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Going to the Gym in College

DormEssentials January 20, 2019
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Do you go to the gym in college? Perhaps attend a cycling or other group fitness class? In short: do you even lift bro? Maybe it’s a question posed in jest, a satire of the alpha-male frat culture, but perhaps it’s something more. Perhaps it’s a deeper exploration of your values, a question gauging your subscription to the ritual of physical self-discovery. And it is a ritual—one which can be bro-ey if done tastelessly, but one which can also be greatly enriching if done with discipline and dedication. Regardless of the stereotypes, don’t dismiss weightlifting because you don’t identify as a hyper-masculine frat bro. There are tremendous benefits to be gained by spending an hour or two in the gym three days a week that you don’t want to miss out on. For ladies looking to carve out the insta-model figures they see online, the benefits from doing cardio and going to the gym in college extend far beyond your physique. 

Perhaps for you it is about physically maturing from the androgynous millennial physique to a cut hunk or lassie because you are tired of being told you look thirteen (when in fact you just celebrated your 18th birthday). Or perhaps it is because you no longer train for cross country or basketball like you did in high school but still want to maintain your athleticism. Whatever your reason, weightlifting, particularly in college, is a perfect time to establish a healthy routine of exercise. More-so, it is a great way to handle the physiological burden of stress and to engage with a community on campus dedicated to self-improvement. For many, you may not have had any experience going to the gym in high-school, so this new college-culture norm could be abit intimidating to get into. Not to worry- we all have to start somewhere. 

Gain familiarity with your local gym(s). Enjoy the resources of your college, because the ease of access to a fully equipped gym, probably minutes from your dorm or lecture halls, will be much less feasible later on. This is especially true if your college has sports teams which train there—it is like having all the equipment and space invested in training athletes available to your whim. Take advantage of it. You may even get a student discount or special pricing, which will be one of the best investments you make in college outside your academics and internships. In particular, be on the lookout for squat racks, bench presses, powerlifting platforms, and barbells of varying thickness and diameter. As we will come to see, these essentials form the basis for your lifting regiment.

Other things to consider: when is the gym most frequented? When are the sports teams occupying the space? Are people friendly, offering one another spots, or is the atmosphere more isolationist, where everyone has headphones on and is focused on their own workout? Gain a sense of what works for you and what you find desirable. Maybe you would rather find a commercial gym off campus, or maybe you like attending the gym at busy hours, seeing classmates and making new friends.

Once you have found the gym to call home, build your core technique for the golden trio: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. These three alone are more than sufficient to build a very solid weightlifting foundation. I highly recommend Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength. Read it cover to cover, and work through it while practicing with an empty bar a few times to nail form before adding weight. Always, always warm up properly and begin your workout with the empty bar, followed by warm-up sets, and then get to your “work” set. Treat Starting Strength like your lifting bible, and apply it in a way that works for you. If you’re less inclined for the heavy weights and want to focus more on carving out your existing body, then Thinner Leaner Stronger is the book for you.

Get down the basics of whichever book or regimen style you decided to follow, then draw out a program of progressive overload for yourself, increasing weight regularly as you deem fit. Watching your growth in strength and build can be extremely satisfying. Stick with it, and find a gym partner to lift with—someone from your dorm or even someone you see regularly at the gym. Motivate each other to go, and help each other stay accountable for going. The pump of weightlifting or burning down calories with rigorous cardio can be tremendously invigorating and a perfect way to alleviate stressors of university life. It is also a great way to meet people. Imagine sitting in a lecture hall at the start of the term and looking over to see a familiar face from the gym—the two of you already have a great node to kick off a conversation.

Establish it as a habit, and you will find engaging in the weightlifting and gym culture during your college years to be a great way to stay healthy, physically and emotionally, and to find a tight-knit community on campus. Like many of the experiences you try for the first time and the habits you form that can last a lifetime, beginning to weightlift has the potential be a transformative event if it jibes right and you take the time to develop it into a routine. Give it a go, and you may come to find just how preposterous the notion of someone not taking the time to engage in and to reap the many invaluable benefits of weightlifting, cardio, and going to the gym in college to be. 

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