Don't Be A Gym Jerk: 11 Health Club Pet Peeves

Photo by Josh Campbell

Recently, I found myself racing around a local health club, typically a peaceful place for me, annoyed. Really miffed. Possibly on the verge of going ballistic — about a jump rope. I couldn’t find one, and this was irksome.

Jump ropes are pretty standard pieces of equipment for a gym — maybe the most standard; yet, none were to be found. It was the health club equivalent of standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts to be told they weren’t serving coffee that day. I don’t even drink coffee, but I imagine this would make me peeved if I did. I imagine it would make me want to climb over the counter and throw Munchkins at someone.

I took a deep breath and my Rocky-sans-a-rope moment spawned a brainstorm. In the midst of the health club industry’s second busiest time of year (swimsuit season is upon us, friends), I wondered which gym pet peeves evoke the most ire.

I polled my experts, a personal “Brawn Trust” of devoted athletes, coaches, gym rats, meat-heads and fitness fanatic friends. Their input, along with my own thoughts, comprise this list of top gym pet peeves, also known as 11 Ways to Avoid Being a Gym Jerk. Please feel free to add your own.

11. Sweat etiquette.
Hygiene ranks highest, with most people mentioning their abhorrence for those who don’t wipe down machines after use. Lauren Hefez, an Equinox fitness instructor of the Zumba, Barre Burn and dance variety, aptly put it, “Sweating all over a machine then not wiping it down … Blah.”

10. Ring, ring, pick up the clue phone.
Talking, texting or generally being more mesmerized by your mobile phone than attentive to your workout tends to tick off fellow gym goers. What’s worse is when these cell phone infractions happen in the locker room. Ditto computers. True story: I once witnessed a woman power up her laptop in the locker room while the rest of us were changing, showering, etc. It’s unlikely she was a voyeuristic creep catching us on video with Photo Booth, but let’s face it: stranger things have happened. Being unable to unplug during a workout represents a disrespect for healthy boundaries — your own and those of the people around you.

9. Ugly naked gal?
Weird locker-room antics make people uncomfortable, and men and women alike make this clear. Remember the sitcom Friends? Remember Ugly Naked Guy, Monica and Rachael’s off-screen but oft-referenced neighbor who was always in the buff? Jenn Welch, an über athlete and high school pal of mine who coaches high school women’s hockey, confided that a woman at her gym had a similar disdain for clothing and, thus, earned the nickname Ugly Naked Girl (the moniker being more an homage to Friends than a judgment of the woman’s appearance). Welch made it clear she’s all for body confidence but assured me that this woman wasn’t simply an unabashed clothes-changer. Instead, she strolled and preened, brushed her teeth and blow dried her hair, and, even, applied mascara. Naked. Those nearby — fully clothed while applying their mascara, one presumes — didn’t find this real-life sitcom moment very comical.

8. Everybody’s an expert.
A Division-1 All-American, NCAA champion, former professional lacrosse player and current Crossfit junkie, my friend Joe Yevoli shared, “I personally can’t stand when I have my head phones in, I’ve just finish a set of whatever exercise I’m doing and someone comes up to me and starts telling me about some other variation of the exercise I’m currently doing that I might like.” This seems more imposing than Can I work in?, which I also find off-putting. Sure, you can work in. In the midst of this monstrous gym with all this equipment. Of course it makes sense that you need to share this adductor machine with me, right now. While you’re here, why don’t you advise me on how to use said adductor machine? Because that’s not intrusive, at all.

7. You’re so vain; I bet you think this post is about you.
From spending inordinate amounts of time primping before a workout to wearing such elaborate workout apparel as to look like one is attending some kind of Nike prom, to grunting so loud that everyone in the vicinity must look at you at the exact moment you max out on the bench press … Vanity was among the more entertaining, yet cringe-worthy, complaints shared.

6. Spacial relations.
Observance of personal space is important, but it can also be a matter of safety at the gym. Another former professional lacrosse player and triathlete (who also happens to be my brother), Reece Pacheco, describes this as one of his pet peeve: “People who aren’t conscious of others’ lifting space. If I’m doing power cleans, then, no, you shouldn’t walk right behind me—that goes for you, girl-who-works-at-the-gym!.”

5. Sub-par staffers.
Any establishment is made or broken by its staff. In general, health club staffers are helpful, cheerful and energetic—perhaps due to the regular doses of endorphins they experience during exercise. These people create bonds with members, which in turn make people feel more connected to their gym. When people feel a connection to a place, they visit more often. In the case of a gym, this directly and positively impacts one’s health. Alternatively, unpleasant or aloof staffers and unhealthy role models (e.g. teachers and trainers) can subtly undermine our wellness goals. I once attended a great, challenging, fun fitness class in which the teacher attempted to motivate us by telling us to get rid of “that disgusting fat behind our arms.” Maybe this “tough love” approach works for some, but I think people are generally hard enough on their own bodies without others joining in. Despite being a great workout, I never went back to the class.

4. Can you hear me now?
Health clubs, like restaurants, spas or yoga studios, have their own ambiance. Even when simple and inexpensive, the right ambiance sets a mood, inspires positive associations and creates good energy with elements such as music, lighting and décor. Loud music, audible even through headphones, messes with one’s workout mojo.

3. Broken/poorly kept equipment (and missing jump ropes).
For me, this is one of the biggest bummers. Nothing derails a workout like hopping on an elliptical that sounds like a jalopy in need of AAA roadside assistance or discovering that all the jump ropes have gone AWOL.

2. Teeny Towels.
This one needs no explanation. We’ve all been there … You sweated. You showered. You’re standing in the shower stall, dripping wet, eyeing a towel the size of a cocktail napkin. Now what?

1. No shows.
Spoken like a true coach and apropos for the time of year, when asked for his top gym pet peeve, Jack Fultz, winner of the 1976 Boston Marathon, respected running coach of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Running Team, and motivational speaker simply said, “The people who don’t come.”