Perhaps I’m too trusting, but when the number on my dumbbell says “20”, I kinda sorta expect it to really weigh twenty pounds.

I had been training with a pair of 20-pounders that were purchased individually, so they were slightly different in form. The shape disparity was subtle in the heads but noticeable in that one dumbbell had a teensy-bit wider bar, making the grip feel different. Well, that would always throw me off, because the thicker bar made me tire faster, or so I thought. I searched PubMed for a viable explanation and went so far as to contact exercise scientist Mike Nelson about whether he’d seen research on the connection between grip diameter and fatigue. And then — DUH! — it occurred to me to actually weigh the stupid things!

If it says "20", it MUST weigh 20#, right? Right?

Okay, it wasn’t exactly twenty pounds, which surprised me…but not as much as what I got weighing the OTHER dumbbell:

Well, THIS one's gotta be 20#, right? EEEEEK!

Gee, that explains the sensation of imbalance! A full two pounds-worth. That may not seem like much, but when you’re dealing with twenty pounds on your triceps, it makes quite a difference.

I emerged from this experience somewhat wiser, all the while hoping Mike didn’t think I was a total moron. Incidentally, I happened to weigh my 30-pounders and both came up as thirty-one pounds. At least they were consistent.

Caveat emptor.


This is for squatting. If you're moving your arms and not your legs, you're not squatting.

First, for all the gym novices out there: the photo to the right is a squat rack. If you do biceps curls there, everyone’s going to think you’re a moron. If you’re not sure where the E-Z-curl bars are, please ask the facility personnel.

About 16 years ago I bought my first pair of weights: they were 3-lb dumbbells coated in green plastic. One of my best friends had been certified as a personal trainer and was trying to get me away from the obsessive lap swimming that was my life. She took me to her gym, ran me through some exercises. But you know what? I didn’t get it. I couldn’t understand the concept of training with weights because it seemed to burn too few calories. I was into distance swimming, several miles a day (and yes, I counted in miles). I wouldn’t even bother getting into the water if I only had time for a mile. In that case, I’d run about five miles and call it a “workout”.

The name of the game was burning calories. So lifting weights seemed pointless. Muscle-building? Why? I was almost 6-ft tall! The last thing I wanted was to be even bigger.

I didn’t GET IT.

It wasn’t until a few years later, after recurrent ear infections from constantly being wet, that the entire concept hit me, but it took several stages to get there. I started out with machines, then free weights, and soon I wasn’t happy unless I was intimidating the poor guy trying to work in with me.

My point is, we have to start somewhere. Most gym novices have little to no idea of what to do, particularly those of us who grew up in the aerobics era when arm-flapping was all the rage. Training wisdom is not encoded on our genes. While I feel that guidance from a knowledgeable trainer is more cost-effective than wandering through the twists and turns of the fitness information wilderness, most people won’t hire one (and, frankly, some trainers don’t deserve to be hired). They’ll search for info on the Internet, and maybe 50% of what they learn will be WRONG, depending on where they go.

Then they’ll go to the gym and end up as the ridiculed subject of blog posts.

Many people who are giving up on their resolutions right now will soon revert to their old habits, convinced that “weight loss” or “getting in shape” is too complicated, and will search for an easier way to go about it. And believe me, they’ll find it in the form of detox fasts, “shake weights” and magical fitness breakthrough pills that promise results without the effort. In a sense, when someone tries and fails going about it the ‘right way’ (um, what exactly is that?), they provide fodder for the scammers. These outrageous products wouldn’t exist if there weren’t a market for them. If you’re a trainer and not frustrated by the amount of misinformation on the ‘net, wake up. That’s your competition out there.

Next time I’m at a training facility and see someone curling in the squat rack, I won’t chuckle to myself. I’m going to gently and quietly tell them they look like an idiot and point them in the right direction. I urge you to do the same. The truth may hurt, but if you go about it the right way, someday they’ll thank you for it.

If you already have a fitness program in place and want the flexibility that home exercise equipment can give you, go for it. But don’t assume that you’re going to start exercising now that you’ve bought an expensive home gym or cardio machine. If your exercise “habit” has not been established, simply having the equipment available will not change anything. I know, it seems like it should open a whole new world of fitness possibilities for you. It should, but it doesn’t. The same excuses and justifications will still apply.

Likewise, don’t assume that the guilt of spending a lot of money on equipment is going to compel you to use it. True, guilt can be a very powerful motivator, but it’s a negative one and tends to result in avoidance. And before you know it, you’re trying to not look at that treadmill, elliptical trainer, etc. because it reminds you of what you’re not doing. The offending machinery ends up in the closet, basement, under the bed…or serving as an expensive clothes rack.

I’ve heard people say that the greatest “workout” they got from their purchase was carrying it into the house. Only to be followed by the second greatest…carrying it out to the front lawn for their garage sale. Establish a solid exercise habit before you complicate matters by spending money on expensive equipment.

A side note: if you want to get a good deal on equipment (and you have a plan to use it), don’t buy it in Dec/Jan. That’s when all the ‘resolutioners’ are buying. Yes, the stores will be having good deals…but probably not as good as the deal you’ll get on Craigslist/classifieds/ebay/garage sale starting somewhere between March-May when the sparkle of New Year’s resolutions has faded and everyone’s trying to make back some of the cash they lost.