For most people the gym is a place for exercise and boosting your health. But for some, a trip to the gym gives them the opportunity to get in touch with their Cro-Magnon roots. What is it about a testosterone-filled environment of sweaty, grunting people that causes social graces and common courtesy to fly right out the window?
Let me preface by saying the main offenders here are mostly guys. As an ex-personal trainer and a self-professed gym rat, I rarely see women engage in the type of behavior I will be describing and analyzing. But whereas it may be a guy thing, that doesn’t mean the ladies get off scot-free.
You’ve probably seen and no doubt rolled your eyes at these guys and their overt shows of manliness, with the grunting, the groaning, the ejection of copious amounts of sweat. And that’s just in the locker room.
Once on the main floor these are the same guys who will leave machines loaded with weights for someone else to put away, ignore the sweat slicks they leave behind on machines and benches, or foul the air with body odor that would test the patience of the most extreme fetishist. For them, gym etiquette is a foreign phrase they can barely spell, let alone practice.
By gym etiquette I mean rules that suggest appropriate behavior for a room full of adrenaline-charged people. Not surprisingly, these rules are rooted in the same standards of common sense and good manners that keep society from devolving into anarchy. But a lack of social graces by those around you can make the gym an aggravating, sometimes infuriating experience.
Still, anytime you throw a large number of people together there’s bound to be a few jerks. The main thing you need to learn about lack of gym etiquette is that there’s really nothing you can do about it. As such, some rudeness should be expected, so some tolerance may be required. Which sounds nice in theory, but try convincing the stinky guy hogging the treadmill of that.
For most people this flouting of society’s conventions is the number one pet peeve (and turn-off) of the gym experience. And for beginners, being subjected to this type of behavior can really ramp up the intimidation factor. Let’s take a look at a few of the more blatant gym etiquette faux pas. If you’re guilty of at least two of these infractions, perhaps you, too, are the gym idiot.
RE-RACK YOUR WEIGHTS
It’s the sign that everyone sees but so few actually read: “If You Can Lift It, You Can Put It Away”. So simple, so straightforward, it’s almost Zen. But how many times have you gone to use a machine only to find that someone has left their weights for you to put away? People walking away from fully loaded machines are a major source of annoyance.
Analyzing the psychology at work here is a waste of time. Because whether their motivations are misguided displays of alpha-male dominance or good old-fashioned laziness, it’s just wrong. In the end, you’ll probably wind up putting this person’s weights away, adding insult to injury to a classic lose-lose situation.
The bottom line is this: be sure to re-rack your weights away when you’re finished using a plate-loaded machine or curling bar. Remember that the next person may not be as strong as you. It’s all about simple courtesy, people.
PERSONAL HYGIENE IN A PUBLIC PLACE
With their warm, moist environments, gyms can be an ideal breeding ground for germs and viruses. Fortunately, the majority of gyms do a great job of keeping their facilities clean. Unfortunately, if cleanliness is next to godliness, some guys are going right to hell.
Gym cleanliness is an important issue for most people, especially in the winter months. Colds and viruses are easily transmitted in public places like a gym where a large number of people will be using the same machinery. So preventing the spread of germs is as much your responsibility as it is that guy sneezing on the dumbbells.
Of course, cold prevention comes down to the common sense stuff: covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Avoid touching your eyes or nose. Wash your hands — a lot. And if you’re sick, don’t go to the gym. By paying attention to your own hygiene habits, you can help keep the spread of germs in check.
You can also do this by keeping the workout area clean. Carry a towel and wipe equipment down when you’re finished. And don’t drop your trash on the floor for someone else to throw away. Gym cleanliness is not up to the gym staff alone. Keep the gym as sanitary as you would your own home, where I’m guessing there are not pools of sweat on the leather sofa.
DON’T BE A HOG
By now you should be getting the picture that the gym is a social environment that’s a lot nicer when people are respectful of each other. But there will always be a large segment of people (again, mainly guys) who think that the gym is their own personal play space.
Hogging equipment and machines offers the greatest potential for altercations between gym members, particularly at peak hours when the place is at its most hectic. So here’s another important rule of thumb: let people work in with you when the gym is crowded. When working in, keep your sets focused and efficient, resting no more than 90 seconds between sets. This way, two people are able to use one machine and everybody’s happy.
This one’s all about sharing and the intricacies of interacting in a crowded public space. Again, let common sense prevail. If you think your behavior is selfish and annoying, it probably is. In the gym, as in society, it’s shouldn’t be “every man for himself.”
YAK, YAK, YAKKITY YAK
We’ve all seen them. They’re the people who climb aboard a treadmill, exercise bike or elliptical, whip out their cell phone, and proceed to furiously rifle through their contact list until they find someone, anyone, to talk to. They will then proceed to loudly bark into the phone so anyone within earshot is privy to their phone call.
Wake up call: if you’re yakking on your phone as you “work out,” you’re not focusing. If you’re not focusing, you’re doing a half-assed job. If you’re doing a half-assed job, why bother? Hang up already, or relinquish the machine to someone who will put it to good use. Leave the phone calls for before or after the gym.
Oh, and ladies, you’re as guilty as the guys with this one.
LOOK AT ME!
By its semi-erotic nature of blatant physicality, the gym is a place of much posturing and preening, ranking right up there with the beach or the dance floor as an ideal venue to show off your wares. So newcomers to the gym should be prepared for full-on blasts of narcissism, particularly in gyms with large male populations.
Again, there’s nothing you can do about these people, except roll your eyes like everybody else. And while there’s nothing wrong with being proud of how you look and feel, there’s a big difference between pride and preening.
The guy on the bench press whose orgasmic groans of exertion after each rep has you thinking “I’ll have what’s he’s having?” He’s preening. Ditto the guy who lifts up his shirt to check out his abs after every set, no matter what body part he’s working on, the guy whose stretching routine is downright pornographic, or anyone wearing gym shorts that Richard Simmons would be embarrassed to be seen in.
For better or worse, shocking displays of rude behavior are all part of the working out experience. So don’t let the gym jerks keep you from getting the best of your workout. The best advice is to not only to take it in stride, but also to find some humor in it. Because in a “Lord Of the Flies”-type environment that is the gym, there’s still place for good manners and civility.