Sometimes student media can be at the forefront of seeking out a story. They can be as dogged or determined as any journalist and immediately know where a story is. Other times they get lazy and know that they can just hit up one of their writers to give you a searing, emotional and real account of what it is like to be someone who works at a gym. This is one of those times, but with a few jokes left in. Luckily for us Cam Olsen had some time to talk to us. Even luckier for us is that UniRec is a modern gym that is aware of the role it plays in creating positive self-image for students. Even still, a gym can feel like a place where you are judged, where you have to conform to a stereotype of masculinity that can be toxic, where you are under pressure by those around you to act a certain way. And we are only in there once a week, if that. Imagine what it is like working in a gym! Of course, if your imagination sucks just read what Cam had to say about it.
NEXUS- What is it like working at a gym?
I get to work closely with people who are actively trying to improve their health and fitness, and the range of goals/abilities/experience that each person comes with means you are pretty constantly challenged in a good way to be a problem solver. It’s also a field I’m hugely passionate about and believe in its benefits so I find it very fulfilling!
NEXUS- Do you find people expect you to act a certain way?
Only in the same way they’d expect a barista to act a certain way around a coffee machine really. Dealing with students most of the time means we generally have more in common outside of the gym and that immediately makes any interactions pretty multidimensional and so I don’t get the same preconceptions of “he work at gym he lift thing” that you may get elsewhere.
NEXUS- Those stereotypes people think of when they watch movies or hear people use phrases like locker room talk, do they still exist?
Not really in my experience. Most people who attend the gym are there for few reasons outside of trying to improve their fitness in some capacity. Generally, that makes pretty much everyone very empathetic towards the person next to you who may not be lifting as much weight or running as fast. Everyone was on the ground floor at some point. It might be corny but we actively try to nurture a culture where everyone is at their own stage and the negative/toxic stereotypes previously associated with attending a gym don’t really have a place.
NEXUS- Do you feel pressured sometimes to fit into a gym environment, or act a certain way that you don’t think is authentic?
Not really. I mean, look, like if you’re in a library it’s pretty good etiquette to be pretty quiet. If you’re at a gym, it’s pretty good etiquette to have good hygiene, use the stuff appropriately and do whatever you’re there to do without disrupting what others are doing as best you can. But that’s not acting a certain way that’s inauthentic that’s just the basic tenets of not being a dick.
NEXUS- What is UniRec doing to combat some of the stereotypes?
I think our main priority is pushing a message that stereotypes of anything at any time are reductive and ridiculous. We try to focus on feats that require effort and consistency and actively encourage people to share their successes with us. If it’s about your fitness and your goals and it matters to you, it matters to me.
NEXUS- Are there pressures that exist when people find out you work at a gym in your
I guess the most beautifully ironic pressure that exists is the not-so-subtle comments of family members comparing my job to the successes of my accountant cousin but in the same breath mentioning they have “a really tight lower back, what can I do about that? Oh and also I’d like to lose some weight around my waist, how do I do that?”
NEXUS- Do people start talking to you about fucking protein supplements when you are at parties, because they don’t talk to electrician’s about wiring when they are on the piss?
I guess the real question is why don’t we talk with electrician’s about wiring when we’re on the piss? They’re the backbone of our country. Electricians- we salute you. But no, most of the time people want to know whether this athlete or that athlete is on steroids and the answer almost always bores them.
NEXUS- Has there ever been a time when someone has recognised you from the Gym and you haven’t been a role model for healthy living? We aren’t implying you were breaking the law or anything but you know, on a McNuggets run at 2am after town?
I would argue that maybe, just maybe, having mcnuggets at 2am after town might be the healthiest thing you can do at that very moment. Health is about more than just calories in, calories out and how many steps you do per day. It’s also your social, mental and spiritual health and who’s to say that mcnuggets at 2am doesn’t tick off some aspect of improving your health in one of those three areas? We probably need to get rid of this idea that there are healthy and unhealthy foods, there’s only healthy and unhealthy actions. Which I know is a super boring answer.
Also on my first week I had an exercise consultation and later that evening the very same gym member served me at Hell Pizza after I’d spent half his exercise consultation suggesting we find more sustaining alternatives to fast food.
NEXUS- Is that idea of Womens work outs and Men’s workouts still around because that seems a little on the toxic these days?
I guess yes and no. Generally speaking most women don’t care as much about certain aspects of their physique as men and vice versa. But it’s not like we perpetuate that idea and if any member were to approach us wanting to improve a body part that is atypical then that’s cool. I’ve had guys wanting to improve their forearms, and girls wanting to improve their traps. Who cares, if that’s what you want to improve I’m sure we can find something for you. Also, there are physiological differences between men and women which should be accounted for when prescribing exercise but that has nothing to do with gender norms or fitness goals.
NEXUS- What is the thing that everyone gets wrong about Gym Bro’s?
Well I don’t know what people get wrong about gym bro’s. But also the entire point of all my answers has been that we don’t like painting people into these reductive stereotypes so if I answer it I kind of do myself a disservice. But, if you mean people with stringer singlets and protein shakers with traffic light liquids, then in my experience, they’re all very welcoming. They love the gym and heavily identify with it and it’s benefits. Generally, they’re happy to speak with staff because they know we share their passion and they love helping others as an opportunity to share their own experiences.
NEXUS- What is the difference between healthy and obsessive, and is there a point where you feel compelled to step in?
This is a tricky one. On the one hand there are absolutely tell-tale signs. On the other hand, we usually only see these people for one hour a day maximum and being obsessive would be clearer with what they do outside the gym. One of the major themes I promote is the idea of having multiple interests and hobbies. Being one-track minded or obsessive can negatively impact your social, mental, spiritual and physical health. Learn an instrument, get into cooking, start playing chess after you binge the Queen’s Gambit, journal, meditate, crochet, jump rope, sketch, photograph, whatever. As someone who loves fitness, and is so passionate about the field, I also know it would get pretty boring pretty quickly if all I could talk about was how much I squat or what the latest journal article says about ice baths. Just diversify your interests. It will help you stay on the side of healthy rather than obsessive and it’s way more fun.
What are some health and fitness myths you hate?
Whatever the latest diet fad is.
Women shouldn’t do weights, it will make them look like men.
“Blood, sweat, respect- First two you give, last one you earn” (Sorry Rock but it’s bullshit).
x exercise is better than y exercise because of ____ (insert misunderstanding of physiology here)
As a gym-goer yourself, do you feel you have to conform to a ‘masculine’ gym gender stereotype?
Not really, nobody has anything to prove to anybody else at the gym. The idea of masculinity being determined by how much you can lift or how fast/far you can run is symptomatic of a larger issue that we judge people by their utility. Although it is satisfying to consistently improve in goals the scale of that improvement is completely unique to each individual. Someone who is struggling to lift 40 kilos is working the exact same amount as someone who is struggling to lift 100 kilos and both are equally impressive. Regularly, the most motivating thing we see is people who come in larger or smaller than they would like and 6 months later they have stuck at their goal and have shifted closer to whatever their ideal physique for them is.
Gym spaces have always been filled with the stereotypical guys trying to get buff. Do you think there’s an underlying truth that a lot of gym guys struggle with eating disorders and body dysmorphia?
Absolutely. At least once a week I will have a discussion with someone wanting to get bigger for cosmetic reasons. The issue is extremely complicated and is compounded by issues such as the perceived taboo nature of admitting insecurities and the health and fitness field being proliferated with misinformation by unqualified Instajocks wanting to make a quick buck by exploiting these insecurities through merchandise or supplements. In reality, admitting these insecurities early is vital to figuring out the appropriate course of action and requires a lot of courage on the speaker’s end and a lot of empathy on the listener’s end. It does seem to be getting better with more role models openly discussing their own battles with mental health but it still has a long way to go.