Lost In Translation? UK vs USA Gym Life

3D rendering of the flags of USA and UK on woven fabric texture. Detailed textile pattern and grunge theme.

As social media brings the wide world of lifting closer together, we need to be able to communicate. Our UK representative explores gym life on both sides of the pond.

Good day! Jolly nice to meet you. Nicola Joyce here (that’s “NIC-co-la, not “Nic-OH-la”) with LBEB’s handle transatlantic guide to gym etiquette, cheat meals, and lifting attire.

Gym Life

In the USA: your vast country is peppered with plenty of College gyms, all of which have rows of squat racks and platforms. Even your regular “fitness” type gyms have power racks!

In the UK: good quality independent gyms are a rarity (but increasing in number). We’re lucky to have more than one squat rack in a regular gym. And in “fitness” type gyms, we’re often not allowed to deadlift, or drop weights on the ground.

In the USA: it seems like everyone squats. Benching is core to your lifting (the NFL influence, maybe?) Big butts are cool… on both sexes.

In the UK: serious lifters squat and deadlift. But a lot of regular gym-goers don’t. Our national sport is soccer (we call it football), and those guys aren’t exactly muscle-building inspiration. Big butts? They’re still the domain of the female lifter over here. (Although women appreciate a big butt on a male lifter – but the guys don’t seem to want big glutes).

In the USA: you might go for a “hike” for cardio.

In the UK: we just call it “walking”.

The Stores

In the USA: you have Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods… and a whole lot more.

In the UK: we have supermarkets (big grocery stores) – but they’re no TJ’s! And you have to go to major cities to find a Whole Foods.

The Clothing

In the USA: you guys seem to like basketball shorts, bright footwear, full sports socks… and caps. Always caps.

In the UK: we’re rocking the short shorts, leggings, joggers, and trainer socks.

Mental Arithmetic

In the USA: you lift in lbs, and do cardio in kilometres. Loading a bar in your gyms would be a headache for us: we know that translating the weight involves multiplying by 2.2… or something… but there’s always a last-minute panic that we’ve made a mistake. (What would be worse – over-estimating or under-estimating a lift?)

In the UK: we lift in kgs, and do cardio in miles or kilometres (just to confuse everyone, including ourselves).

Food & Drink

In the USA: visit a Walmart of 7Eleven on your way to the gym and take your pick from a massive array of exciting sugar-free energy drinks.

In the UK: scour the local grocery stores and gas stations (we call them petrol stations, by the way) for a sugar-free Monster. Remember that your friend Snapchatted a new energy drink. Try to locate it. Fail. Eventually find it and agonise over buying it: it costs around $5. Get massively excited when one of the “American” energy drinks get released over here. Tell all your friends!

In the USA: build up your tolerance to weak, substandard coffee from chain coffee shops.

In the UK: make your own, with a home espresso machine or Aeropress. Or visit any of the 10 or more independent coffee shops in your small town, all of which serve very good (and very strong) coffee.

In the USA: it’s time for a cheat meal. You are spoiled for choice.

In the UK: it’s time for a cheat meal. If you live in a city, you have a few decent choices. If not, you might be better off cooking something at home. We only recently got Five Guys over here. There’s a Chipotle in a couple of our bigger cities. Ihop? We wish!

In the USA: you go out for breakfast a lot. So would we, if we had your breakfast food culture!

In the UK: we look at Instagram pictures of American friends going out for waffles and pancakes. And we dream.

In the USA: your protein powders have all the flavours!

In the UK: we have chocolate peanut sometimes! Kidding… our supplement companies are catching up with you guys. But you’re still light-years ahead in terms of flavours and choices.

In the USA: your doughnuts. They are better than ours.

In the UK: um… we can get Krispy Kreme in some places?

Whether you’re heading between the UK and USA to train or compete, or just want to be able to keep up with your favorite (favourite?) overseas lifter on Instagram, we hope our light-hearted guide to the international lifting scene will help.

  • How perfect! I’m planning on going to the UK (mostly Manchester and other points north, along with Glasgow and a spin through London) and I wondered about the differences in lifting cultures–and whether I’d have a hard time finding an old school or independent gym.
    Thanks for writing and posting this.