted are done doing whatever they are doing (in real world,) the zombies immediately return to virtual world.

This past weekend I visited two different commercial facilities in two radically different locales: one remote rural locale and another in a super upscale urban community. The accepted behavior in both facilities was to consult phones in every spare instant. For the resistance trainers, the moment the set ended, they head to the device to consult or log. Cardio exercisers consulted phones during extended cardio sessions, perhaps while riding a stationary bike.

Another modern phenomenon: remain sitting or lying on the resistance training device you are using between sets. And hey, while recovering from your body-shattering submaximal set, why not catch up on e-mails? Finished the 1st set, the machine pig continues to sit or lies on  the device. Comfortable, they interact with the phone while monopolizing the machine for however long it takes to complete their three (or more) leisurely submaximal sets, reposing between sets as if they were luxuriating on a living room sofa. If the machine hog is interrupted while texting or tweeting, the interruption evokes a hostile response akin to, “How dare you!”

I observed machine hog-ery at the rural facility, a modest-sized, nicely appointed gym. I arrived mid-morning and there were perhaps fifteen people scattered throughout a roomful of cardio devices and resistance machines. At one juncture, I counted six of the fifteen actively interacting with the phone. Just a random snapshot. An out-of-shape 40ish year old male dominated the hi-tech leg press machine for a full 15 minutes, intently communicating with someone via the iPhone between sets.

As I was leaving the rural facility, I saw a gaggle of mid-twenties ladies clustered around the lat pulldown seat, simultaneously engrossed in something occurring on the phone screen of the middle lady. As my old training partner Nacho Del Grande used to gripe, “There ain’t much hypertrophy happening around here!!”

At the mega-urban facility, the overall vibe was “rise of the machines.” In the progressive resistance section alone they had 50 machines, a veritable iron armada of mechanical devices designed to attack any muscle you can name with great specificity. The 2022 resistance training machines are wonderfully constructed, insofar as engineering quality. These modern devices have exacting tolerances that were not possible even 10 years ago. The machines are clever, comprehensive, and extremely specific.

The free weight section was miniscule compared to the amount of floor space allotted for the resistance machines. The facility was jampacked with well-built male and female bodybuilders, the vast majority using machines. An isolative machine is conducive for isolating and enabling the pump-pump-pump strategies bodybuilders use to carpet-bomb a targeted muscle. Machines are ideal for forced reps and drop sets.

Machines take a back seat to free-weights when it comes to strength training. Strength training is not bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is about appearance without regard for function; strength training is about function without regard for appearance. Somehow these ultra-sophisticated cardio and resistance machines seemed sympacato to the iPhone.

Daniel Goldman wrote an excellent book entitled Focus. It ruminates on the impact of continual device usage on the human brain. He has a wonderful phrase, “the impoverishment of attention.” He explains a variation on the theme I witnessed at the fitness facilities. “{People} possess every electronic device known to man and constantly check their iPhones for who has texted them, what has updated on Facebook, firing off tweets in between playing video games. This makes people totally unaware of what is happening around them and over time makes them clueless about how to interact with other live humans for any length of time.”

He further explains, “Deep reading requires deep thought and that requires sustained concentration and immersion in a topic, the extreme opposite of hopscotching around the web, bouncing from one unconnected factoid to another.” I would add, deep training requires sustained concentration and immersion into the totality of the training session. From the first rep of the first set, to the last rep of the last set, the goal is to maintain an overarching fierceness, a high level concentration, even (especially!) between sets. Diffusion and distraction are the enemy of all-out training efforts.

One excellent use for the iPhone (during training) is to listen to music. Create a soundtrack for your workout. The right music at the right time amplifies the workout effort, increases concentration, and sharpens psyche. Music is a concentration-gathering device used to enhance hardcore training. Another benefit: it is hard to start a conversation with someone wearing ear buds and avoiding eye contact.

Once the session is over, anyone wanting to converse is more than welcome. Unless training with serious training partners, try and have zero interaction with whoever might be populating the resistance training section of the local commercial gym. Avoid phone interaction. It is hard to mount a storm-the-barricades mindset (a requisite for success) if you are texting, tweeting, talking on the phone, or playing a video game between sets.

Are we losing our ability for deep thought, due to the lack of extended contemplative time needed for great works of art and science? Sure feels that way. Humanity is being forcibly metamorphized, a shotgun wedding of the Soft Machine with technology. Improve the quality of your workouts by making the entire workout (not just the sets but also the spaces in between sets) an exercise in sustained, unbroken concentration and focus.

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About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.