Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Keep Your Shirt On and Other Essential Points of Gym Etiquette

Since I've finally made myself start getting up to go to the gym at the crack of dawn instead of pretending that I'll go after a 12 hour day of pencil pushing, I've become awakened anew to the minutiae of gym life. The regulars, the inepts, the loud mouth-breathers, the inappropriately dressed. The gym is the mecca where all of these characters, who usually exist in completely separate worlds, converge and collectively run without going any where or lift objects whose sole raison d'etre is to be heavy or punch invisible attackers.

I arrive at the gym around 5:45am, meaning that my mind is not fully coherent or rational. My rapier wit and glowing beauty are not fully evident at this time of morning (read: slack-jawed, bleary-eyed, and bed-headed), but this state of blurry muddle-mindedness is conducive to observing my fellow early-birds. I have seen many wonders: men kissing their own biceps after completing a challenging rep, women checking themselves out in the mirror as they jog on the treadmill, an old man working out in what looked like a safari outfit. But what I've mostly noticed is that there is a significant paucity of basic etiquette between different members of Gold's Gym Merrifield. So, for their benefit and mine, I have disstilled my observations into some basic rules of the road:

Correct Machine Spacing (Creepy Guy Violating Personal Space is Not Okay): I was on my eliptical, running my little heart out. There was only one other person on the row of machines, with 10 or so elipticals in between, and another 6 or so past me. All of  a sudden, I realized that some creeper had planted himself on the eliptical right next to me. I'm not sure if he was hitting on me or just had some kind of intense codependent complex that forbids him exercising without someone within smacking distance, but this violates common decorum. When you begin taking seats, you go as far away from other people as possible. Then when new people come, they half the distance, and so on and so on, until people are finally forced to sit directly next to someone else. This same principle applies to gym machines. In addition to making me uncomfortable, I purposefully try to not exercise on a machine next to other people, as I am a competitor at heart, and I find myself craning to see their screens so that I can make sure that I'm running faster than them. Which throws my whole schedule of intermittant speed and rest into a tail spin. All because some weirdo isn't following the basic laws of respecting others' personal space.
Grouping Like TV Channels Together (Which One of These is Not Like the Other?) To mix things up, I slept in on Saturday and rolled into el gimnasio around 10am on September 11th. As a sober day for all Americans, the good folks of Gold's Gym had rightly discerned that many people would like to watch the memorial while they ran off the booze weight they'd put on the night before. So I'm running along, trying to focus on Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, but out of the corner of my eye, I keep seeing alternating shots of a pencil and then a close up of a woman's bottom on the TV next to mine. Alarmed, I turned to see that this particular infommerical had devised an entirely new measurement by which women can judge their bodies and find them lacking. Place a pencil under the crease of where you bum and thigh meet. If you can hold it there, your tush is too big and sloppy. If the pencil drops, you have successfully used their product to lift and firm. Aside from the fact that sloppy or no, I like my bum and resent anyone trying to make it feel bad, I found this in rather bad taste. I was trying to focus on and pray for the families still feeling the effect of a terrible and traumatic day in American history. Instead, I was now forced to be distracted by my own backside in comparison to the energetic supermodels in spandex onesies. Common courtesy and sense would suggest that grouping like TV shows together. Probably workout videos and Jersey Shore in one corner, CNN and CSPAN in another, and Friends reruns in the middle.
Appropriate Modesty While Sweating (Stop Kissing Your Guns and Put Your Shirt Back On): What I'm about to say may be controversial and bring some hard realities to bare, but, Gentle Reader, know that this is said with love. The gym is air conditioned. No one in there is so uncomfortably overheated that they need to remove their clothing- or if they are, they are not in good enough health to be at the gym. The bottom line is that people who are taking their shirts are doing it because they think that they look hot and want to flaunt their physiques. This can only be for one of two reasons: to attract amorous attentions or to wordlessly judge the less toned. Either the shirtless offender in question is hoping, like a peacock, to entice a potential mate, in which case a bar might be a more appropriate venue to do their strutting. Or they are trying to prove to everyone in the weight room that they are in better shape and are therefore superior, thus discouraging the attendence of the people who most need to be at the gym. Unless you are at the gym during what I refer to as "hot people hour", either motivation is inappropriate. The "hot people hour" phenonmenon was discovered by my roommates and I during college. In this case, all the sorority girls in itty bitty tanks and cheerleading spanks would converge upon the campus gym at the same time to lightly jog in front of fraternity muscle men, who would reciprocate interest by shirtlessly lifting mammoth weights while winking at the girls in question. If you go to this kind of establishment and your primary motive is finding a date for Friday night, then the fewer articles of clothing you can legally get away with, the better. Otherwise, put your shirt back on and focus on what everyone else is thinking about: working on your fitness (I'll even be your witness).
Non-Threatening Hovering (Share, Don't Scare): Part of not having your own personal gym is having to share equipment. This requires a certain level of patience and flexibility as you wait for machines to become available. Some people get around this by politely asking the current occupent to let them "work in," meaning that while the current occupent is resting in between reps, the new person does a rep and then switches back. Others find this approach too straight-forward and instead stand directly behind the current occupent, staring at the back of their head, presumably hoping that the current occupent will become so uncomfortable that they will hurry through their last rep and vacate the machine. While the latter method is highly effective, it is also extremely creepy. My suggestion would be to strap on a pair and ask to work in, or be a good little pet and wait your turn.
No One is Getting a Prize for Parking Closest to the Door (You're at the Gym- Walk the Extra 20 feet): The shopping center where the gym is located has only 2 major businesses: the Gold's Gym and the Great Wall Supermarket. Unfortunately, the peak usage times for both establishments are concurrent- after work and Saturday morning. This leads to a lot of angry yuppies in beamers battling annoyed Asians for a finite number of parking spots. The customers of Great Wall are, in my opinion, justified in desiring a parking spot near the door, as they need to haul a load of groceries back to their car. However, the intense determination gym members have in obtaining a front row spot is, I must confess, somewhat puzzling. You pay money to the gym every month for a place to get physical activity. You already have the clothes with you that you're going to sweat in and you have tennis shoes. Would it really be a tragedy to walk a couple extra rows to get into the gym instead of frazzling some old woman whose trying to unload her groceries into her Buick? I know DC is filled with competitive, Type-A overachievers, but maybe you could just sit this one out and get into the gym faster, without nearly hitting pedestrians and causing a fender bender. Just a suggestion.

Anyways, despite these lapses of logic or politeness, I'm enjoying my renewed commitment to physical fitness. And maybe I can send these guidelines into Miss Manners to see if she approves.


  1. Frankie, this cracked me up. I definitely know what you're talking about, down to every single point. The gym at our apartment is small, so we all have to share, and I had a woman try to carry on a conversation with me as she was waiting for the bike... uh no! I just kept going far beyond what I felt like I could do in hopes she'd go away. Also, the guys-without-shirts epidemic at the gym is so gross... all I think when I see a man sans clothing pumping the iron is "Ewwwww. Sweat."
    Thanks for sharing! Very funny :)

  2. thank you for educating people on the phenomenon known as "hot people hour"....this whole post was so funny...b/c it's so true...

  3. I found your blog because Sarah Brichetto posted it on FB. I have to say that this post is hillarious! My husband and I are gym rats, so I can completely appreciate all of this. Thanks for giving me some laughter this morning!