Mind Your Manners -- In the Gym

Annoying socializers, grunters, and excessive sweaters can bum out your workout. Following gym etiquette not only is polite, it's safe -- for you and your fellow gym-goers.

From the WebMD Archives

We all have different reasons for working out, whether it's to lose weight, to obtain rock-hard abs, or to stay healthy. Whatever the motivation, for some of us, getting to the gym is an achievement unto itself. So when people there are rude, gross, or downright annoying, it can be frustrating because they can distract us from our fitness goals, or worse, can hurt us. Or sometimes, we might not know it, but we may be the offending club member.

Salvatore Fichera, an exercise physiologist in New York, and Joe Warpeha, Duluth, Minnesota-based certified strength and conditioning specialist, have seen their share of careless and inconsiderate acts resulting in injury.

For example, customers who fail to wipe sweat from exercise equipment have reportedly been known to pass on communicable diseases such as rashes to other people. Cell-phone yakkers or excessively loud grunters have caused serious trainers to lose concentration and strain muscles. Weightlifters who neglect to secure barbells properly have had loose plates drop and crush toes -- theirs and others'.

These mishaps are easily avoidable. With good manners and common sense, gym-going can become a pleasant, safe, and healthy experience for everyone.

The Lazy ... and Dangerous

One of the most common gaffes people make at the gym is failing to put equipment back in its proper place.

"Some people just leave dumbbells on the floor, which is totally dumb," Fichera says. "It is inconvenient for someone who may need that particular weight afterwards, and it could hurt other members who, while looking at themselves in the mirror, back up and don't see it on the floor."

The rule also applies to clients using free weights. Besides leaving them on the floor, some lifters apparently don't return them to their proper number slots (i.e., the 10-pound weight in the "10" spot, the 20-pounder in the "20" spot, etc.) Some people carry weights to different parts of the gym and leave them there. This obviously inconveniences others who may have to do some searching to complete their exercise.

It is also important to secure the collars on barbells. Loose plates can slide off, bounce on the ground, and hurt someone. Such common-sense rules fall under the heading of "Use equipment properly" and "Follow instructions," which should be a no-brainer, but some people still surprisingly act foolish.


The Grunters

Then there are people who scream or grunt loudly during their set. Some even drop their weights on the ground, making a big thump. These noisemakers peeve David Reyes, 33, who takes his workout routine seriously.

"Let's say that I'm bench-pressing," says Reyes. "I'm doing a heavy set and am focused on lifting with the proper form, and on my way up [with the barbell], I hear "BOOM! BOOM!"... There goes my concentration, and without it, I could end up with 300 pounds on my neck."

Reyes himself feels the need to release energy when he lifts, but he does what he calls a "muted grunt" to be considerate of other members. For people who think they need the extra boost while lifting, Fichera suggests a loud breath instead. He says a forceful exhalation should provide the same benefits as a noisy grunt.

Heavy-lifters may want to ask people to spot them while doing a set. While this may seem like an inconvenience, Warpeha says most lifters won't have a problem looking out for you, knowing that they might also need the help one day. If you can't handle a certain weight, it's best not to use it, for your safety and for others around you.

The Yakkers

Talking to others while performing a weight set could be hazardous to your health because it distracts from following proper technique, says Fichera. "Even if you've been going to the gym for a long time, it's still important to focus on your muscle contractions, or you could really hurt yourself."

Plus, people who stand idle and simply hang out with one another on the workout floor can ruin a positive, serious workout atmosphere.

Albert Valencia, a Los Angeles consultant, likes it when people are more like him at the gym. He works out at least four times a week, and tries to be out of the gym in an hour and 15 minutes. He says people who socialize sometimes upset him because they tend to not pay attention and hog equipment, making his workout inefficient.


Another disturbing behavior at the gym has to do with something that seems to irk people everywhere -- hearing people talk on their cell phones.

"Nobody needs to hear your conversation," says Re Perez, 31, who has not only experience as a club member, but as staff at an upscale Manhattan gym. He says it's one thing to receive quick calls to get information, but it's another matter to babble away, looking pretentious.

If you must yak, take your chatter outside the workout area. Some gyms have dedicated places for socializing, such as cafes and lobbies.

The Intruders

It also annoys Valencia when people disturb him during a set when they ask questions like if he's going to be finished with the machine soon.

In this case, Fichera says it's proper etiquette to let others use equipment while you're resting between sets. It may not be ideal, but the same courtesy could come in handy next time you're in a hurry.

If you're really in a rush and can't wait for someone to finish, Warpeha recommends looking for alternatives. "More than one machine can work out a particular muscle," he says. "If all else fails, use free weights."

Fitness centers usually have trained personnel on the floor who can guide you with appropriate exercises. For a simple question or two, there is usually no charge.

The Soakers

Some people may feel good about sweating up a storm at the gym, but remember to clean up after yourself. Warpeha says he's heard of customers catching colds and getting rashes from peers who don't bother to wipe perspiration from equipment. He's also seen people leave their stinky clothes in the locker room, thereby polluting the air.

Remember that the locker room is not your personal private space. This means other people may not appreciate it if you spread your stuff all over the benches, leave your shaven hair in the sink, put towels on the floor, and forget to flush the toilet.

Bottom line is that proper fitness etiquette may not differ so much from practicing good manners in the outside world. The only difference is that at the gym, you may be able to get away with wearing skimpy clothing without even a second glance.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD


SOURCES: Salvatore Fichera, exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer, New York. Joe Warpeha, certified strength and conditioning specialist, Duluth, Minn. David Reyes. Eric Duchinsky. Albert Valencia. Re Perez.

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