By Michael Krueger
I’m in a ranting kind of mood today. It has been a week of dealing with annoying, messy, noisy, chatty people in the gym. Gym etiquette isn’t rocket science, it’s simply common courtesy. Of course, what constitutes etiquette varies somewhat depending on the type of gym in which you train, but there are a few universals.
So, whether you train at the station, a frou-frou club, or a down and dirty power lifting muscle head iron palace, there are still a few things you need to know to offend the least amount of people and allow everyone to get in a good workout.
The Usual Suspects
I want to put out a short disclaimer before I go any further: If you spend your gym time whining and fuming over bad behavior and thoughtlessness rather than working out, you won’t accomplish anything. Always use your time wisely. That being said, let’s get on with my rant.
Every public training environment has a handful of universal annoyances, and I’ll start with one of my favorites. Cell phone usage has become epidemic in gyms, and it’s not just annoying--it is VERY annoying. Not only is it a pain to have to listen to these loud, inane, one-sided conversations, but these people will also sit on a bench, lollygag on a treadmill, or simply stand in the middle of the room and chat. If the conversation doesn’t involve the words “emergency,” “organ rejection,” “bail money,” or “death,” it can wait.
Then there are the people who just sit on a bench or machine seat. They may say they are resting between sets, but there is a big difference between resting and homesteading. This dovetails right into the ubiquitous equipment hogs. I’ve seen people monopolize equipment for more than an hour. If someone asks to “work in” a set, they are offended and refuse to move. They will offer lame excuses such as not wanting to change the weight (how hard is it to pull a pin?) or my favorite: “I’m just about to lift,” and then they sit for another five minutes. Be considerate of others, and everyone will get their workout done in a reasonable amount of time and have a pleasant experience as well.
A hybrid of the sitter is the talker. One version of the talker is the self-appointed expert who will sit or stand where someone is trying to lift and voice an opinion about everything from national politics to your physique even though no one asked and no one cares. He will block your access to equipment until you have heard his speech. Such people have such a sense of self-importance that they cannot be dealt with subtly; just tell them to get out of your way (nicely, of course).
Another version of the talker is the conversationalist. This guy isn’t content with just having an audience. He wants you to interact as well as listen. He doesn’t belong in the gym at all; he is a café/bar fly that has migrated to the gym so that he can tell anyone and everyone that he “works out.” He spouts so much uninteresting and useless information that it will make your ears bleed. Once again, subtly is lost on this guy. If you just ignore him, he will simply latch onto someone else; do a public service and tell him to get out of your way and out of the gym (once again, nicely of course).
Another version of the talker (are you noting a pattern here?) is the coach. This is the guy who thinks he knows everything there is to know about fitness and will tell you that “if you’re smart you will listen.” He has no problem correcting your form or disparaging your program, despite the fact that he’s built like Peewee Herman and you’ve never actually seen him lift a pound. He wanders around, drinking water (or a protein smoothie), and occasionally flexes in the mirror. He usually wears shorts that are too short and a T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. This guy believes he is God’s gift to the lifting universe. The natural inclination is to ignore him, but it is better to call him on his obnoxious behavior. It won’t be pleasant, but after he leaves to infect some other gym, the entire membership will thank you.
Then there is the hygiene impaired. Let’s start with “puddle sweaters.” These folks tend to be so impressed with themselves and their “output” that they look at their sweat puddle as the equivalent of a dog leaving his mark, if you know what I mean. They don’t seem to understand that no one wants to wipe up the sweat of someone else, not even them. It is a given that if you are working hard, you will sweat. We all do; just clean it up.
Next are the people who slather themselves in perfume, colognes, or whatever else these people wear either in a misguided effort to be attractive or to mask stinky workout clothes. Then, of course, there are those who just flat out stink. These people don’t even try to hide it; they are either oblivious or proud. Once again, subtly is lost on the clueless. Mention to them that they stink. If they are offended, so be it; you have a right not to be olfactory assaulted every time you work out.
Inappropriate clothing can be an issue as well. The gym isn’t the place to show skin, it is the place to build muscle. Sculpt your physique and then head to the beach to show off. I have seen very attractive people (male and female) who are obviously dressed to impress. I can appreciate that they have worked very hard to get themselves into the kind of condition that does, in fact, impress. If you have the kind of body that will make heads turn, dress appropriately, and you may inspire; dress inappropriately, and you will only embarrass.
People who violate personal space are another subset that irritates me. There can be ten treadmills and someone will pick the one right next to my client. I understand that some people have “their” treadmill and it doesn’t matter who else is working out; they must run on that one special piece of equipment. You can shoot them a look of disgust, but beyond that there is little you can do but get over it. Well, you can try to spray sweat on them, but then that just makes you one of the other annoying people. Be bigger than that, and move to a different apparatus if it bothers you.
Continuing my rant, let’s talk about equipment abusers. These people seem to think that just because they pay to work out somewhere they can slam weights, crash machines, and generally leave behind a mess for someone else to clean up. It particularly annoys me when people allow weight stacks on machines to crash at the bottom. It is a jarring sound that resonates throughout the entire gym, so stop it!
Second are those who drop free weights. Work within your abilities, and odds are you won’t need to drop them. Olympic lifting, which necessitates dropping big weights, should be done only in an area designated for such activities and only on an appropriate platform and only with the proper equipment--i.e., bumper plates. If you are an Olympic lifter, find a gym that specializes is this activity. It just isn’t suitable to most regular gyms.
My next group is the music people. I know you love your music and it helps you lift or run better, but keep it to yourself. Heavy death metal or Lady Gaga may work for you, but not everyone enjoys it. I see this cultural conflict arise most often in fire departments and corporate gyms where there is a communal stereo system; this is where you must be considerate of others. Always ask before you change radio stations or connect your iPod.
Of course, I have also been in situations where I can easily hear music emanating from ear buds connected to an iPod; this is simply wrong on so many levels.
The Basic Rules
Don’t be a “Chatty Cathy.” Do your workout and let others do theirs. Get it done and move on. Leave your conversations for the smoothie bar after you are done.
Be clean in both body and equipment. Don’t reek and don’t leave a mess.
Take all the weights plates off the bar and reset machines to zero. No one is impressed with what you were doing, particularly when they have to put it all back to where it belongs.
Don’t coach or kibitz. If someone wants your help, they will let you know; or, they will hire someone who actually knows what they are doing.
Be considerate. Don’t hog the equipment, clean up after yourself, don’t ogle anyone, don’t trash talk, never laugh at anyone, be encouraging when it is obviously needed, and try smiling rather than scowling.
You are in a position to make or break the gym experience, be it at a commercial gym or at your station. Fitness should be fun, uplifting, and satisfying; if it’s not, there is a problem. If you are a natural-born slob or aren’t particularly social, consider lifting at odd hours when no one else is around or set up your own gym in your garage or basement.
Finally, whenever there is a conflict, step back and ask yourself if you are the problem; then act accordingly and do the right thing.
Michael Krueger is an NSCA-certified personal trainer. He got his start in fitness training while serving in the United States Coast Guard. He works with firefighters and others in and around Madison, Wisconsin. He is available to fire departments, civic organizations, and athletic teams for training, consulting, and speaking engagements. He has published numerous articles on fitness, health, and the mind-body connection and was a featured speaker at the IAFC’s FRI 2009 Health Day in Dallas, Texas. E-mail him at MKPTLLC@gmail.com.