When most people join a gym for the first time, someone on staff might show them a few pieces of equipment and (if they're lucky) how to use some cardio machines. But most gym fledglings are not instructed in rules of gym behavior—most gyms don't even have behavior guidelines posted. And we've all witnessed the result of this lack of proper training: gyms full of blithely inconsiderate people.
Jocks have the power to improve this sad state of affairs—because newbies look to the people who are obviously fit for cues on how to behave. Teach by example, and you could soon be encountering fewer jerks at the gym.
- Share equipment. This dictum is in every gym-etiquette article ever written. But don't forget that you also need to be courteous about requests to work in—no grim faces or muttering. And there will be times when you have to work out a compromise with a fellow gym goer—if he needs just a few more minutes, say, or if you want to avoid having to reset weights for just a quick work in. Until you can afford a home gym, you have to accept the fact that the equipment you're using belongs to all the health club's members (and that includes the water fountain—don't stand there filling up a 20-ounce bottle while a line forms behind you!).
- Obey time limits. You surely already know this rule, too. But do you obey it even when you think no one is waiting? In a crowded gym, you can't be sure that the person waiting for your equipment isn't biding his time on an ab bench.
- Be helpful. If you notice someone struggling with some equipment or doing something obviously incorrectly (or even dangerous), one temptation is to, well, roll your eyes and feel smugly superior. But keep in mind that many people are too shy to ask for proper instructions when they join a gym. Politely and gently offering advice (for instance, asking “Would you like a bit of help with that machine?") is a kind thing to do. Conversely, when you are offered advice, accept it gracefully. Even experts have things to learn.
- If you don't know how to do something, ask. Find a health-club staff member to help you. (And if finding someone to help you is consistently difficult, find a new health club.)
- Keep your bodily fluids and various genetic materials to yourself. Wipe equipment down. And why in heaven's name would you think that spitting indoors was acceptable behavior? Good behavior starts with you—when you spit on the floor of the gym, someone else is just going to think it's OK to leave toenail clippings on the floor of the locker room (for the record, it most definitely is not).
- Pick up after yourself. This means not only returning weights, mats, and other portable equipment to their rightful places, but also being tidy in the locker room. Would you leave your empty Aveda bottles scattered all over the shower floor at home? I didn't think so.
- Return equipment to its base level when you're finished with it. Only you can prevent hernias.
- Remember that you're at a gym. Good behavior is very dependent on context—and behavior that's perfectly fine when, for instance, you're at a nightclub (such as lengthy high-decibel conversations with your friends) or a sex club (I think you know what I mean) doesn't belong at the gym. Yeah, I know—other guys are doing it. But other guys do a lot of inconsiderate things, so that argument doesn't carry much weight. There's nothing wrong with a bit of flirtation, but save the intimate body contact for an appropriate venue. Concentrate on your workout, so other people can concentrate on theirs, in comfort.
- Be a snitch. If you see someone behaving in a way that's extremely inappropriate, alert a staff member. Bullies and sociopaths rely on most people's tendency to look the other way when confronted by bad behavior. Don't let one jerk ruin the gym for everyone. He may be bigger and meaner than you, but you've got right (and several grateful fitness instructors) on your side.
- Have humility. You know your way around a gym, and you've got the body to prove it. So people who are just starting to get into shape will be looking up to you. When you treat a 90-pound weakling disrespectfully, that guy will surmise that disrespect is the social language of the gym, and as he bulks up he will adjust his attitude to match yours. Let's not insult the noble history of the gymnasium this way.
Lifestyle expert Charles Purdy is the author of the book “Urban Etiquette." He lives in Vancouver, Canada, and can be found online at www.dearsocialgrace.com.