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Gym Etiquette

Ryan MacGregor, CPT

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Whether a veteran of your local Gold's or a novice following up on a New Year's resolution to get fit, you may be in violation of rarely discussed but often expected "gym etiquette". Even members with years of gym experience are guilty. In fact, they frequently are the most egregious offenders. Men, women, and bodybuilders alike have equal capacity to frustrate, disrespect, anger, and endanger their peers while working out. So, how can you avoid behavior that may be perceived as inappropriate or inconsiderate? Just read the following guidelines.

Meatheads
We have all seen these guys (and sometimes gals) before, either live or on TV. They are characters indeed-inexplicably egomaniacal, dumb as oxen, and oblivious to their flawed pomposity. Middle-aged meatheads are most readily identified by their attire, which often includes neon Zubaz, spandex calf-length pants with high-tops and tube socks pushed down to the ankles, or tight tank tops that may or may not provide complete nipple coverage. Younger meatheads may sport these outmoded fashions, but are better identified by their obnoxious behavior including excessive grunting, dropping weights from unnecessary heights, and overt flexing. In New Jersey, anyone with an unnecessarily large necklace and matching cross is either a meathead or from 1995.

The meathead mind set, wardrobe, and mere presence are all violations of gym etiquette. If you are certain that this pitiful population cannot claim you as one of their own, please continue. Otherwise, please do your peers a favor and focus your efforts on correcting this deficiency first.

Personal Hygiene
It's expected that you'll work up a sweat and probably won't smell like a bouquet of roses by the end of your workout, but excessive body odor is distracting to others at the gym. Deodorant is widely available for reasonable prices, so there's no excuse for smelling like homeless Frenchman.

Your attempts to minimize your body's foul odor, however, should never exceed the average human's olfactory tolerance for manufactured scents. Cologne and perfume, unless sparingly applied earlier in the day as part of your morning ritual, have no place in the gym. These fragrances should never be used as a substitute for deodorant or be used immediately prior to working out, unless you desire to asphyxiate your gym mates.

Another natural smell with a far greater propensity to repulse is a concoction of hydrogen sulfide and other gases brewed in your digestive system. No one wants to take a big gulp of your ass, but if holding your farts will cause you pain greater than the anticipated collective discomfort of all patrons potentially within your range, then let it fly. Always do so in a remote part of the gym. It may be necessary to first force egress of a small volume to evaluate its potential funk. In keeping with Murphy's Law, however, one may unexpectedly find himself or herself within close physical proximity to an attractive member of the opposite moments after release.

Profuse sweating itself does not directly affect others to the extent foul odors do, but it qualifies as improper personal hygiene if not properly managed. When you have finished bathing equipment in a pool of your salty, water-based secretion grab a towel and wipe up. Use the mystery cleaning solution if provided. Wipe-down may not always be necessary, but should be considered based on the extent to which you emulate Patrick Ewing's inclination to sweat.

Although sweat will eventually evaporate from the equipment's surfaces if not immediately cleaned, the oil slick left behind by you greasy dome will not. Emulate environmentalist actions following the Exxon Valdez accident and clean up.

Equipment Sharing
Your gym has a limited amount of fitness equipment, so you'll clearly have to share with others. This is expected during times when the gym is crowded. Here are some tips:

Mark Your Territory
Do not urinate on fitness equipment. Instead, use a towel draped over the machine or bench you are using to indicate to others that it is currently in use. The towel is a minimum-you may want to conspicuously place your water bottle, newspaper, lifting straps, or workout log nearby. Using weights as markers is perfectly acceptable, provided they are not placed on the equipment. Padding on benches can be quickly destroyed by using it as a shelf for your weights (or as a step platform-sorry to digress).

Never mark territory that isn't yours. Just as you would not claim someone else's property, you should never place your personal belongings on one bench and use another. That may give the impression that both benches are in use and deter prospective users.

Pools/Swimming
Lap lanes are clearly marked as such and are for the exclusive use of those swimming laps. No horseplay or any other activity is permitted here. If you kids are playing in the pool, watch them closely to ensure they don't interfere.

The pool is not a toilet. If your child is not of age to differentiate between the two, don't allow him or her to get in. This only applies to pools at health clubs-we all accept that public pools are just chemically treated and heavily diluted septic tanks unsuitable for use by serious swimmers.

Free Weights
Always return dumbbells to their proper stowage locations, often indicated by numbered placards. Failure to so results in misplaced weights, making them difficult to find and creating trip and safety hazards. This may be the most frequently violated tenet of gym etiquette but the least understood. Only small children should be unable to match the numbers on the weights with the numbers on their stowage racks, but the average age of the gym-going population is far above that of toddlers. Illiteracy is a possible but highly unlikely cause of this phenomenon given the widespread nature of the problem and the educational diversity of offenders. Perhaps a more rational explanation is simply laziness, but even that seems to contradict the motivation that draws these violators to gym in the first place.

Free weights are typically racked in front of a large mirror. While it is good to watch yourself work out in front of a mirror to ensure proper form, it is NOT necessary to stand directly in front of the mirror to do so! This obstructs access by others to the racks, which deters others from returning weights to their proper locations. This creates safety hazards and frustration among courteous members. So, take few steps back from the mirror! Don't be so self-absorbed and completely oblivious to your surroundings as those who willfully obstruct access to equipment. Remember, you are not the only one at the gym (if you can't tell, this is one of my biggest pet peeves).

Do not drop weights uncontrollably. Make every effort to set them down in a controlled manner to avoiding damaging them and the appearance that you are putting on a tough-guy show for everyone else. More importantly, you risk injury to yourself and others when weights are allowed fly around the gym. Meatheads might think that a louder thud signals greater masculinity. That is true if the thud refers to the sound produced when an aggressive male ape beats his chest, but meatheads do not share Jane Goodall's enthusiasm for primatology.

After using a plate-loaded machine, break down the machine by removing and stowing ALL plates. If you are leg pressing 1000lbs, then you're probably one of two people at your gym who can do so. The subsequent user will not likely be that other person. After all, what's a little more physical exertion on top on what you've just accomplished?

Spatial Awareness
It is not enough just to know where you are-you must also be aware of other patrons' physical locations so that you can act accordingly. Here are some tips:

The Water Fountain
The use of water bottles at the gym is highly encouraged as adequate hydration is vital to one's physical fitness, but filling these containers at the fountain can lead to annoying delays for those who just want a quick sip (although I'd encourage sippers to get water bottles as well). If your bottle is 1 liter or larger and is less than 50% full, yield to the next person in line if he or she has no bottle to fill. You may continue to yield to as many people without water bottles as you choose. If the line exceeds fifty people, however, you may be able to recover some of your membership dues by offering water to those at the end of the line for a fee. In this case, keep filling. Processing inputs for sound decision-making at the water fountain requires spatial awareness so that you can determine 1) if there is anyone behind you and 2) if that person has a water bottle.

Sippers, you can do your part to expedite your trip to the water fountain by waiting in a position visible to the fountain's current user. Assume the user's field of vision is 180 degrees and position yourself accordingly. If the current user is courteous and you have facilitated his or her ability to evaluate the situation, you may save a few seconds (which seems like minutes waiting in line) and get on with your workout.

Conclusion
In short, be considerate to other patrons of the gym. If something annoys you, chances are that it annoys others as well, and perhaps to a far greater extent. So, don't repeat the mistakes of others. Others' failure to comply with proper gym etiquette doesn't justify your negligence.

If nothing annoys you, consider yourself fortunate. But, also understand that not everyone is a Type B personality. You have the added burden of perceiving action that may be considered inappropriate by others. Always treat your gym co-habitants with respect.