Fight Club

June 2, 2007

I get into a fight in the gym about once every 7 years.

Every time, it’s with some steroid-addled gorilla. You know the type: a giant grouch, wearing a heavy sweatshirt and baggy running pants, acting as if the rest of us are invading his private gym.

Side note: If you’re built like a Greek statue, why are you all covered up under thick fabric?

Now I’m not saying this guy wasn’t huge. I’m just questioning the muscle to flab ratio. You get no points for flab.

So I’m resting between sets of incline dumbbell presses, and I hear someone behind me start barking out threats.

“I’m letting you know I’m coming through right now and if you don’t move that bench you’re going to get hurt.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve got that bench way too close to the dumbbell rack and I’m not going to wait for you. It’s called etiquette!”

Now technically, this butthead was right. The gym is cluttered with equipment, and I found a sliver of free space directly in front of the 70s, 75s and 80s. But what’s the expression – you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?

Besides, telling me I’m in breach of gym etiquette is like telling Martha Stewart she’s put the salad fork in the wrong place. Of course, this confrontation wasn’t about etiquette at all, but about my simply being in his way.

In my pump-induced fantasy, I considered taking this jerk on. Every guy in the middle of his workout imagines he’s Hulk Hogan, right? I also thought it would be interesting to see two guys with lactic acid-filled shoulders struggle to lift their arms, let alone fight.

But in the end, I decided it would be best to just move. You know, literally to come back and fight another day.

Later on, I looked across the crowded gym to see what this model of health club etiquette was up to. He was working out on one of the machines, with his gym bag and water bottles spread all over a nearby bench.

Mirror On The Wall

April 28, 2007

Gyms tend to make too big a deal of mirror etiquette. The list of posted rules will always include something about dropping weights, some gym-specific oddball rule like “No beverages except water allowed on the gym floor,” and then something about not interfering with members’ line-of-sight to the wall mirror.

I’m a big fan of watching myself in the mirror. Yes, the guy staring back at me is strikingly handsome. But as important, the feedback helps me perfect my form, and even helps with balance.

As a responsible gym user, I do my best to avoid stepping in front of others while they’re in the middle of a set. If nothing else, I’m sensitive to the way this distraction can break one’s concentration. Nevertheless, there are limits to mirror etiquette in a public gym, and I accept that fact on both sides of the equation.

Of course, some people are just plain jerks. A couple of days ago, I backed away from my squat rack and began a heavy set of the most painful move in the business. This guy – chatting into his Bluetooth – walked across the back of my squat rack, grabbed a weight plate from the far side of the rack, and then proceeded to stroll back across the space between the my rack and the wall.


Child Care

April 22, 2007

Whenever I see a dad drag his 11 or 12 year old son to the gym, I’m reminded of the dog owner who forces his golden retriever to join him in a three mile jog.

I really do feel bad for each kid. Every time, he looks bewildered and intimidated, as if he’s joining his dad for a night at the theatre. I guess the dad thinks he’s showing off when his son spots him on some heavy lift. But you’d think plain common sense would stop the dad from pushing his child through a workout meant for grown men.

The science of weightlifting for children and teens is pretty clear: Heavy lifting can cause changes in the way bones develop and stunt growth. It also doesn’t take a brain surgeon – or a physiatrist – to realize that kids aren’t physically ready for serious bodybuilding.

Of course, there’s also the basic issue of more bodies cluttering the gym, particularly those that have no experience with gym etiquette. Kids tend to camp out on equipment they’re not using, getting in the way and making themselves a nuisance. I really can’t blame the boy for taking a mid-workout snooze on the incline bench – he’s signaling dad that he’s had enough, and he is truly wiped out. But still, we’ve got enough of a challenge getting the adults to behave, why add kids to the mix?

Then there’s the parent who has her seven year old tag along. This is generally rare, but does happen on holidays when the gym daycare is closed. Needless to say, a small child rolling around on the gym floor is a major disaster waiting to happen.

Noise Pollution

April 14, 2007

I worked out in a gym last week that had on display the biggest indoor sign I’d ever seen. It was more like a billboard, in 2000 point font, hanging above the dumbbell rack: DO NOT DROP WEIGHTS.

The dropping of weights, dumbbells in particular, seems to be one of the top etiquette issues at every gym. I too am offended when people let their dumbbells crash to the ground – but only because of the damage done to the dumbbells themselves.

Heavy dumbbells that smash into the floor at an angle will bend into a c-shape, upsetting the way they balance in your hands. The weights on battered dumbbells can also come loose from the handle, and sometimes even break off. (Good luck getting your gym to fix or replace that dumbbell anytime soon.)

I think that what gyms are rallying against, however, is the bone-rattling noise of falling iron. And here’s where I say: what do you expect? I’m grateful for the gyms that furnish 100+ lb dumbbells, a rare commodity in this age of express, female-targeted health clubs. But, I can also tell you that when I reach failure at the end of a set of dumbbell bench presses, I have little control over how the weights find their way to the floor. I try to ensure that the dumbbells hit flat, to avoid breaking the equipment. Beyond that, I just want to make sure that they don’t tear my arms off on the way down.

I used to work out at a gym located on the second floor of a small strip mall. I was scolded several times by management for all my clanging and banging doing deadlifts with a 345 lb barbell. It wasn’t the gym that cared about the noise, however, but the poor tenants on the first floor who endured the sounds of an avalanche all day long.

So here’s a note to landlords: don’t lease space to a gym above the ground floor. And gyms: don’t lease space above the ground floor if you want your members to enjoy their regular workout.

Team Effort

April 2, 2007

I’ve often wondered whether asking a stranger for a spot is a violation of gym etiquette. I know that when I’m asked for a spot, I’m irritated by the disruption in the pace of my workout and the break in concentration. I also resent channeling my precious energy into someone else’s workout, and, considering the absurd amount of weight usually involved, putting my low back at risk.

I’m no hypocrite: I also gave up asking for spots years ago, though mostly because people don’t understand the concept of spotting for safety. Typically, you’re just encouraging the shared lift you often see at the gym. You’ve got the spotter who assists his partner on the leg press by repeatedly throwing himself into the machine’s carriage. Or, how about the guys performing barbell bicep curls when it’s not clear who’s doing the lifting and who’s doing the spotting. The bottom line is that a spotter has no business touching anything unless the lifter is just plain stuck. Besides, if you’re using an appropriate amount of weight, a spotter really shouldn’t be necessary.

I do know that when someone else imposes a spot on you, he’s definitely crossed the line of gym etiquette.

True story: I’m minding my own business, lying back on a flat bench with two heavy dumbbells. As I start my set, some guy runs up behind me, cups his hands under my elbows, and proceeds to push up on my arms through 8 or 9 reps.

A couple questions present themselves:

1) Am I supposed to thank this idiot for his counterproductive spot?

2) Why do certain people believe that proper lifting requires some kind of group hug?