The Beginner vs. The Buffoon


The free weight section of the gym is an intimidating place for beginners.  Hiding near the inner-thigh squeeze machine or the cardio equipment feels safer than venturing into the unknown.

Huge men in tank tops are lurking in that unfamiliar territory.  They grunt, drink water by the gallon and through the chalky air appear to be real scary dudes.

What will these monsters think when they see me bench pressing 10 pound dumbbells?

Answer: They won’t think anything.  Actually, they’ll probably be impressed that you are swallowing your pride and making a positive change in your life.

The bigger the dude, the bigger the sweetheart.  I’m serious.  The big guys in the weight room are some of the friendliest people on earth.

If you are confused or unsure about something, find a strong looking guy and ask him.  He’s not gonna judge you.  He won’t laugh or think you’re an idiot. He genuinely wants to help you.

Think of your area of expertise – finance, cooking, or star wars.  Now picture someone who approaches you – eager to learn, appreciative and open-minded – seeking knowledge on the subject.  Of course you will help.

I’m going to describe two polarized sights.  If you currently avoid the free weights, this should help you make the switch.  If you’re already tossing weight around, it is still an amusing story that you can surely relate to.


The Beginner vs. The Buffoon


The Beginner

He was about 5’8″ 130 lbs without an ounce of fat or muscle on his body.

There are few things that bring me the joy I felt watching this guy squat.  Just the bar, no weight, with stellar form.

I then watched him load up five pounds on each side and squat for three work sets.

He proceeded to deadlift.  First 65 pounds, then 85 pounds, then 95 pounds. Chest up, erect spine, weight on his heels.  His form was on point.

The kid looked focused.  He looked motivated.  He had a fire in his eyes that told me something about him.  There was zero shame on his face or doubt in his body language – rightfully so.  He was doing this whole fitness thing the right way, and I respected the hell out of him for it.


The Buffoon

While I’m resting between sets, I am watching my new favorite weight lifter rattle some deadlifts.

In my field of vision are two guys bench pressing.

Guy A is a beast, a gym regular.  He is huge, knowledgeable and strong as an ox.

Guy B, the buffoon, looks pretty average.  Not small, a bit soggy and suited up – track style.

Guy A reps out 315 until he gets bored by the weight and stops.

My previously shared attention moves away from the beginner and becomes solely focused on the buffoon when I realize he is about to attempt a set without removing any weight.

315 pounds on the bench press is nothing to sneeze at, and I am prepared to eat my prior subconscious evaluation of the buffoon’s strength.

Then I see what is wrong with the gym.

It makes me laugh, but it makes me sick at the same time.  I know there are people who will never reach their potential because they are too scared to wander over here.  They are intimidated.  By what?


I watch Guy A get an upper-back pump as he bent over rows ~140×8 while the buffoon repeatedly bounces 315 off his chest eight times.  For those not quite following, the jacked dude is giving the buffoon a 140 pound spot.

I chuckle at the absolute contrast happening in my direct line of sight: the beginner vs. the buffoon.

One guy is doing it right.  The other guy is letting his ego make decisions for him.

I wonder why the buffoon even trains.  I’ve seen him since that day, and it’s nothing but machines.  And not respectable machines like a chest press or rear delt fly – I’m talking weighted ab crunch.  He doesn’t go near a barbell or even a dumbbell without his yolked buddy.


You know you need to quit playing on machines and join the free weight fun. You are missing out on mountains of progress by avoiding this foreign land.

If you’re nervous to enter the free weight area – afraid to be embarrassed or judged – don’t be.  Remember how friendly the giants are and how well received an honest effort and positive attitude will be.

Maybe you are confused about what exercises you should be doing.  If so, pick a good beginner’s program and be consistent.

Good luck on this step.  And as always I’m here for your questions.

Comments for This Entry

  • Angela

    Awesome! It's difficult being so out of shape and self conscious but I doubt anyone really is concerned with me. Maybe they are just focused on their exercise and not me!

    April 4, 2015 at 6:05 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Danielle Reese

    "People can tell how flabby I am! They can tell!!!" - me "Shut up Dani they can't tell. Nobody cares just go lift something heavy!" - this article

    December 5, 2015 at 10:54 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Cindy

    That's so funny, Mike! In my twenties, I used to train at a gym for professional bodybuilders, which was owned and run by a bodybuilding champion. It was a serious gym, in a grungy part of Brisbane (Australia), in the 80s. I just went there to get a stronger back. I'd done swimming and ballet, so I was lithe, but not muscle-bound. Everyone was so kind and helpful. I got a program from the owner, and I followed it religiously. And I actually got some muscle. It was the strongest I've ever been, and I loved it. And, really, nobody in a gym like that is judging you - they're very focused on themselves, especially nearing a competition. And I did get some pointers from people, so it was really nice. But yeah, I've seen a few buffoons - they don't last long...

    January 8, 2016 at 7:09 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brandon

    This resonates so well with damn near every gym I've ever been a member of. It isn't difficult to realize the benefits of lending help to a "noob" (if you will) outweighs additional preconceived notions that every uber muscular dude appearing to be pissed off hates his life. My workouts, much like other tasks, feel far more accomplished when they've positively affect somebody else.

    January 29, 2016 at 2:00 am | Reply to this comment

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