What To Do When You Don't Know What You're Doing At The Gym

    Am I doing this right? I asked myself as I sat on the leg press machine. It’s the f*cking leg machine, Meghan, my inner bitch replied. This is the really easy one. Just push with your legs.

    ….But this doesn’t feel right. I paused. Jon and I did this exercise all the time; what was different now, other than the fact that I had no one to chat with?

I cleared my mind of my inner bitch and focused. You’re sitting up--but you should be lying down! Proud of myself, I got up, and immediately realized that I had no idea how to change the incline of the seat. I grabbed a random knob, and the seatback clunked down so hard and loud that it attracted a guy’s attention from about ten feet away.

    Don’t worry about him, I thought. Just rock this f*cker out.

    Shortly before I created Your Best Run, I started working out with a personal trainer, Jonathon De La Torre. I never have to worry whether or not I’m doing something properly if he is physically there to correct me. Six months after we started working together, Jon and his wife went on vacation. When I walked into the gym to work out on my own, I felt pretty confident that I knew what I was doing. I had been working out with weights, both on my own and with personal trainers, for years. I was, at that very moment, learning how to be a personal trainer. I figured I should know how to execute a simple workout while Jon was in Hawaii with his wife. Right?

    Wrong. In addition to my adventure on the leg press, I also questioned the set-up of the cable machine for my tricep extensions and how to properly position the TRX bands to do rows. I had to turn away from the gym floor and secretively Google several exercises to make sure I was doing the right thing. I felt dumb, inexperienced, and ashamed. Who was I to call myself the founder of a fitness company? Or a personal trainer? Or a run coach? I mean, how am I supposed to tell you what to do when I don’t even know what to do myself?

Walking home—after what was a really hard, but ultimately really rewarding, workout—I realized that my problem wasn’t with the machines. My problem was that I didn’t want to admit to not knowing. I needed to ask more questions. I don’t know about you, but my reluctance to ask questions—which crops up a lot—originates in a combination of pride and insecurity. When people make references I don’t know, or assume that I know something I don’t, I usually try to derive meaning from context and go with it, hoping not to be discovered.

    That workout confronted me with the fact that pretending to know something when I really don’t can only hurt me. I could have injured myself—or someone else after me—if I had adjusted the TRX bands incorrectly, or disconnected something important on the leg press machine. If I hadn’t been so stubborn, I could have asked any of the trainers nearby how to adjust the leg press machine, or where to position the TRX bands in order to do what I wanted to do. The reason I work out at that gym in the first place is because the vibe there is helpful, empowering, and accepting. Any of those trainers would have taken a few minutes to make sure I was doing the workout Jon had created for me properly, so it was both safe and effective. And mishaps at the gym are minor consequences compared to what this behavior can do to your relationships, your career, and basically any other area of your life that can benefit from vulnerability, trust, and communication. (In other words, everything.)

When I really thought about it, the reason I didn’t ask the trainers for help at was because I didn’t want to look stupid or have them think I was inexperienced (read: stupid). But if someone had asked me that exact same question (“How do you change the seat on the leg press?”) I would have not thought that person was stupid. I would just think, oh, she doesn’t know. I would be thrilled to share my know-how. In fact, I’ve been in that exact position before—with women, with men, with experienced trainers and total newbies. I’ve never judged anyone else—so why was assuming others would judge me?

I walked away from the gym realizing that if I really want to be a stronger person, I’ve got to do more than just some 100-pound leg presses—I’ve got to ask more questions, be more vulnerable, and be more open to the lessons other people have learned that they’re willing to share with me.  

For runners, admitting what we don’t know can often be the catalyst for a huge breakthrough. A lot of us continue with what had been working to the point where it’s actually making us worse runners—whether that means we’re slower, injured, or can do less mileage. By admitting we don’t know what’s wrong or how to fix it, we open ourselves to new possibilities for solutions.

The next time you don’t know something when you’re in a gym—or anywhere, really—set your pride aside for the moment. Then go ask. Consider it part of your strength workout for the week.