Congratulations! You've make it into the second week of the new year! Have you jumped back onto the workout wagon or joined a gym for the first time? Good, because it's time for my second annual installment of "Rules of Gym Etiquette" to educate new comers and re-educate the self entitled gym and fitness studio goers. See my 2013 Rules here.
This is the time of year when gyms and studios are at their highest capacity thanks to incentive programs, discount offers and the newly motivated. So if you've been a regular all year or longer and now you're feeling a bit crowded, just hang in there! Things will return to their natural order once the discouraged New Year Resolutioners throw in the towel. Sometime between Valentine's Day and the Ides of March, the herd will thin out.
You may be a gym neophyte or a veteran Vinyasanista, but no matter how long you've been at it, there's no excuse to be rude at the gym. After all, everyone is there for the same handful of reasons, including to de-stress and improve their mood. So here's this year's list of rules:
1. Clean up your toys. Your mom taught you this when you were 4. It was probably because she knew you'd be going to a gym someday. And it's just like your mom said, "these toys won't put themselves away!" If you take a group class, put your gear back where it came from -- mats, dumbbells, balls, bands, etc. If you pull some dumbbells or a bar off a rack, put them back when you're done.
2. Don't be a gym bully. The new term is "gymtimidation." While you may not be giving people swirlies in the locker room john now that you're a grown up, it's still not cool to give someone the hairy eyeball or stand uncomfortably close to someone if they're using your favorite machine or occupying your favorite spot in a classroom. The gym or fitness studio is supposed make everyone feel better about themselves, not just you.
3. Respect personal space when it's available. You may love your new perfume or not notice that the pit stains on your shirt actually have eau d' you that others may not feel is as intoxicating as you do. If you see a person alone on a machine, don't just jump on the bike or treadmill next to them if there are three or four to either side. You may want to strike up a conversation, but they may want their solitude. Respect that.
4. This may come as a shock, but gyms tend to attract quite a few narcissists. Narcissists have feelings too, so I'm not trying to put anyone down. However, you must realize if you are one, that not everyone is going to the gym to look like a fitness model. So please don't pull up your shirt and flex around on the gym floor while admiring yourself. Even Gold's Gym in Venice has a private posing room. Sure, you worked hard for the six-pack that's finally starting to peek out, and you'd like everyone else to admire it, but wait until you get home to take selfies of your bod and post them on Instagram. And one more thing to remember, there's always someone who looks better than you. You can only hope that guy doesn't show up next to you and do the same thing.
5. Prevent wardrobe malfunctions and get some proper attire. I realize on top of your membership dues, getting new gym clothes is an expense, but fabrics and styles have changed a lot since the '80s. If you're still dressing in anything similar to what Richard Simmons has in his closet and you notice people checking you out and smiling... it is not, I repeat, NOT because you look hot. Jeans, even cut offs, Birkenstocks or flip flops (unless you're wearing them to the studio for a barefoot workout or a cycling class) are no-gos. And ladies, if you have enough self love to wear booty or boy shorts, more power to you. But please, before you dare to wear them in a gym where you may be jumping, lunging and running, please check yourself from behind to make sure things are staying put (and I don't just mean the shorts).
6. If you're not 100 percent sure how to use a piece of equipment, ask a trainer on staff. If you mosey onto one the cable machines or universals for an exercise or two and notice no one before or after you is doing anything that looks at all like what you're doing, you may be doing your exercise wrong. Or, you may be a prodigy who's invented something new (but only EMG test and a kinesiologist or exercise physiologist will know if it passes muster).
7. Don't pretend to be a personal trainer if you're not fully qualified. Reading a lot of articles in Men's Health or Fitness magazine does not make you an expert on other people's bodies. Sometimes it's like the blind leading the blind out there in the gym. Kettlebells, for example, utilize very specific techniques that are not like other pieces of equipment. It just takes one wrong move to ruin someone's month. That's not to say if you bring your friend to your cycling class for their first ride that you can't help them set up. But make sure you ask the instructor to double check that things are set up right. You may have forgotten to tell your friend to turn the resistance up when they stand, or how to work the emergency brake or put the pedal adapters on backwards -- all making for a bad first experience for your friend and possibly their last.
8. If you're going to take a class in something you've never done before, good for you! That is awesome! Just remember to tell the instructor that you're new. It is nothing to be shy or hesitant about. A good instructor will keep an eye on you to make sure you're learning proper technique and will offer you modifications so you don't go too far too soon. Of course, almost every experienced instructor will ask "who's new?" in the beginning of a class, so be sure to fess up. If you don't tell the instructor, chances are they'll figure it out sometime during the class anyway and by then, it may be too late.
9. Multiple choice question:
You should NOT take a spot in the front of a class if you're:
A) not going to follow along because you have a routine that's much better than the instructors
B) going to leave early to pick your child up at day care
C) coming in late because parking was a nightmare now that there's so many new people this at the gym!
D) all of the above
The correct answer is "D" for duh.
10. Prevent germ warfare. I'm a firm believer that you should do light workouts after you're over the brunt of a cold. If you don't overdo it, a light workout can boost your immune system and possibly help you recover. The asterisk is, if you're still in the thick of it, stay out of the gym so you don't infect others. Exercise outdoors or in your home. When you're first coming down with something, you may not know it yet. That's why we should all be thoroughly washing our hands before and after we workout and using the sanitizers the gyms offer (just look around on the walls -- talk to the manager if you don't see any).
Making the gym or fitness studio part of your life can be incredibly gratifying. You can make a whole new set of friends who probably live a healthier lifestyle than many others in your social network. This can help you stay on track for good. That's how it happened for me over 20 years ago and it turned into more than just a way of life, but a career. So do your small part to keep the gym experience an enjoyable one, not just a healthy one.
Do you have some gym faux pas or pet peeves to share? Be sure to comment below. For my previous list of "14 Rules of Gym Etiquette" from last year, click here.