I’m wearing my cranky pants today. As of this morning all my gym Shepherds are gone. Yes, I said Shepherds…as in German Shepherds. That’s what I call them and it’s a compliment. Shepherds are highly desirable individuals. Perhaps I should explain.
I’ve been working out steadily for many years…more than 20 and a significant portion of that time has been spent in the weight room. It’s a place I love to be. I hear from many women who say they feel uncomfortable lifting weights with the guys and it keeps them out of the lifting area. They tend to stick to the group classes and cardio machines as a result. I do understand how it could be intimidating but the benefits of weight training in general and using free weights in particular can’t be stressed enough.
My advice to the ladies has always been to just be brave and do it. I let them know that it’s usually not a place where anyone is going to hassle them. I tell them it’s not a place to flirt or chat, it’s a place to work. That’s what the guys are concentrating on and that’s what they should be concentrating on (this only needs to be said to the young/silly types since most women are trying to avoid attention from the men not attract it). I do my best to encourage them to at least try it since I’m so enthusiastic about the resulting benefits. Still, I don’t think I’ve ever articulated what actually happens when a woman ventures deep into Man Land.
I’m a creature of habit so I don’t change gyms often but over the years I’ve belonged to eight or so. Sometimes I switch because a gym stops meeting my needs, Sometimes it’s because I get bored and need fresh energy and sometimes I switch for convenience (to be close to my house, my kid’s schools or in the old days for the daycare options). Each and every time I’ve had to break into The Boy’s Club. It’s easy to do but it requires time. How much time? In my experience it takes 6-12 months of consistent appearances to have them consider your presence “normal.” For the first few months you go in, do your work and leave. Once they see that you approach it with the same seriousness and commitment they do they begin to extend some respect. No, you don’t have to lift what they lift or do what they do. Just being there day after day, not being a distraction but taking care of business does the trick. It’s at this point that the German Shepherds show themselves.
Everybody knows men are territorial by nature, especially testosterone fueled men and it’s a beautiful thing. They won’t say it and might not even consciously recognize it but if they’re regulars in the weight room, they consider it their territory. If you’re a regular part of the landscape in the weight room, you’re automatically included in that territory.
Warning – Feminists and she-males stop reading now. You’re about to get your panties in a bunch. Save yourself the indignant outrage and go back to trying to prove that men and women are exactly the same.
What happens next is that when you’re in the weight room you fall under the category of “things to be protected.” That means that you can relax a bit…the Creepy Crawlers (that are found everywhere) aren’t going to make it past the Shepherds to bother or distract you. You don’t even have to do anything to start the process. They’ll automatically run interference for you when they think it’s appropriate…which amusingly seems to be instantaneously if an unknown/new male so much as sets foot in the room. If you have trouble with someone at the gym whose approach, attitude or conversation is making you uncomfortable (and typically this will only happen outside the weight room because once inside the weight room it’s highly improbable that the offender will get close enough to talk to you) you can just high-tail it to go stand beside one of the shepherds and that generally takes care of it. You don’t even have to explain. The Shepherds already know from having been around you for many months that it’s not the normal routine and they’re happy to let you stand close and take advantage of that circle of protection. It’s a great feeling and it’s at this point that any new gym starts to feel like home. None of this is spoken aloud but if you have any awareness, it’s strongly felt and understood. It’s a study in human male “pack” behavior and I’ve found it holds true every, single time.
Here’s the rub. When I left my old gym and signed up at my current place, two of the Shepherds also made the switch. My new place is unique in that it’s wide open and doesn’t really have a dedicated free weight area that’s separate and apart from the rest of the place. Not only that, the men aren’t as serious about their lifting as they have been in my past gyms so although I still lift I’m not in the same sort of milieu as I have been before. There really is no pack to become a part of but with the two Shepherds from my old gym (three days a week) and a temporary manager who was sort of a surrogate shepherd (We didn’t bond over time, iron and sweat but I got the feeling he thought the whole gym was his territory and that nothing crazy was going to go down on his watch), I was quite happy. Each workout day I’d arrive, identify where the Shepherds were in the building and then proceed with my workout.
You may wonder why I appreciate Shepherds so much or even think this way about other people. It may not make sense depending on your gender or your interpretation of personal threat levels. I learned early that it’s wise for people, especially little female people to be aware regarding their surroundings. When I left my home in a peaceful California suburb at 17 to head to Washington DC for college I had two separate incidents with criminal crazies. I came out of both relatively unscathed but they scared the bejesus out of me. The silver lining was that I learned dozens of important lessons all at once, like to always know where the exits are in a building, to notice who else is in your environment so people can’t get too close to you without your knowledge, to know who’s most likely to help you if you need it (and where they are at any given time) and conversely who’s likely to let the wolves have you. Though I hardly consider my gym a dangerous place neither did I consider my Freshman year Literature class a dangerous place. Nevertheless that’s where one of the kooks, a total stranger, walked in off the street and targeted me.
Two weeks ago the two shepherds that moved from my old gym to my current gym with me told me they were leaving to go to a more hardcore place…which makes sense since that’s the kind of environment they belong in and on Friday I learned that the temporary manager was heading to a new site. Now there are NO MORE SHEPHERDS IN THE HOUSE. I say people make the place. I don’t care what type of equipment a gym has, it’s the other members/staff that make or break it as a place I want to be. Lack of Shepherds and the lack of ability to put myself in a place at my current gym that will bring some to the fore has me feeling a bit out of sorts.
I’m thinking about what my next move will be. I could stay where I am but I don’t think I want to continue lifting there. I think I’ll probably go where the Shepherds went at least part-time. The good news is that unlike the process I usually go through I’ll have two people who already know me and that makes easing in a little easier. I’ll also get to meet some new people, see some new things, be with some serious lifters and have even more stories to tell!