The Scariest Thing I Ever Saw in a Gym

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If I had to guess, I’d say he was at least six foot five, and just shy of 300 pounds. He was a big boy by almost anyone’s standards, and would have blended right in with a group of football linebackers – minus the gut. But his sheer size wasn’t the only thing apparent about him.

This 40-something man clearly had an intellectual disability, and it wouldn’t have taken a doctor to confirm. He had trouble communicating, spoke very loudly, and drew a lot of attention to himself from all across the warehouse-sized workout room – no doubt, unintentionally. Not to mention he had a hard time moving about the gym, too – making all sorts of quick, random jarring movements with his limbs, accompanied by various grunts.

And please don’t think I’m evil because I don’t mean to make light of another person’s medical difficulties, but the way he moved reminded me of the character named Edgar from the movie Men In Black – whose body had been taken over by a giant alien cockroach, causing him to move in a very erratic fashion.

Like this.

But apart from this new, somewhat-distracting member, it was just another ordinary day at the gym. I was going about my normal routine, which at the time, was actually a classic bodybuilding program, which is something I tried in my late-teen years. And while I was going about my parallel-bar dips, dumbbell bench presses, or the like, I couldn’t help but notice that everything this man was doing was completely and utterly dangerous. Everything he did was erratic; looked and sounded painful, too. Plus, he was making a lot of noise, which naturally drew a lot of stares, and I’d bet my boots that every member in that gym was worried about him in some way, shape, or form.

But even as a mostly-ignorant teenager, I knew this guy was one mishap away from severely hurting himself or someone around him. He was lifting weights way to heavy for him – straining just to get the dumbbells off of the rack, let alone to exercise with them. He was bucking like a bronco underneath the bench press, gritting his teeth, and making all kinds of ghastly noises.

The worst one was when he walked over to the lat pull-down machine and put the pin at the very bottom of the weight stack to try and pull down everything – hundreds of pounds that he was clearly in no shape to lift. Now, granted, he was a big guy, but witnessing what followed would have made even Vladimir Putin cringe. Let’s just say that his exercise technique wasn’t too good – to say the least. And it would probably take a couple pages just to describe what I saw – with additional details just to cover his facial expressions and all the various noises that echoed off the gym walls. Needless to say, this was not good.

But do you know what was scariest of all? As far as I know, that fitness facility was fully-staffed that day. And there were even a few of the regular personal trainers waiting in the reception area – probably between clients. And not one of them ever came over to intervene or assist this man despite the help he obviously needed. In fact, it was beyond obvious to everyone in that room that this was not somebody who should be exercising alone. And in all seriousness, he likely needed not just professional instruction, but constant supervision. But he didn’t get any that day.

No doubt he signed on the dotted line, handed over his money, and was whisked away to the gym floor and left to fend for himself. Now, to think that this even happened is scary enough. But the stark reality is that this kind of thing happens all the time – where someone is taken advantage of by marketeers in the health and fitness industry, and then left to their own devices, which leads them to struggle, fail, and keep suffering – usually without their knowledge as to why. And so many people get stuck in this perpetual, downward spiral every single day.

And I’m not just talking gyms either – I’m talking about so many different avenues in the health, fitness, and weight loss industries. People are getting taken advantage of left and right, and it’s become such a complicated and overwhelming problem, that there seems like there is no clear-cut, across-the-board solution to solve it. The good news is that any one of us at any time can choose to break the cycle. To intervene if we must. To say no. To hold those responsible accountable. And to do whatever is necessary to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen within our own circle of influence.

If you’ve been in and out of gyms over the years, then you’ve probably seen all sorts of scary things like I have. Heck, there are even websites and online groups devoted to “gym fails,” “awkward gym moments” and the like. Let’s hope this trend starts to decline as more people become aware of healthy, sustainable fitness practices through education and all other means possible. And let’s also hope that you and I don’t hesitate to say what needs to be said when it needs to be said – even if the situation isn’t as dire as it was at the gym that day. Before leaving, I should have voiced my concern about the gentleman to the management, but I just left without saying anything. Oh well.

And ironically, this was in a Planet Fitness facility (i.e., the “judgement-free zone”) of all places, where I and many others were accosted several times due to severe infractions such as using unauthorized equipment, performing so-called dangerous exercises, and yes, even breathing too loudly. That’s right. The management had no problem giving me and my buddies a hard time over trivial matters, but didn’t blink an eye when this man clearly needed help. But that’s another story.

And that is just one of the many reasons why I choose to train at home. Although, I’m told I can get a bit scary when I train, too. So, I guess some “scariness” just comes with the territory.


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