Tag Archives: gym etiquette

Of unconscious behaviour: at the gym

14 Jul

I’m very aware that once the day’s wardrobe is replaced with mostly non-descript gym clothes, identities are lost and we have trouble sorting each other out because the visual cues that tell us about people’s occupations, social standing, etc. are missing. I find gyms really interesting for this reason.

Gyms also interest me as I observe the behaviour of the people there. At my gym, I’m mixed into the 95% male gym users because I weight train. This gives me an advantageous insight into the world of men.

Sometimes it seems, guys at the gym forget they’re in a public place and behave as though they were in the men’s room, engaging in behaviour that should mostly be kept private. Images of bad public behaviour burn in people’s brains and can leave a haunting, lingering picture that you may not be able to recover from.

This is the second post I’ve written on unconscious behaviour, that is, actions done without thinking, especially without thinking about how our actions will affect other people. This is also the second post about my observations about behaviour in gyms. I’m melding these two concepts together this week to draw your attention to gym behaviour, how acting badly can affect the way people think of us, and tips on how to behave like a gent at the gym.

The following examples are real experiences I have observed at my gym. See what you make of them.

Use machines for their intended purpose and hurry up about it

During my routine on the machines one day, I noticed a guy with his heel resting on the forearm platform of the calf machine, stretching his hamstrings. I assumed he was just getting a kink out would exit momentarily.

He didn’t.

I would be using the calf machine but to be polite and give the fellow the benefit of the doubt, I worked around him and did reps on three different machines, saving the calf machine for last.

And he was still there.

I had given him 5 minutes to stretch and decided that he may not realize that someone else might be waiting for the calf machine to work on their calves, so I walked over and asked him if I could please use the machine.

“I’m stretching,” he said.

“Yes, but this machine is for calf raises, not stretching,” I replied.

“Five minutes,” he said.

“You know there are rooms for you to stretch in, instead of using a weight machine,” I said.

Unrelenting, he repeated himself and turned away from me.

What could I do? I walked away and shook my head. I guess this fellow didn’t realize that when using a machine for an extended period of time AND using it for purposes other than what the machine was built for, he’s definitely not casting a good light on himself AND annoying others. I for one, will not be able to disassociate this experience from this guy when I see him.

*Gentleman’s tip: Assume that other people are waiting to use the machine you’re on, do your set, get off. Easy. No one could possibly label you as a fill in the blank for being efficient with the weight machines.

How about the people that sit texting and relaxing on a machine that you want to use? The same principle applies here: be aware that other people may be waiting for the machine you’re languishing on. I’m not sure why anyone would bring their phone into the working gym to begin with unless they were waiting for very important news maybe, because last time I checked, gyms are for people to exercise in.

Just because you can’t see it

Sometimes people don’t realize that other people can see what they’re doing. Gyms are large, open spaces with mirrors that shoot your reflection all over the room, so people can see whatever you’re doing even if you’re not aware of it.

While on the treadmill recently, I watched a guy about 10′ in front of me sitting on a quad machine with his finger stuck up his nose. I had to look away when he pulled something out. When I looked again to see how he was going to dispose of this treasure, I saw no tissue and and didn’t wait to see where he wiped.

Now, come on, man! This is disgusting. Please think before you pick in a public space – public transit included.

*Gentleman’s tip: Keep your fingers out of all orifices while you’re in public.

From my treadmill perch, I see other amazing things. The treadmill faces a cluster of weight machines in front of a full-mirrored wall, giving a good, wide view of almost half of the gym. Sometimes I’ll see guys stand in front of the mirror and they’ll do one of three things:

1. pose and admire themselves,

2. check and re-style their hair, or

3. squeeze pimples or razor burn bumps.

I watched a guy last week spend a few minutes in front of the mirror squeezing things on his face. I was really amazed that after popping a pimple that hit the mirror, he wiped it off with a bare finger and then walked over to the machines and started pumping. After a couple of reps, he came back to the mirror and the process started again.

I know that nasty things go on in the locker rooms (though I will say that the brotherhood is pretty tight-lipped about what really goes on behind the men’s room door), but once a guy is out of the can, the public persona should really be taken on – the one that keeps a guy in check and exercises respect to other people.  This pimple-popper was not extending consideration to others in any way, shape, or form, and worse, spread the insides of his body around. I will recognize him as the pimple-popper from now on and I never forget a face.

Again, a public space is not the men’s room and any Jackass tactics should be kept private.

*Gentleman’s tip: Be hygenic and go wash your hands when you touch bodily products beyond sweat.

Steam room

Though I don’t know what happens in the gents’ steam room first-hand, a very good source has confessed that he’s watched men behaving very badly in steam rooms at his gym. He’s seen guys sloughing off dead skin from their feet and spitting on the floor in the communal steam room, much to the total gross-out of everyone else in the room.

*Gentleman’s tip: If you steam, just sit there and steam instead of spreading your DNA samples.

The potentially scary idea behind acting with disregard at the gym is that because the visual wardrobe cues have been removed, we don’t know who is who. What do you think would happen if the next person you network or interview with goes to the same gym and saw you squeezing blackheads in the gym mirror? What would they make of you? How do you think women would react to you? Is this the impression you want to make on other people?

If you think of your life as a chess game, know that  your every move will affect you and the rest of the players on the board now and in the future. One wrong move can cost you the whole game.

The co-ed gym

17 Mar

I’ve been going to a women’s gym for several years and due to various circumstances, decided to switch my membership to a gym closer to where I live. This particular gym happens to be a co-ed gym.

Working out with only women is its own thing, but working out with men is quite another. The dynamic is different, it smells different, and people behave differently when the opposite sex is present.

I go to the gym because exercise makes me feel good and helps me look good in my clothes, but that doesn’t tell me anything about why a man might opt for the gym, so I spent time reading weight training and men’s health forums and found some good opinions to help me understand a guy’s motivation. I came upon this very honest and revealing opinion from a young man explaining why he loves going to the gym: “There’s this innate need in us to be appreciated, to be praised, and to be admired. Make no mistake about it, 99% of males go to the gym for one reason – to be more attractive to the opposite sex. Females have the ability to significantly alter the male behaviour with their presence alone.”

I’ve been told that the women at my gym tend to do the fitness classes like group yoga and such, while the men mostly concentrate on the weights. I’ve always weight-trained and since I haven’t found a yoga instructor at the gym that I particularly like, I’m one of a handful of women who use the free weights and weight machines in this mostly masculine realm.

When I’m in this masculine domain doing my thing, men notice that I’m there. I sometimes think that they’re mystified that a woman is there using free weights or maybe they’re sneering at my technique; maybe they respect me, or perhaps something completely different.

Dangerous interruption

One day while I was listening to music on my iPod and using a 30 lb bar bell (no snickering please), a big muscle-bound fella comes over and says something to me. I stopped, put down the weight, and took the earphone out to hear him ask me how long I’d be at the bench. I was completely dumbfounded that this person would interrupt someone’s concentration in mid-pump and ask how long they’d be with the equipment. Now,  I can understand if someone spoke to me if I was sitting on the equipment texting or daydreaming (bad gym etiquette), but I was using the equipment. With a heavy weight, I expect that interrupting someone’s routine is potentially dangerous.

I found a soul sister’s comments on a forum for this example: “…if you want to strike out, then be sure to try to talk to me when I’ve got my headphones on, and make me take them out to hear you say something inane. Grrr.”

Women seem to be mixed on the question of being approached at the gym, but I will say that while she’s wearing headphones, it’s a  suggestion of exercise and not conversation.

Testosterone country

But back to the guy. I noticed him walking by most of the machines I was using. I mentioned this to my male friends who laughed at the story. “We used to do that in grade school when we liked a girl,” one friend said. Elementary school? A grown man with the same level of emotional intelligence as an adolescent boy?

I thought about it. Sounds like the old one-track mind routine brought to you by testosterone, the stuff that helps men focus on the task at hand. This time though, testosterone’s control over this guy seemed to reduce what was already lacking and focused on his immediate needs (“need bench”, “need to talk to / irritate woman”). But no one knows for sure.

Does everyone stare?

Now as I said, gender behaviour changes when there is mixed company and when gym-going women choose to dress in tight or revealing clothing, the testosterone focus can switch from pumping iron to pumping blood. I read a comment from one fellow who said that after staring at a woman, he lifted 20% more weight on the bench press. Wow. I didn’t realize that women had that kind of effect on men.

I look around me when I’m working out and notice the people, see what they’re doing, notice what they’re wearing, imagine what they do based on the way their heads are groomed, and I will admit that from afar, I admire men doing pull-ups because bearing witness to a man working his upper body is amazing and awe-inspiring to me. Sometimes the men notice me noticing them but I am usually respectfully clandestine about it – i.e. I’m not ogling them.

Everyone will have their own opinion, but looking to the forums again, I found a range of women’s opinions about what it’s like to be stared at by the men at the gym:

a) As long as it is not leering I take it as a compliment. After all I am working hard to look good. Nice to know it is appreciated.

b) I focus on my workouts and never make eye contact… so if someone is staring I wouldn’t even know…

This young man sums it up quite well: “I’d say noticing is fine, staring is rude, but as long as you’re not camped out with a pair of binoculars and a box of donuts, you’re probably okay.”

I’m not here to judge or get down on anyone, but I think women should be more aware of what they wear to exercise in because men like to look at women and that isn’t going to change. Women’s bodies are very distracting to men and if women don’t want to be noticed / stared at, they should maybe think twice about wearing a push-up bra under their low-cut gym top in full make-up (these choices make me question women’s motivation). One weight-training forum guy says: “I think women who feel offended by [men staring at them] should use good judgment when choosing what to wear to the gym. Some guys are just gonna stare regardless, but come on, don’t wear booty shorts and a short sports bra looking thing to the gym and hop on the thigh master or butt blaster, you’re asking to get stared at.”

I can only speak for myself and I’ll tell you that it makes me uncomfortable to be stared at while at the gym. I don’t think most men want to make women feel ill at ease, so it might be a good thing to be conscious of what your eyes are doing, guys, as in, how you’re looking at women but also how long you’re looking at them.

To sum up this week’s post, I think this fellow says it well: “… in the presence of ladies, the motivation to exercise even harder is never lacking, but there is nothing quite like working the bench press or preacher’s curls… [and] come out feeling more like a man, more masculine, more fulfilled, having achieved something at the end of the day.” Isn’t that what it’s all about, fellas?