My 7 Pet Peeves in the Gym

I was eating dinner with my wife's friends last week and they asked me what my pet peeves were.

I think they expected me to say things like "people who bite their nails" or "people who chew with their mouths open".

They had no idea they were about to get a full lesson on gym etiquette.

They didn't seem to want one either.

Either way, I couldn't let my brilliant speech go to waste.
I had to share it with the world.
(In my case, the world equals the 100 people that actually read this site.)

My 7 Pet Peeves in the Gym

1. Lifting In Front of the Dumbbell Rack

You all know this guy ...

The one that stands right in front of the dumbbell rack, banging out a set of 1,000 bicep curls, checking himself out of the mirror.

Meanwhile, he is blocking access to half the dumbbells in the gym.

Don't be that guy....

How My Gym Would Look

Grab your db's.

Walk to an open area.

Do your set.

Bring the db's back to the rack.

Which brings me to my second point ...

2. Not Putting the Weights Back in the Designated Spot.

Let me get this straight ...

You go to the gym to get in better shape or get stronger...

Yet, you are either too lazy or too weak to put the weights back where they belong.

Now I have to go on an Easter Egg Hunt to find the 120's. 
(Yeah, I said 120's)

Thanks buddy!

3. Leaving Sweat on the Bench

As a person who sweats like a madman, I am extra careful about following this step.

I sweat so much that my college strength coach told me, "Mahoney, you don't sweat ... you melt."

Me At Work

If you are going to sweat in the gym (as you darn well should), be a civil human being and clean it up with a towel.

No one wants to lay down for bench press and feel your stank on the back of their head.

4. "Asking" For  a Spot

If you look at point #4, you will notice I used parenthesis around the word "asking".


Because there are a group of people out there who think they are doing me a personal favor by asking me to spot them.

They don't say, 

"Could you please spot me on this?" 


"Would you be able to break free from coaching 6 guys and spot me for a minute?"

Instead they say,

"Lemme get a spot..." (notice no question mark here)


"Wanna spot me ..." (again, no question mark).

Terrible ...

5. Making Me Do All the Work

At Advanced Training, we have a rule on spotting...

"If I have to touch the barbell, your rep doesn't count."

We will help you rack and un-rack the weight, but the movements during the set are all yours.

Unfortunately, the rest of the free world seems to have the exact opposite rule.

They want me to un-rack the weight, rip the bar off of their chest 15 times, and then tell them they did a great job on their set.

6. Doing 20 Sets of Anything in the Cable Rack

There are only two types of people that use cable racks.

1. "Grown Men" who use them for pull-ups 

2.  Everyone else

Unfortunately, the number of people in Group #2 far exceeds that in Group #1.

Even more unfortunately, Group #2 finds the need to perform 20 sets of the same exercise inside the rack.

Not only are you stopping "Grown Men" from getting better, but you are wasting your own time doing endless movements that will have no impact.

Seriously, how many sets of tricep extensions or cable-crossovers do you have to do?

Maybe if you were lifting like a "Grown Man", you wouldn't need 20 sets to "feel the burn."

Maybe if I write "Grown Men" more in this blog, people will get out of the cable rack?

7. Not Respecting Personal Space

I am performing a lunge, you walk in front of me.

I do a plank, you step over my legs.

I do dumbbell bench, you do curls within an inch from my head.

You do all these things, yet there is plenty of other open space in the gym.


My guess is that you are too lazy to take a few steps left or right to get to where you are going. It is probably the same reason you don't put the weights away or use a towel to clean your sweat.


If you are someone who does any of these 7 seven things, please stop right now.
The world does not revolve around you.

If have any other pet peeves you would like to share, please share them in the comments section below.

I would love to know if I am the only one with a problem.

The Art of Learning

It's 5:30AM, it's freezing cold, and I can barely see the knuckles that are driving at my face. My sensei, who has the patience of a saint, is beginning to get frustrated. Even though we have reviewed our block / counter sequence 100x, I am still having trouble executing the movement.

If this were a real street fight, people would be pulling my unconscious body off the pavement within a few seconds.

With each failed movement, I become more and more disappointed in myself.

How can this be happening?

My sensei is an excellent teacher.

I am a skilled athlete. (I played football and a little baseball at Columbia University.)

I spend a huge portion of my time training high level athletes on how to control their bodies and their minds in competition.

How could I not immediately pick up this block / counter sequence?

As I drive home hating myself, it finally hits me ...

I am a horrible learner.

The Art of Learning

Just as teaching is an art, so is learning.

It is what separates natural talent from skill. You are born with natural talent, but you develop skill. 

And you develop skill by becoming an effective learner and methodically applying what you learned.

Unfortunately, there are many personality types that are detrimental to effective learning.

As you read the descriptions below, identify which one relates to you most and map out a game plan to ensure your learning roadblocks are removed.

1. The Scared Hermit Crab

As hermit crabs grow, they must temporarily leave the comfort of their old shell in order to enter a new (larger) one. As they move from the small shell to the larger one, their soft bodies are exposed to danger.

The scared hermit crab never leaves his shell.

He would rather stay in his comfortable little world than risk the exposure required to grow.

Image result for hermit crab

In the gym, the scared hermit crab is someone like the guy who refuses to retract his shoulder blades as he benches.

Will this technique eventually improve his bench press?


But it may also force him to use some lighter weight as his body learns the new movement.

The scared hermit crab would never do that. He deems any step back as a sign of vulnerability and weakness. 

To him, the long term gains are not worth the short term exposure.

2. The Twig

To the naked eye, twigs appear strong and sturdy.

But what happens when you apply just a little pressure?

They snap!

In the gym, the twig is the guy who believes anger and rage outweigh technique and form.

At the first sign of a threat, he tenses up and forgets all of his training.

He decides to "muscle through" workouts, rather than use the technique he has been developing over the past few years.

The most common place a twig will reveal himself is during a PR attempt on a deadlift.

The twig will try to rip the bar off the floor with his arms, rather than simply push his feet through the ground and use his arms as levers.

Even arms this big won't bail you out ...

Twigs are very susceptible to injuries, especially when the stakes are high.

They are hard to change, because they view rage as a sign of their "intensity" and injuries as necessary "battle wounds".

Unfortunately for them, they keep forgetting that broken twigs no longer grow.

3. Danielson

In The Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel LaRusso the arm movements necessary to block punches by making him wax his car.

At the time, "Danielson" has no idea the valuable lesson he is learning. He even thinks he is the victim of some elaborate prank to simply do chores for Mr. Miyagi.

He doesn't want to wax cars.

He wants to learn the "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Death Choke" on Day 1.

Which athletes are the "Danielsons"?

They are the ones who have no interest in breaking down complex movements into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Good examples are those who want to jump before they know how to land and those who want to clean before they know how to power shrug.

The hardest part of dealing with a "Danielson" is that they are always comparing themselves to another athlete.

If the athlete next to them is doing a hang clean, then they take it as a personal offense if they are doing a high pull.

From what I can tell, they would rather fail miserably at a more complex movement than master a much simpler one.

And you know how I feel about failure ....

4. Mr Perfect

Mr. Perfect is a guy who's number one priority is his image.

He cannot and will not allow the people around him to see him make a mistake.

Mr. Perfect takes very few risks, including learning new techniques in public or competing against others who may beat him.

He is very similar to the hermit crab, except he is more concerned with losing his reputation than he is with losing gains.

Unlike the hermit crab, Mr. Perfect will eventually learn new techniques. He just has to do so at his own pace and away from everyone else.

While this is not the worst thing in the world, he could have much quicker gains if he wasn't so worried about what everyone else thought of him.

5. The Oracle

The Oracle knows everything (especially when they don't).

The easiest way to spot an Oracle is if you hear him say "I Know" AS he is being instructed.

The key word is "AS".

He doesn't wait until after the movement is over. He actually says it in mid-rep. 

A good example would be an athlete that you have spotted looking down during a back squat. As you say "Look Up", he immediately says "I know".

An Oracle will always confuse me the most. 

He is either really mad at himself for making the mistake or he is mad that you are correcting him. Either way, he puts more effort into cutting you off than he actually does at perfecting his movement.

For the most part, Oracles are terrible learners. They are so concerned with not being wrong, that they never focus on how to be "right".

In rare instances, Oracles are really fast learners. They hate screwing up so much that they very seldom make the same mistake twice.

In those instances, the biggest risk is frustrating the teacher so much that he no longer wants to give instruction.

I have the luxury of dealing with both types of Oracles.

When dealing with the latter, I stare at this picture to help me relax for about twenty minutes before and after our session.


Even the best learners portray some of the personality traits above. The key is to recognize when those traits are being exhibited and to understand they are stifling your growth ... physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Remember ...

  • Don't be afraid to make mistakes ... they are part of the learning process.
  • When faced with adversity, bend like the blade of grass ... don't break like the twig.
  • A short term setback is often a worthy investment for a long term goal.

Note: The contents of this article are 100% inspired by a book titled "The Art of Learning" by Josh Waitzkin. Anyone who is both a National Champion in chess and a World Champion at Tai Chi Chuan has my utmost respect.


To Thine Own Self Be True

At Advanced Training, we kick off "The Challenge" every year with a bench-off.

This bench-off has every member of the program perform maximum repetitions of 65% of their bench press. The person who gets the most reps is the winner.

There is one HUGE caveat...

If you fail on any single rep, you are are disqualified.

This means if you complete 17 reps and fail on the 18th, you are eliminated from the competition.

If you are thinking this story sounds familiar, you are correct.

I told a very similar one almost 2 years ago when I wrote "The Question".

I am kind of burying the lead here to prove a point.


Because ... every year we hold this bench-off and every year multiple guys get disqualified for failing on one of their reps.

And every year some misinformed athlete tries to call me out for being a hypocrite.

Here is the same conversation I have every year.

Me: "You failed on your 16th rep. You are disqualified"

Athlete: "What??? I'm disqualified?"

Me: "Yes ... You failed on one of your reps."

Athlete: "You've changed coach. I remember when Advanced Training was about pushing yourself to a new limit."

Me: "It is. But pushing yourself to the limit does not mean you are supposed to train to failure."

Athlete: "That makes no sense. You are getting soft."*

Me: (I actually say nothing at this point. I just stare in disappointment, realizing that after all this time my point has still not sunk in.)

So why is it that I do this? 

Why do I tell athletes to push themselves to a new limit, yet at the same time disqualify them for failing on their last rep of bench press?

For one simple reason ... I want them to "Know Thyself".

Why do I want them to "know thyself"?

1. I Don't Want Them To Get Hurt

Shockingly, most of the guys I train have no idea what weight they can handle. Here is another typical conversation.**

Athlete: "What weight should I use on shrugs?"

Me: "How many do you think you can get for 5 reps?"

Athlete: "I have no idea."

Me: "What would you do if I wasn't here?"

Athlete: "I would put about 6 plates on each side."

Me: "You can do that?"

Athlete: "No."

This scenario really scares me. 

It tells me these guys would be severely injured if I wasn't there holding their hand at every session.

While this lack of knowledge certainly helps drive more people to our program, my goal is not to make these guys 100% dependent on me.

My goal is to educate them enough so they coach themselves when they are forced to train alone.

In addition, I am not going to be around forever.

What are they going to do when I retire?

2. I Don't Want Them To Fail

I seldom, if ever, want them to fail on their reps.

Failure is bad. 

It taxes the nervous system, destroys your confidence, and reinforces bad movement patterns (aka habits) in your lifts.

If you don't "know thyself", you are never going to know how close you are to failure.

This definitely becomes a sticking point when I tell guys to leave 1-2 "reps in the tank" during a repeated reps set.

Many guys will either get buried by the bar or go on the complete other end of the spectrum and leave about "10 reps in the tank." Either way, they missed an optimal training opportunity.

The Predictable Responses

I already know what some of you are going to say.

You are going to say that some of the most successful people in the world have advocated failure.


Jordan ...

The great Bruce Lee ...

I don't disagree with any of one of them.  In fact, I would apply those principles directly to our training.

  • Don't skip "The Toughman" because you think you have no shot at winning.
  • Don't avoid technical movements like the deadlift just because you are not good at them.
The only thing I am stating is that you should seldom train to failure. 

The long term risks of injury, bad movement patterns, or a burnt out nervous system far outweigh the short term risk of one extra rep on a bench press set.

It's not worth it little guy...

Post-Blog Notes

* Note: These same guys will also call me sadistic if I make them perform an uncomfortable stretch or some form of enhanced density training.

** Note: This conversation only happens the first time we execute a new movement. After that, I prescribe exact weights based on how easily they handled the load. If I cannot 100% gauge how hard the lift was, the cycle of despair starts again with this type of a conversation.

Me: "How did that weight feel?"

Athlete: "It was light."

Me: "How light? How much more weight could you have done for the same reps without failing?"

The athlete then either responds with one of these two illogical answers

Athlete (answer 1): "1,000lbs"

Athlete (answer 2): "5 lbs"

And this, my friends, is exactly why I continue to push each of these guys to "know thyself".