Now that everyone knows they’re supposed to put equipment away and wipe up their own sweat, it’s time to tackle the finer points of weight-room behavior
You would probably have noticed Orgasm Woman even before she made a sound. With her stringy-thin physique and a long red braid hanging down the middle of her back, she didn’t look like anyone else in my gym 20 years ago in L.A.
But when she made noise, holy hell, did you pay attention. “Ah! Ah! Ah! Ahhhh . . . ”
The effect was less like a porn movie and more like Saturday night at a convention hotel: the climax that’s both appreciated and unexpected, vs. one honed through years of dedicated practice.
What’s most remarkable is that she made these sex noises constantly. Every workout, every exercise, sometimes every set, apparently with no idea she was doing it. Nor did she understand how well the sound carried from the standing calf-raise machine.
Orgasm noises are something you never hear in the weight room anymore. It’s a small but emblematic sign of just how much gym culture has changed in the past 20 years. Almost everyone who works out today understands, or soon learns, the basics of weight-room etiquette:
• wipe up your sweat
• put equipment away when you’re finished
• don’t drop the weights
• don’t yell, sing, dance, make orgasm noises, flex in the mirror, or otherwise draw attention to yourself
The level of civility in gyms today is unprecedented, and I say that as someone who joined his first health club in 1980. I wish I could say the story ends there.
But it clearly doesn’t. Talk to anyone who trains in a room full of strangers—no matter if it’s on campus, the YMCA, a cut-rate chain, or the most expensive facility in town—and you’re going to hear at least one complaint about his fellow gym rats.
Some are unique to the guy’s club, or to a particularly obnoxious or eccentric individual.
But others seem universal. I see and hear about them over and over. And really, they all come down to one deep-rooted complaint: utter cluelessness about the other people in the room.
I think it’s long past time to come up with some new standards for weight-room courtesy.
New rule #1: The weight room is not a phone booth
Remember phone booths? No? Well, back before everyone had a cell phone (and the cell phones actually worked), you had to use a pay phone to call someone from outside your home or office.
Those phones were often in plexiglass boxes that we called “booths.” For reference, they were used in pivotal scenes in some of our favorite movies, from The Godfather to Goodfellas.
The great thing about phone booths: Your calls were private. Just you, the person you called, and whichever spy agency happened to be listening in.
Not so with cell phones. They allow you to have a conversation anywhere. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That’s especially true in the weight room.
A couple weeks ago at my gym, for example, a young woman camped out next to me in the warmup area and began talking on her cell. I gave it a couple of minutes before I asked her to please have that conversation somewhere else.
She complied, but not before giving me one of those “are you serious?” looks. Like I was the one who was out of line.
It was the second time she’d done it to me. The first time was for an argument over a failed transaction, which was kind of entertaining.
This conversation was just life’s everyday bullshit. I have a life, too; I just don’t share it with strangers.
Fix it: If you absolutely have to make or receive a call in the weight room, find an empty corner, talk as quietly as you can, and make it as brief as possible. There’s really no gray area here.
New rule #2: Neither is the locker room
Work out in commercial gyms long enough, and you’re sure to accumulate some stories.
There’s the time a guy with the locker next to mine started putting on my clothes by mistake. (He seemed clean enough, but I still went the rest of the day without underwear. I wouldn’t expect my wife to understand how I acquired those genital lice.)
Or the time a guy sang one line from Proud Mary—“big wheel keeps on turnin’”—over and over; I can only guess he wasn’t comfortable in a room filled with naked guys.
Those things were inconvenient and weird. But neither was as obnoxious as the guy who conducts business in the locker room while the rest of us are getting dressed. Every gym seems to have one.
Fix it: I get the dilemma: You’re the junior partner in this relationship, and at the mercy of whoever chose that moment to call.
But the rest of us don’t work for that guy. And we sure as hell don’t need to hear your conversation with him.
Seriously, spare us. Make an excuse (“I’m giving the doctor a stool sample. Call you back in five?”), get dressed, and continue the call in your car, like everyone else on the road.
New rule #3: Don’t tie up equipment you aren’t using
Most people who violate this rule, in my experience, have no ill intent.
The gym noob who sets her water bottle and clipboard on a bench isn’t trying to piss you off. She just doesn’t know better.
Same with the serious but distracted lifter who hangs his towel on a barbell and then forgets where he left it. They’re easy to understand.
A bit less forgivable are the five teens using a single leg press machine, but forming a cordon that blocks off three other stations.
Or the young woman who sits on a machine for five minutes between sets because she’s returning texts.
But here’s the one that, in a lifetime of lifting, I’ve never understood: Why do the biggest, strongest guys in the gym block the dumbbell rack to do curls or shrugs or lateral raises—exercises that could easily be done somewhere else?
How hard is it to step back a few feet so the rest of us don’t have to wait for you to finish your set?
Fix it: The rule here is simple enough: If you aren’t using something, don’t prevent others from using it. You can set your water bottle on the floor, stand up to text, or carry your curling irons to an open space.
New rule #3a: Don’t tie up equipment you don’t need for the exercise you’re doing
You think I’m talking about the guy who does curls in the squat rack (and, in our comic imagination, gets pissed when he finds somebody squatting in the curl rack).
And I am. But since everyone hates that guy already, I don’t need to pile on here.
No, what I find worrisome are the people who tie up squat racks when they aren’t even lifting. I’ve seen it used for stretches, or to hold onto while doing single-leg calf raises with their own body weight.
Fix it: Nobody reading this would do what I just described. So if it happens on your watch, you owe it to yourself and to your fellow gym members to politely explain what the equipment is for, and why a lifter who needs it for that purpose has precedence over someone doing an off-label exercise.
Bonus points if you can help the person find a better place to do that non-squat.
New rule #4: If we can hear your music from 10 feet away, it’s too loud
I’m one of the few people who isn’t plugged into my own tunes on any given day. I’d rather put up with the “rhythmic pop” on the gym’s sound system than give up one of my five senses.
That’s just me, and I get that I’m a dinosaur.
But that doesn’t mean I should have to listen to your music—or, more accurately, the percussive parts that your earbuds can’t contain.
It’s none of my business if you choose to blast your auditory cortex until its ability to process sound is impaired, putting you at potential risk for a fatal accident because you can’t easily distinguish warning calls from other background noise. To each his own.
But it is my business when your ear-damaging lifestyle choices are loud enough to distract me from what I’m trying to focus on.
Fix it: The more background noise there is, the louder your own music needs to be to drown it out. But turning your own music up adds to the background noise for everyone else.
You just have to accept that some environments are loud by design, and making them louder benefits no one.
Then again . . . This actually happened: In the middle of an especially challenging core exercise, I let one fly. In an empty room it would’ve sounded like a cannon. Or at least like a really loud fart. But the room wasn’t empty. And all the people close by were using earbuds. Not a single one glanced in my direction.
I guess I can tolerate your music if you don’t mind my gas. Deal?
Editor’s note: Lou Schuler is an award-winning journalist and the author, with Alwyn Cosgrove, of Strong, which goes on sale November 10.