If someone has told you that the gym is a good place to socialize, they’ve lied to you knowingly or not.
The stone-cold reality is that the average weight lifting facility is inferior for making human connections for the following reasons:
1. Lifting is a Solo Sport
Lifting is an offline single-player game. You’re the doer, the coach, the critic…etc.
You don’t need a “LAN card” or a Wi-Fi connection to play this game.
Social skills and good team communication are not required to reach the next level.
And when we don’t have a need or an incentive to communicate, we tend to avoid it.
2. Big Egos
What do you see when you look around in a gym?
People with headphones; daydreaming faces alluding to a psyche overclocking itself under the dictation of epic sounds.
Everyone is in their own little bubble, performing a routine that is allegedly superior to what everyone else is doing.
The Rippetoe squatters think that the pumpers are losers who will change their gender the next month; the pumpers see the powerlifting zealots as low IQ specimens with a weird fetish for exercises that look a lot like medieval torture.
Or in other words, there’s a silent ego clash that creates segregation.
This happens because there aren’t unified rules as we see in regular sports. For example, the objective of football is to score under certain conditions that are the same for everyone. Hence why most teams play and train in a similar fashion.
In lifting, there are 500 different exercises and 50 million routines. Consequently, everyone ends up playing the same game but with slightly different mechanics.
3. Lifting is a Filter for Autists, Introverts and Overall Shut-ins
This point could sound insulting to some, but I have to put it in because it’s true.
Natural extroverts feel energized when communicating with others. Conversely, introverts feel depleted when socializing and thus spend more time alone.
An extrovert is a lot more likely to choose basketball, volleyball or another sport that includes either an opponent (e.g., boxing) or a team.
An introvert tries to minimize social contact consciously or not and goes for solo sports. E.g., Lifting, powerlifting, cycling, swimming…etc.
That doesn’t mean that extroverts don’t go to the gym. But on average most gyms are filled with introverts with poor social skills who will “show you how great they are” by deadlifting half the gym.
How do I know that?
Because that’s me. I was that person – the silent kid checking his deadlift form on an old camera (no smartphones at the time).
People with autistic tendencies want to feel in control of what they’re doing. Lifting fits the bill perfectly.
Every routine is pre-determined or at the very least could easily be. The exercises, the weight, the sets and the reps can be programmed down to the last one. Sure, sometimes you may miss a rep or add a few more if you feel strong, but the script is still pre-written.
Hence why powerlifting attracts people who often underperform in a team.
An introverted shy man with traces of autism is more comfortable following the rules of a Sheiko calculator and a YouTube video made by a permabulker than playing a non-scripted dynamic game where you have to face other people directly and interact with them.
4. Superficial Talk
Gym talk is:
There are two main reasons to communicate with people at the gym:
- To ask if a machine/weight is taken (or to answer the same question)
- To ask someone to spot you (or when asked to spot someone)
This could be done with minimal or even no talk (nodding in agreement or disagreement.)
5. An Illusion of Socialization
I wrote most of my two fiction books in a coffee shop. I would bring my laptop and write for 2-4 hours in one shop and then go to another. (Those were the times 🙂
This happened pre-Covid and coffee shops were full of laptop gangsters.
From the side, we looked like a team working together, but we weren’t. Everyone was doing something different and there was even a lot of silent judgment. There was close to zero communication apart from: “Is this seat taken?”
The gym operates on the same frequency. It gathers a lot of people who’re seemingly in a club, but at the end of the day, it’s a single-player game. You feel like you’re eating, but you’re just reading the labels of the foods around you.
And even if you happen to make some small talk, the connection is weak and a bond never forms.
What to do instead?
You need an activity that creates a situation where other people need you one way or another for completion of the “scenery” or a goal:
Here’s a list:
- Any team sport
- Any sport where you have to fight an opponent (chess and similar activities are included if done offline)
- Studying in class
- Crafts (drawing…etc.)
Stay away from solo sports such as:
Cycling is an isolation sport and just like lifting filters lots of introverts. Hence why it boomed due to COVID.
Sure, you can go on a group ride, but group rides do not make the sport a team sport. They’re just like cycling in the gym except you’re outside. And don’t forget that the law says that cyclists should ride in a single file to minimize the space that they take on the road. Thus, you can’t talk while riding unless you scream.
Also, many people will show for a group ride and then ghost the group forever.
I’m a cyclist and know all of this from experience.
Note: BMX riding is an exception. BMX and skating are good for socializing even though they’re solo sports. When I was a skater, I had a huge social circle (30+ people) without even trying. Just being at the park every day allowed me to make lots of acquaintances.
Powerlifting is the ultimate nerd sport and doesn’t improve your social skills much. Most powerlifters spend lots of time online doing weird calculations and then go in the gym judging everyone else for “being a pussy” pumping reps on the pec deck machine.
If you want to socialize through lifting, Oly lifting is better because you need a real coach, not an online calculator. Thus, at least, you have to talk to him. Also, Oly lifting includes lots of practice and opportunities to meet people in the downtime.