Flexing Your Manners

Flexing Your Manners

Fitting in at a fitness center is easy if you exercise courtesy.

You know you shouldn’t talk in a movie theater. You wouldn’t ask a lady her age. And I hope that you shut your cell phone off in a restaurant … or that you aren’t sitting beside me if you leave it on.

Every situation demands etiquette, and working out in a fitness center is no different. If you don’t want to be That Guy Is Here or She’s The One, take heed of a few simple rules:

1. Just because no one’s sitting there doesn’t mean you can.

When you walk into the weight room, take a minute to look around. Take note of which weight benches are being used and which look empty. Look again: Are there dumbbells around that vacant bench? Is there a towel beside it? Either someone’s been lazy (see Rule 3), or someone’s using that bench.

If you see no evidence of occupancy, ask the person next to it: “Have you seen anyone using this bench?” He or she may be getting a drink, a different weight or some crunches in between sets with the intention of coming right back. Unless you are nearly alone in the room, just ask – everyone does, and no one will mind.

2. Get back, Jack.

So you’re doing a standing exercise, and you’ve found just the dumbbells you need: Slowly back away from the rack, and no one gets hurt. If you lift directly in front of the entire rack of dumbbells, you inevitably will have to stop and move so others can get in and choose the weights they need. Find a spot where you aren’t blocking any kind of egress and where you can do flies without putting out eyes.

3. Listen to Mom: If you get it out, put it away.

Always return weights and other equipment to their rack, peg or tub. Leaving things lying on the floor is dangerous – people can easily trip in tight quarters – and rude – who wants to spend 10 of the 35 minutes you have for a workout looking for the right attachment for rows?

And handle things with care. One person new to the gym where I work out would lift very heavy weights during his workout, but couldn’t seem to muster the gusto to carry them a little further back to the rack. Instead, he kicked them across the floor, inch by inch, much to the annoyance of everyone in the room. Weight plates can crack. Please don’t slam the weights into the rack, and remember to release them gently when you are finished with a set.

4. Make a clean sweep.

You certainly don’t want to lie in a puddle of someone else’s sweat or step onto a machine that’s dripping. And no one wants to get that close and personal with you, either. Most facilities place towels and bottles of disinfectant in convenient spots all over the gym. Spray a towel and wipe things down – even if you haven’t worked up a sweat. Cleaner in a gym is always better.

5. Sign on the dotted line.

Most fitness centers require you to sign up for cardio machines. Observe the rules. If you hop onto a machine that someone else has signed up for, you likely will be kindly asked to please find another. Often people have a limited window in which to squeeze their workout and so carefully plan when they can begin. Conversely, check the signup sheet before you interrupt someone in the midst of his or her treadmill-induced zone to ask when he or she will be finished.

6. Know your limits.

If your fitness center limits use of a cardio machine to 30 minutes, don’t try to sneak in 45 because you think no one is looking. Everybody has to take turns.

If you are waiting on a machine and the signup sheet indicates it is clearly your turn, you might approach the person on it and ask, “How much time do you have?” Sometimes the clock or the person ahead of them was a little off. If they respond with more than a few minutes, point out that you are signed up for this time, thanks, and could they please let you jump on in a minute so you can get your workout in before you have to make dinner/pick up your kids/find a cure for cancer?

That being said, don’t be a bully, either. Machines do get backed up when the gym is busy. If someone says, “Hi, are you waiting for this machine? I’ll be done in less than two minutes,” consider these responses: “OK, I’ll just run a lap on the track and come right back.” “OK, thanks, I’ll get a drink/magazine and be right back.” Or just, “OK, thanks.” All are much more polite than, “No, you’re done now,” which I heard one day from a person who apparently needed to work out some tension.

7. You have to share – even if you were there first.

Unless you’re knocking out some super-sets, you likely will pause and catch your breath before your next round on a weight machine. Another person may really want to use that machine, too, and may ask you if he can “work in.” Let him do a set, then he will let you do a set, then let him do a set … see the pattern? If you’re truly etiquette savvy, you will wipe off the machine after each of your sets and adjust the weight from your setting to his. If he has any manners, he will return the favor.

Do not consider your pause between sets a time to meditate or catch up with your long-lost neighbor. You really only need 60 seconds to recover. Remember: Somewhere, out there, someone is looking longingly at that machine, waiting for that one moment in time when you at last move on in your fitness journey.

8. Everything you need to know, you likely learned in kindergarten.

It should go without saying, but please do not spit in the drinking fountain. Please do not hog extra towels, especially if the supply is low. Please do not cut in front of people waiting for a drink. Please do not sneeze into your hand, then grab the cables.

Many gyms offer a free introductory session to new members. A fitness specialist will show you how to use the equipment and brief you on the rules of the road. Take them up on this. You will feel so much more confident knowing you are not sitting backwards on a weight machine or holding up the whole track by walking in the running lane.

If you mess up, smile broadly, apologize profusely and remember for next time. Slather your offense with humble humor, and you may come away from the gaffe with a helpful friend.

Most of all, remember this succinct advice from YMCA wellness specialist Mike Smith, who really sums it up: “If you’re respectful of one another, it will all be all right.”