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Don’t Be “That Guy/Girl” In The Gym

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

What’s your biggest gym pet peeve?

Did your face just flush a bit red and your pulse rise a few beats?

Mine too. Just about everyone I’ve asked this question has some strong feelings about gym-related pet peeves. We are passionate about the time and energy we spend in the gym and even more passionate about those who impede it both physically and mentally.

Don’t they know better?

Probably not. Therefore this article.

For those of you who know what you are doing and don’t stomp toes at the gym with these antics, enjoy the entertainment and share with the people who need to read.

For those of you who didn’t know you were violating some of the principle laws governing the known fitness universe, take heed and change your blasphemous ways.

I should preface all of this by saying that though I share some of these views, what you’re about to read is the collective pet-peeving of a large sample of gym-goers I spoke with personally, at random, on the fitness floor. Get excited.

  • Curls in the Squat Rack

Or really any other exercise that you could otherwise do somewhere other than the squat rack, but it makes you feel more manly or womanly to claim the squat rack as your space. Pull-ups, weighted hip bridges, bent-over rows, weighted lunges…the list goes on.

Squat racks are very important pieces of equipment that allow for exercises that require large amounts of weight to be loaded and performed in relative safety. Squats, Olympic lifts, deadlifts, etc… are acceptable exercises for which to claim a squat rack. If a pre-weighted barbell or dumbbells with a 6-feet square of space would suffice, please get out of the rack.

Don’t be the guy who uses the rack for anything less than awesomeness. We’re not looking at you because your workout is impressive. We are staring and silently wishing you’d blink out of existence and stop wasting such important gym real-estate on your self-important breach of gym etiquette.

  • The Towel Claim

You drape your towel over the bench and walk away. Maybe to fill up your water bottle, use the bathroom, or snap selfies for your Instagram. When you come back, I’ve started my set and you stand there awkwardly until I finish to inform me that this was your spot.

Guess what? The universal sign for “I’m still using this bench” is a dumbbell or two on top or beside it, your water bottle on the support footing, and your sweating, panting self within 3ft. of the area. This isn’t kindergarten.

Anything less is not a claim on the equipment. “I was here first” doesn’t constitute an unspoken social contract to make up for your lack of good planning or manners.

And the proper way to approach me at this point is, “hey man, can I work in with you?”

Don’t be the guy who drapes the towel. Using the equipment in real time is a claim on the territory. And I would promptly and happily tell you sure! My rest periods are 1-minute. Use them however you’d like.

  • Social Media Scrolling

What do you do during your rest periods? Walk around? Superset another exercise? Watch the timer closely so that your muscles don’t get 1-second more rest than they should?

All are acceptable and productive ways to spend the 30-90 seconds of the average stabilization, endurance and hypertrophy rest periods between sets.

So what are you doing on your phone? Why are you hogging the leg press, lat pull down, hamstring curl, t-bar row, (or any piece of equipment for that matter) while you scroll through Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook?

Rest periods are the most overlooked and possibly most important adaptive acute variables that you can manipulate for results.

Don’t be the guy who clogs up the equipment because you’re allowing social media to ruin the effectiveness of your, and everybody else’s, workout.

  • Water Fountain Waiting

At the front of most gyms, there are double water fountains. You know, the kind that one is higher and the other beside it is lower.

Often, if you need a drink of water or are filling up your water bottle, you’ve occupied the high one.

Then someone comes up behind you to use the water fountain as well, but instead of scooting in beside you to use the open one, they wait behind you. While you fill up the water bottle, they’ll wait a whole minute to use the tall fountain rather than the short one.

What gives? Is it somehow demeaning to use the short one? Does the water taste better out of the fountain I’m using? Would it kill you to slide in, say hi, and get your sip of water before returning to your workout with one more human interaction than you otherwise would’ve had today?

Don’t be the guy who’s too good to say hi and use the short fountain.

  • Stair Master Tricep Workout

Oh, the Stairmaster. Machine of endlessly scrolling stairs that simulates Everest but without the impossibly thin air and unforgiving snow. It’s a great tool for cardio and even better tool for training stubborn grit.

That is, if you’re using it right.

You see, Stairmasters have rails on the sides for you to steady your balance and ensure that you don’t fall off. Good system.

However, there are a vast majority of “stair-masterers” who are not using the bars to steady themselves, but to hold themselves up completely while their feet and legs go through the motions of trudging up the stairs. You’re missing out.

If you find yourself with sore wrists, shoulders, or triceps, you’re relying way too much on the rails and are missing out on the majority of your cardio and resistance benefits from using the stairs. Not to mention the poor posture you’re creating.

Don’t be the guy who turns the Stairmaster into an upper body workout. I challenge you to let go of the rails and use your own body to balance up the stairs. Too hard? Slow down the stairs. I promise, you’ll get better with practice.

  • Heavy Weights With Bad Form

Strength training is awesome for teaching the body to move effectively both with and without load. Strength training can grow muscle, reduce pain, solidify movement patterns, heal injuries, boost good hormones, and change the way you approach obstacles in life.

But none of those benefits can be realized in full without the proper execution of the lift.

And unfortunately, the worst offenders of heavy lifts with bad form aren’t even doing it for the above benefits. They’ve overloaded themselves, sacrificing form, for nothing more than ego.

So those of us watching this happen are both frustrated FOR you and AT you. It physically hurts us to watch.

Form is king. The only reason you should compromise form is if you have an experienced spotter and muscle failure was the purpose of the set to begin with.

Don’t be the guy who let’s his ego drive his workout. Drop the weight if you have to, and focus on the quality of the movement. Ironically, you’ll develop better musculature because of this choice and can revel in your ego poolside…without injuries.

  • Lifting Selfies and Videos

Ok, I’m all for pictures and videos that make you feel good about yourself. And 20 years from now, you can be reminded of what you looked like when you were younger. Yes, our muscles look better in the gym lighting AND immediately after a good resistance workout.

Motivation, no matter how silly, can drive you to greatness.

However, when you joined the club, you likely signed a contract that you would not photograph individuals without their consent. Every time you snap a picture in the mirror and get everyone behind you, you’re in violation of that agreement.

What’s worse, those selfies and vids generally end up on some social media site and it’s only a matter of time before that gets you into some sort of trouble with the person who didn’t want to be on your website.

Don’t be the guy who has pictures and videos of people he doesn’t know in the background of his flex. If you must, find a private mirror to practice your vanity poses.

  • Gymtimidation

So you’re a boss with the jump rope. You can do single leg squats on a BOSU ball with your eyes closed. Single-arm pull ups supersetted with backflip burpees just before leg pressing the equivalent of a volkswagon.

Awesome. I’m proud of you. Keep up the great work!

Just don’t make a big, loud, grunting deal about it in the middle of the fitness floor.

While some of us are impressed and motivated by your beastliness, posting up beside the most novice gym goers either by accident or on purpose is more-than-likely demotivating for them.

Humility is inspiring. Arrogance is frustrating. Be cognizant of your surroundings and if you happen to notice an audience in awe, take your head phones out, make eye contact, smile, and encourage them to keep working on their own goals. They are doing great just being here.

Don’t be the guy whose awesomeness discourages people. Use your powers for good and lift others up with your athleticism.

Don’t be that guy

The gym is a place where we can go to better ourselves. Don’t be the one who ruins the positive mojo with poor, kindergarten etiquette.

DON’T claim equipment with a towel and walk away; DON’T use machines for overly-complicated social media chairs; DON’T take gym selfies with strangers in the background; DON’T lift heavy weights with poor form; DON’T do triceps on the stairmaster; DON’T be awkward at the water fountain; DON’T gymtimidate people; and PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, DON’T do curls in the squat rack!

Sometimes people just need a good high-five.

In the face.

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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