Coping With Bad Behavior at the Gym
Problem: You finally make it to yoga class, but just as it begins, a latecomer places his mat inches from yours. Now you can’t salute the sun without smacking your neighbor’s back.
Solution: Confront, but in a nice way. “Always begin your approach with the thought that most people aren’t rude on purpose,” says Liz Neporent, an exercise physiologist and a coauthor of The Fat-Free Truth ($21, amazon.com). “They’re simply wrapped up in their own little worlds.” You could say something like “Excuse me, but I’m going to need a little extra room here,” suggests Dee Poquette, a personal trainer in Danbury, Connecticut. If politeness fails, move to another spot or take the matter to a higher authority. Chances are the gym or studio may be overselling classes.
Problem: You’re thoroughly engrossed in the latest issue of Real Simple, cycling toward your eight-mile goal, when a woman on the machine behind you answers her cell phone and proceeds to discuss her dinner plans at full volume.
Solution: Say something, but keep your tone pleasant and nonaccusatory. You can say, “Excuse me, but your conversation is distracting―would you mind talking off the gym floor?” If you don’t want to get directly involved, ask an employee to intervene. “The problem," says John McCarthy, a former executive director of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, “is that many clubs don’t ban cell phones.” If yours doesn’t, try moving to another part of the gym or wearing headphones.
Problem: As you work yourself into an elliptical frenzy, a strong whiff of your most hated perfume (or, worse, body odor) wafts your way, and you feel as if you’re going to suffocate or faint.
Solution: Move away, if possible. But if you’re stuck in close quarters, there’s little you can do beyond discreetly taking your complaint to a manager. “When the issue is personal grooming, we prefer members to come to us,” says Steven L. Schwartz, chief executive officer of Midtown Athletic Clubs, in Chicago. “It’s uncomfortable for someone to tell another person that he smells bad.” Sometimes the issue is ignorance or, in the case of body odor, inattention. Poquette recalls when one client’s odor lingered long after he had left the room, bothering other clients. “It turns out he would work out and put his clothes in the locker, then put the same clothes back on two days later,” she says. “As soon as someone pointed out the issue, the problem was straightened out. You’d think he could tell, but he was oblivious.”
Problem: As you’re zooming around the machines, which are clearly labeled 1 through 9 for circuit training, you see someone position herself on the shoulder press―your intended next stop.
Solution: “A certain amount of jumping in on a circuit is acceptable, provided the person doesn’t block someone who’s going through in order,” says Neporent. “If someone is about to block you, you can say, ‘I’m following the circuit, and I’m about to use that machine.’ ” If she blocks you anyway, keep going around and come back to the machine later to maintain the flow of your workout. Circuit etiquette is a bit different from general weight-room etiquette in that you’re expected to let another person use your machine―that is, “work in”―while you rest or do cardio between sets. Should a response to your “May I work in with you?” be less than friendly, simply back off or take the matter to the trainer on duty. You’re not tattling. “Things like that have a way of boiling over in gyms,” says Denis Barry, a co-owner of Edge, a gym in New York City.
Problem: You want to get through your laps at a rapid pace, but the person in your lane speeds up or drifts toward the center every time you try to pass.
Solution: A faster swimmer should tap a slower one on the foot―the signal that he’d like to pass. The general rule is that when there’s a crowd, you share a lane with others who swim at about the same speed, staying on the right side of the lane (also known as circling counterclockwise). If tapping on the swimmer’s foot doesn’t work, wait at the end of a lane and explain that you might need to pass. Slow swimmers usually end up in the wrong lane because they don’t know any better or they overestimate their speed. Or it may be that when they first got into the pool, they were in the correct lane, but that changed when more people arrived. "If the swimmer still doesn’t give way, ask a third party, such as the lifeguard, to intervene," says Phillip Whitten, author of The Complete Book of Swimming.
Problem: You appreciate that your fellow members work hard, but you don’t appreciate the perspiration they leave behind.
Solution: Ask the person to wipe up. Neporent suggests a simple “Excuse me, but would you mind wiping off the bench press before you move on to the chest press?” Poquette takes a more aggressive approach: “I have at times taken the spray bottle and a towel to the member and said, ‘Your mom is not here to clean up after you―please clean up for your fellow member.’ Most of the time they get the hint.” If, on the other hand, the problem is that someone is spraying you with sweat, get help or move to another spot. “Someone working out that hard, with his adrenaline running, does not want to be interrupted,” says Brenda Abdilla, president of Denver-based Management Momentum, a consultancy for the health-club industry. “All the manager has to do is make eye contact, smile, and hand him a towel. If you do it, that’s a confrontation.”
Problem: It’s morning rush hour at the club, and your fellow members are taking their sweet time on the equipment.
Solution: “Are you almost through?” is a reasonable question to ask of someone who seems to be overstaying. If the person refuses to yield or the problem is chronic (say, there are never enough machines), go to a manager. “Management can initiate a sign-up system and make sure someone is on the floor to enforce the rules. Or they can buy more equipment,” says Abdilla. If you don’t see improvement, “you can change the time you work out, or you can change clubs."
Problem: You worked out and feel great, then you enter the locker room and find other people’s clothes spread over the benches and cosmetics covering the counters by the mirrors.
Solution: Ask nicely if the offenders can move their belongings. But brace yourself: “Some women get very territorial about their space in the locker room,” says Abdilla. If you’re not in the mood for push-back, go elsewhere. If you enter a shower on the heels of someone who has left an empty shampoo bottle in the stall, stay mum. Because challenging people about their personal habits is tricky, you should alert the manager.
Problem: You’re entering the zone when someone you hardly know tries to strike up a conversation with you―or perhaps there’s a loud conversation nearby―and that knocks you off your exercise high.
Solution: “Make no eye contact” with overfriendly members, says Spencer Tilmon, a master trainer at Bally’s Total Fitness in St. Paul. Or explain that you’re in the middle of something and don’t want to be interrupted. When the problem is someone else’s loud chitchat on the gym floor or in class, bring the issue to a trainer. “You can try the whole dirty-looks thing, but usually people aren’t bright enough to realize you’re doing it,” says Bernie Bernbrock, an instructor for New York Sports Clubs in West Caldwell, New Jersey. “I can tell people to be quiet. I want people to feel they have friends, but there’s a line that needs to be drawn.”