Gym etiquette can be a tricky thing, so what exactly are the rules?
It was a shock when Anthony, the manager of the Peninsula Leisure Centre, called me into his office after boxercise to tell me a complaint had been lodged.
A female fellow gym goer had reported me for making inappropriate comments.
“What did I say?” I asked, feeling totally perplexed.
“You asked her if she would be working at the café this weekend. It made her feel uncomfortable.”
My initial response was disbelief, then anger, followed by disappointment. The gym had been more than a place to work out, it was my social life. I had enjoyed Christmas parties with these people and now one of them (I think I knew who) had gone behind my back to inform on me. It was frankly embarrassing.
And when Anthony told me it might be better if I just kept my conversations to simply pleasantries like 'hello' and 'goodbye', I felt like telling him where to shove his gym, one barbell at a time. But I bit my tongue.
Gym etiquette can be a tricky thing. Like a workplace, a gym is an area where you tend to spend a lot of time with people you don't really know and perhaps don't want to know. Start treating it as a pick-up joint and you're asking for trouble. Even the most banal questions can be misconstrued (as I found out). So what exactly are the rules?
When it comes to sexual politics, Jeremy Bratt, manager owner Newtown Gym, said it was his job to make sure everybody felt comfortable.
“It can be quite a balancing act. We had one case where a woman complained that a man kept staring at her. I had to inform her that the man was gay and most certainly not interested in her in a sexual way. He was probably checking out her fashion sense.”
The Biggest Loser's Shannon Ponton has worked for 20 years in gyms, and said he hadn't seen any cases of sexual harassment, and that it would be hard to put a concrete rule in place to stop it anyway. “It's simply a matter of asking people to respect their fellow gym goers,” he said.
Fitness trainer Veronica Smith, said she had often been in the gym and overheard inappropriate comments being made about her appearance. “I suppose it makes me feel objectified,” she said. “Plus a lot of men are quite flirtatious, but it doesn't faze me because I'm quite a confident woman. Not a lot of females venture into the free-weights area of the gym, because it's a very testosterone filled environment.”
In the 1990s comedy series Seinfeld, the hapless George Costanza was asked to leave his health club after another member caught him peeing in the shower. Not surprisingly, locker rooms are a place where etiquette is vital, although it would be difficult to police somebody having a quick wee while they wash.
At the very least, most gyms have a no-photos locker room policy, although Bratt said he knew of several clients who had taken semi-naked images of themselves to post on their grindr profiles.
Most gyms we spoke with said that the biggest problem when it came to gym etiquette was simply people with bad body odour. “I have far more complaints about someone with BO than anything else,” Bratt said. “One guy was so stinking that I made up a competition, declaring him the winner of the most improved person in pump class and gave him a prize that included deodorant and shampoo.”
John Waters, the manager of City Gym, agreed. “The most common complaint I get is about another gym member being on the nose,” he said. “It's a difficult issue to raise with somebody, you just have to be as tactful as you can be. Often they will have no idea. At City Gym we leave cans of deodorant around for people to use.”
Fairfax blogger and personal trainer Michael Jarosky said when it came to poor gym etiquette he'd seen it all, from the annoying regular that thinks a 4km per hour walk on the treadmill for 45 minutes is fair to others, to the fashion faux pas that make him feel ill. . . “such as men wearing women's singlets highlighting man-boobs and women wearing Nikki Minaj's latest outfit, exposing rolls that no sane baker would put butter on.”
“But my top two pet hates in the gym? Maria Sharapova style grunting during a workout; and waving your bits around in the locker room with no regard to other gym goers personal space.
“The grunting and groaning like you are Mr Tough Guy Australia, only signifies to others that you are Mr Gym Jackass. A little groan is cool because you are giving it 110 per cent, but there's no need to bring the spotlight to your workout with violent screams. And when you're towelling down post-shower? Be a little discreet and keep the family gems covered the best you can.”
Shannon Ponton's Gym Etiquette for Dummies
• Speak to others with respect
• Wipe down benches after use.
• Replace weights in the correct spot.
• Don't hog equipment, especially when it's busy.
• Don't try to reserve equipment by leaving your towel on it.
• Respect the gym equipment – hurling weights is unnecessary.
• Make sure you use a deodorant