8 do’s and don’ts to make the gym a more enjoyable place for everyone
By Claudiu Popa, PTS, OAS
If going to the gym feels a lot like the awkward club scene of your late teens, you’re not alone. According to a recent Ipsos study, 40% of Canadians feel intimidated by the gym. The most commonly cited reasons are the discomfort of being watched and uncertainty about how to exercise. But we don’t need detailed stats to tell us that many people simply don’t enjoy the gym, while for others it’s simply an extension of their social circle. Why the disparity and what can you do about it? More than you think.
Unsurprisingly, the root cause of the general unease about the gym has to do with other people. If you’re one of the uncomfortable ones, the obvious solution is to bring a friend. An estimated 44% of people find it much more enjoyable to exercise with a partner. On those days when you’re left to your own devices however, you are presented with ample opportunities to consider the accepted norms and behaviours, generally lumped together, under the fancy rubric of ‘gym etiquette’. Let’s do that now, shall we?
If you’ve ever observed people who appear to be clinically devoid of common sense, it may be entertaining to briefly ponder how they manage to function in modern society. Go ahead, take a moment. Once you’re done internally rolling your eyes, try to imagine ways you can help, because there’s usually something you can do to contribute.
Gym etiquette is about being aware of yourself and your surroundings, so start by knowing what not to do. In most cases, all it takes is sufficient consideration to not be a nuisance.
- …leave the equipment and surrounding floor drenched in sweat.
- …abandon weights where they can be a tripping or safety hazard.
- …assume that someone will clean up after you. Put everything back the way it should be.
- …get in the way. For some odd reason, people get irritated when you restrict their access.
- …abuse the equipment, slam weights or make disturbingly loud noises. That includes having aggressive cell phone arguments.
- …be a clown. Wear normal attire. Save your cool shades and pro wrestling gear for the ring.
- …make people uncomfortable in the change rooms, or anywhere. Just don’t be creepy.
Most importantly, don’t assume that people are jerks on purpose. They may simply have something else on their mind, unaware that they’ve created an unsafe or unpleasant experience. Don’t escalate it. Consider it an optimal opportunity to practice being an adult and approach them in a nonthreatening manner.
Simplicity works. Politely ask a question like “would you mind helping me with this weight” or being pleasantly assertive “if you’re done, go ahead and put those weights back. I would love to try your technique but those weights are a bit much for me”. You have nothing to lose by demonstrating both empathy and social graces, and if it looks like a volatile situation, simply report it to the staff.
- …initiate contact with people if you’re going to be around them. Make it brief and polite; or just smile to show them that you’re not annoyed by their presence. They’re a lot more likely to be considerate in friendly company.
- …notice if people clearly want to be left alone, and only approach them if you need to.
- …behave as a member of a small community. If it helps, pretend that you own a piece of the gym and act accordingly. Be approachable, not intimidating.
- …ask. Connect with people and show courtesy when you need to know something or require access to equipment. They will more than likely take your lead and reciprocate.
- …introduce yourself to the staff. It’s great for them to know who you are and ideal for you to have someone to rely on if you need to ask questions. The best way to build a rapport is to simply ask for a quick tour of the equipment that interests you. They are not only human but are often trained to avoid being preachy, so they might just be hoping that you’ll make the first move.
- …offer to provide constructive feedback on ways to make the gym safer or better. It’s always appreciated. You’re in the best possible position to see opportunities for improvement, so report them and if you can, why not offer to help implement them?
- …assume that people are there for the same reasons as you. They want to stay healthy and improve their fitness in a friendly environment. So, if they come across like creeps and snobs, they might just not be aware of it. Keep an open mind and if you have the opportunity, reach out and say ‘hello’.
Many new members assume that gyms are driven by obscure social norms and either end up behaving like they’re in traffic or at a high school dance. Whether it comes across as aggressive or timid, that instinctive behavior is likely to be incompatible with the relaxed atmosphere that should permeate a gym culture, where every member is important.
Think of your gym as a tiny, open community, so any positive contribution you can offer is likely to make a big difference.
Claudiu Popa, PTS, OAS, enjoys sharing knowledge accumulated over 30 years of strength training and fitness conditioning. Claudiu is the founder of Workout Smart and can be reached in confidence at Claudiu@WorkoutSmart.ca