Heading to the gym to blow off some steam? Good idea, as long as you don’t take out your stress on everyone around you.
It’s likely that anyone who’s spent time at a health club has seen some bad behavior, including the equipment hogs, the slobs who leave cardio machines dripping with sweat and the muscle men who grunt loudly as they lift oh-so-heavy weights that they have no intention of putting away.
But these are just a few of the ways that exercisers can be rude and obnoxious at the gym, fitness instructors say. Sometimes, things get downright nasty.
“I had to break up a cat fight,” says Peggy Gregor, group exercise director at Healthtrax Fitness and Wellness in Bethel Park, Pa.
It happened after a woman new to an ongoing fitness class took the spot on the floor that another attendee regularly claimed. A verbal argument ensued and quickly turned physical.
A yoga instructor in New York says a participant in her class let loose on the whole group — after she took a call on her cell phone.
‘I can do whatever I want’
She “rummaged for a good two minutes in her bag in the middle of class for her techno-blaring phone, then screamed into her cell phone at her boyfriend not to call her during yoga class, while we were all staring at her from our down dogs,” says Sadie Nardini, owner of the new Fierce Club yoga studio in Manhattan. When she got off the phone, the woman snarkily shouted back to the astonished group, “Sorry, I had to tell him not to call me during class!”
Nardini says that when she took her aside after class to talk about the diva behavior, the woman was offended, saying, “Well, I paid for this class. I can do whatever I want.”
The stress of the times could be one factor fueling this type of bad behavior, says Nancy Lerner, a psychologist in northern New Jersey. “What underlies anger is anxiety and fear,” she says. “There are a lot of angry people out there. The gym is another place for them to be pushy.” While exercise can be a great stress-reliever and mood-booster, some people’s behavior might be worse if sports or other forms of physical activity bring out aggressive tendencies, she says.
Lerner herself is currently involved in a dispute with another woman at her co-op gym who refuses to turn down the volume on the TV. The woman blasts “Frasier” reruns — refusing to let go of the remote control — while Lerner is trying to read on the treadmill.
“I asked her to lower the sound and she told me that I would have to get some noise-canceling earphones,” says Lerner. “I plan to attend the next board meeting and strongly suggest closed captioning on the TVs when others are working out.”
While stress may underlie some bad gym behavior, it’s a poor excuse nonetheless, says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert and the owner of the Protocol School of Texas in San Antonio, which specializes in corporate etiquette training. “Just because you’re more stressed doesn’t give you a free pass to be rude. We’re all stressed.”
Oftentimes, the way people behave at the gym is similar to their behavior outside of the gym, says Gottsman. So the person who’s rude at the gym is likely to be one of the people cutting in line at the coffee shop or screaming at a kid’s soccer coach.
As Nardini, the yoga instructor, puts it, many of the rude participants she sees seem to lack an “etiquette gene.” Others just want to be noticed. “They want the audience,” she says. “They don’t want to be a participant. They want to be the star.”
One bad apple …
Overall, most gym-goers don’t bother other exercisers too much. But even one bad apple can ruin everyone else’s workouts, says Gregor. The trouble-makers are enough of a problem that she recently wrote an advice article for fitness instructors on how to deal with them.
In the article, titled “Pruning the Prima Donna Participant” and published in a trade magazine called the IDEA Fitness Journal, Gregor lists some of the more common diva types in group fitness classes. Among them: “Chatty Cathies,” those who show up late and make a grand — and disruptive — entrance; “spotters,” the ones who insist on having the same place in class each week (so they can look at themselves in the mirror); and “soloists,” those who choose to do their own routine rather than following the program (usually, Gregor says, because they want the attention).
Elsewhere in the gym, Gregor and other fitness professionals note, problems also can include hygiene-challenged people who skip deodorant or wear smelly workout clothes; those who douse themselves in perfume or cologne and strut around trying to make a love connection; and those who don’t just grunt when they lift weights but scream.
If they aren’t causing an all-out ruckus, all of these behaviors can be, at the very least, highly annoying.
Lethal hands, hazardous heels
Nicholus Odem, 43, of Chandler, Ariz., couldn’t believe what he saw another gym member do in the locker room. “He left a stall in the men’s room and headed straight for the gym without washing his hands,” says Odem, noting that this man also tends to wear the same old gym clothes day after day.
“He completed his full workout going from machine to machine,” says Odem. “Since then I have an industrial size bottle of hand sanitizer in my car … I bathe my hands in sanitizer after I leave the gym.” Jay Averill, 32, of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is still troubled by something he witnessed at his gym a couple years ago.
“The inappropriate behavior was actually a part of a workout routine of a middle-aged, skinny fellow who used to frequent the gym I go to,” says Averill. “His routine focused on pelvic thrusts. He would do them standing up, lying on his back, on his side, and yes … he’d lie on his stomach and do pelvic thrusts. He’d do them with weights, on benches and on the sit-up mats, all the while not even showing any sign that what he was doing may look a little odd. To top it all off, he would always wear tights.”
The man’s actions were so extreme that Averill just couldn’t focus on his workout. “It’s really hard to do the military press while a grown man is making love to a bench beside you, although I wouldn’t describe it as love so much,” he says. “It’s really hard not to look, and it’s even harder not to laugh out loud.”
Also in the absurd-and-annoying category, Nardini had one participant who came to yoga class in 8-inch stilettos, a skimpy leotard, fishnet stockings, legwarmers and a white fur coat. “She’d come in dressed like an exotic dancer, which I later found out she was.”
Nardini warned her against doing yoga in heels, but the woman insisted on it, saying it was practice for her work. “She poked so many holes in the mat that we had to charge her for it,” says Nardini. “It looked like Swiss cheese when she was done.”
Among other disruptions Nardini has seen in her class, there’s the man who would “breathe like Darth Vader” rather than practicing typical yoga breaths and another guy who plopped himself down in the middle of the room and did headstands and other moves of his own choosing, regardless of what she was teaching.
Dealing with divas, dolts
So how should you deal with these divas and dolts at the gym? If someone is hogging the triceps press, you could politely ask if you could take turns. Or if they’ve left huge weight plates on the leg machine, you could ask the person to please remove them.
But Gregor and other instructors generally recommend speaking to a gym employee about bigger complaints. Taking matters into your own hands can breed animosity among members, sometimes even causing brawls.
They say good fitness professionals stay on top of bad behavior and nip it in the bud when it starts. They talk to the offender, which usually goes a long way. In some cases, they may need to give warnings and even revoke memberships if the behavior doesn’t improve.
One instructor has some unconventional ways of reprimanding naughty exercisers. In what he’s dubbed “flipping the bird,” he throws a stuffed bird at offenders, a sign that they have to go to the corner and do the day’s punishment — such as 30 push-ups or 20 mountain climbers.
“When someone talks too much, slacks off, drops a weight or anything I or the group may deem undesirable, I flip them the bird,” says Bobby Kelly, owner of the Results Only gym in Phoenix.
“The person must immediately perform the bird punishment or I flip them the bird again,” he says. “It makes people laugh and it gets my point across.”
When members are particularly obnoxious, Kelly has another form of punishment: the undesirable T-shirt, which reads “I am the problem child.”
“If they’re really bugging me, they have to wear it for the rest of class,” he says.
Kelly insists it’s all in good humor and “there’s absolutely nothing mean-spirited about it.”
Sometimes he even pokes fun at himself, wearing a T-shirt that reads “EOA”