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11 Ways to Avoid Being a "Gym Jerk"

Recently, I found myself racing around a posh health club—typically a peaceful place for me—annoyed.  Really miffed. Possibly on the verge of going bat s**t crazy… Over a jump rope.  I couldn’t find one, and this was irksome. After all my holiday indulging, I was hoping my high intensity interval jump rope routine would be just the workout to incinerate a surplus of gingerbread cookies.

Jump ropes are pretty standard pieces of equipment for a gym—maybe the single, most standard; yet, they were nowhere to be found. It was the health club equivalent of standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts to be told they weren’t serving coffee that day. I don’t even drink coffee, but I imagine this would make me peeved if I did. I imagine it would make me want to climb over the counter and throw Munchkins at someone.

Then, I took a deep breath and my Rocky-without-a-rope moment spawned a brainstorm befitting the season. On the cusp of the health club industry’s, um, heaviest time of year (I’m talking about increased membership sales, of course), I wondered which gym pet peeves evoke the most ire from OG readers.

I took a scientific poll, by emailing some experts. Let’s call them my personal “brawn trust” of devoted coaches, athletes, gym rats, meatheads, and fitness fanatic friends. Their input, along with my own thoughts, comprise this list of top gym pet peeves, also known as 11 Ways to Avoid Being a Gym Jerk in 2011.

11.  Sweat etiquette.

Hygiene ranked highest, with most people mentioning their abhorrence for those who don’t wipe down machines after use.  Lauren Hefez, an Equinox fitness instructor of the Zumba, Barre Burn, and dance variety, aptly put it, “Sweating all over a machine then not wiping it down . . . Blah.”

10.  Ring, ring, pick up the clue phone.

Talking, texting, or generally being more mesmerized by your mobile than attentive to your workout tends to tick off fellow gymgoers. What’s worse is when these cell phone infractions happen in the locker room. Ditto computers. True story: I once witnessed a woman power up her laptop in the locker room, while the rest of us were changing, showering, etc. It’s not likely she was a voyeuristic creep catching us on video with her Photo Booth application, but let’s face it, stranger things have happened.  At the very least, being unable to “unplug” during a workout represents a disrespect for healthy boundaries, your own and those of the people around you.

9.  Ugly naked gal?

Weird locker rooms antics make people uncomfortable; both men and women made this clear.  Remember the sitcom Friends?  Remember Ugly Naked Guy, Monica and Rachael’s off-screen but oft-referenced neighbor who was always in the buff? An uber athlete gal pal of mine confided that a woman at her gym had a similar disdain for clothing and, thus, earned the nickname Ugly Naked Girl (the moniker being more an homage to Friends than a judgment of the woman’s appearance)  My friend made it clear she’s all for body confidence but assured me that this woman wasn’t simply an unabashed clothes changer.  Instead, she strolled and preened, brushed her teeth and blow dried her hair, and even applied mascara: naked. Those nearby—fully clothed and applying their mascara, one presumes—didn’t find this real-life sitcom moment very comical.

8.  Everybody’s an expert.

A Division-1 all-American, NCAA Champion, former professional lacrosse player, and current Crossfit junkie, my friend Joe Yevoli shared, “I personally can’t stand when I have my headphones in, I’ve just finish a set of whatever exercise I’m doing, and someone comes up to me and starts telling me about some other variation of the exercise I’m currently doing that I might like.” This seems more imposing than “Can I work in?,” which I also find off-putting. Sure, you can work in. In the midst of this monstrous gym, with all this equipment. Of course it makes sense that you would need to share this adductor machine with me, right now, and, while you’re here, why don’t you advise me on how to use said adductor machine. Because that’s not intrusive, at all.

7.  You’re so vain; I bet you think this post is about you.

From spending inordinate amounts of time primping before a workout, to wearing such elaborate workout apparel as to look like one is attending some kind of Nike prom, to grunting so loud that everyone in the vicinity must look at you at the exact moment you max out on the bench press . . . Vanity was among the more entertaining yet cringe worthy complaints shared.

6.  Spacial relations.

Observance of personal space is important, but it can also be a matter of safety at the gym. Om Bro Reece Pacheco describes this as one of his pet peeves: “People who aren’t conscious of others’ lifting space (if I’m doing power cleans, then no, you shouldn’t walk right behind me—that goes for you, girl-who-works-at-the-gym!).”

5.  Subpar staffers.

Any establishment is made or broken by its staff.  In general, health club staffers are helpful, cheerful, and energetic—perhaps due to the regular doses of endorphins they experience during exercise. These people create bonds with members, which, in turn, make people feel more connected to their gym. When people feel a connection to a place, they visit more often. In the case of a gym, this directly and positively impacts one’s health. Alternatively, unpleasant or aloof staffers and unhealthy role models (e.g. teachers and trainers) can subtly undermine our wellness goals.  I once attended a great, challenging, fun fitness class in which the teacher attempted to motivate us by telling us to get rid of “that disgusting fat behind our arms.” Maybe this “tough love” approach works for some, but I think people are generally hard enough on their own bodies without others joining in. Despite being a great workout, I never went back to the class.

4.  Can you hear me now?

Health clubs, like restaurants, spas, or yoga studios, have their own ambiance. The right ambiance, even when simple and inexpensive, sets a mood, inspires positive associations, and creates good energy, with elements such as music, lighting, and décor. Loud music, audible even through our own headphones, messes with our workout mojo.

3.  Broken/poorly kept equipment (and missing jump ropes).

For me this is one of the biggest bummers. Nothing derails a workout like hopping on an elliptical that sounds like a jalopy in need of AAA roadside assistance, or looking forward to skipping away the stir crazy of a recent blizzard, only to find that all the jump ropes have gone AWOL.

2.  Teeny Towels.

This one needs no explanation. We’ve all been there: You sweated. You showered. You’re standing in the shower stall, dripping wet, eyeing a towel the size of a cocktail napkin. Now what?

1.  No shows.

Spoken like a true coach and apropos for the time of year, when asked for his top gym pet peeve, Jack Fultz, winner of the 1976 Boston Marathon, respected running coach of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Running Team, and motivational speaker simply said, “The people who don’t come.”

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If you’ve experienced any of the these pet peeves or have your own to share, post a comment. If your resolution includes “getting in shape” this year, you’re in good company! It’s the most popular resolution made each year. Have fun hitting the gym, and, perhaps, consider bringing your own (standard-sized) towel.


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