Welcome to The Judgment Zone

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Welcome to The Judgment Zone

by Jen Smith | June 20, 2023

In the last ten years, a curious new
trend has emerged in the world of health, fitness, and commercial
gyms: the introduction of “The No Judgment Zone.” This “zone,”
is exactly what it sounds like: a contrived little space where, once
admitted, you are exempt from correction of any kind. You can run,
jump, push, pull, and flop yourself around however you see fit –
you are your own master, and pity the fool who dares judge you for
it. For to judge, in this space, is worse than to err.

It’s no wonder the No Judgment Zone
is so popular; in it you can get away with doing anything – or
better yet, nothing. Because in a space where nothing is “wrong,”
it follows that nothing can be “right,” so minimal effort is as
lauded as maximum. Here, easy does work. And who doesn’t like easy? Especially for ten bucks a month.

At Starting Strength Gyms, we offer
something different. We offer what might be called “The Judgment
Zone.” This, too, is a contrived little space but, once entered,
you will be judged. Your lifts, your form, your effort, your
consistency – all of it will be observed, measured, recorded and
yes, judged. And you’ll love it.

You’ll love being judged so much, in
fact, that you’ll pay us to do it. Why? Because in the gym and in
life, humans want to be judged. We train – and live – for
judgment, every one of us, whether we admit it or not. What else
drives us to improve in any facet of our lives? Forgive the
disillusion, but it’s not the goodness of our hearts or our natural
ambition. It’s approval – from ourselves, from others, maybe even
from a higher power. We need to know that what we do matters, that
our effort counts for us as much as our lack of effort counts against
us. This is true in the gym, the classroom, the workplace, our
relationships. The grimmest reality we could face is a world with no
judgment. Because that would be a world where nothing we do matters.

At a Starting Strength Gym, everything
you do matters. From your squat to your press to your deadlift, every
one of your movements is studied by your coach, who then passes her
assessment on to you. You are expected to apply this recommendation
to your next attempt in an effort to improve it. If you do not
improve it, you will be told that you did not improve it, and your
coach will ask you to try again – she might even be so bold as to
ask you to try harder. In other words, you will be judged. Not
on your merit as a person but on the merit of your effort –
although your merit as a person will certainly have a bearing on your
merit as a lifter. Because if you have the courage to face judgment
in the weight room, odds are you have the courage to face it in your
life. Successful training – and living – comes not from a perfect
performance that escapes criticism; it comes from having the spine to
take criticism, and the humility to learn from it.

A good coach is like a good parent:
strict, out of love. (You may wonder: does your SSC really love you?
That depends on your likability. But for the sake of this argument,
let’s say yes.) Case in point: we have a running joke at Starting
Strength Beaverton, where a nod and “Not bad” from head coach
Amanda Sheppard basically means you’ve reached Form Nirvana. This
is because praise from Amanda means something. She is friendly and
encouraging, but her approval is not given freely; her clients have
to earn it. Yelling “Good job!” on the squat is easy on a coach,
and takes two seconds. Teaching the squat correctly is hard on a
coach and takes two hours. But that’s what good coaches do. They
explain, they examine, they discern, they require. They judge.

It would be so much easier for your
coach to take a weekend course, put on a tee-shirt and a smile, and
welcome you warmly into the No Judgment Zone. But that is not a coach
who cares about his client’s progress; that is a coach who cares
about getting on with his day. And it’s a gym that cares about
getting people through instead of getting people strong.

If you want to be a mediocre lifter and
miserable person, studiously avoid judgment in the gym and in your
life. The narrow, immediate relief of escaping it will soon be
replaced with a broader and permanent malaise.

If you want to be a successful lifter
and happy person, always seek judgment. Bear the criticism; take the
heat. Acknowledging your weaknesses is a practiced skill that, with
repetition, makes overcoming them easier – under the bar and in
your life.

A Starting Strength client is a person
unafraid of judgment. He listens, concentrates, gives his best effort
and, on a good day, executes the lift to his coach’s satisfaction.
That private victory goes with him out of the gym and into his day
where the Judgment Zone of the world doesn’t rattle him a bit.
Because really, it’s nothing compared to what he just faced on the

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