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10 ways to be a tool at the gym (and how to avoid them)

GOING TO THE GYM is like being a referee. You’re at your best when no one notices you. Better to just blend in and get your work done.

Think about it. When’s the last time you noticed someone at the gym (and NOT the woman with the sweet ass on the treadmill) for doing something good? How many times do you say to yourself, “Wow, that’s excellent form and an appropriate amount of reps for that weight.” Never, right? The only time you notice someone else in the gym is when they’re doing something completely moronic. And it’s usually the same ones doing the same crap. Here’s a list of the usual offenses, and how to not be “that guy” at the gym.

Forget your towel: It ain’t just to wipe your brow, bro. You sweat, everyone sweats. Some more than others. That’s fine. It’s when you sweat all over, say, the flat bench and just get up and walk off that makes you a tool. But even worse is the guy who just doesn’t have a towel and lazily wipes the sweat with his hand or something. At least the guy who just walked off … maybe he simply forgot to wipe that one time. The guy who doesn’t have a towel and does a half-assed cleanup job? He’s displayed that he knows better (the half-assed wipe). Sure, sometimes you forget your towel, but most gyms have paper towel dispensers (and sanitation spray) all over the place. Use ‘em.

Leave the weights: First off, no one’s impressed with how much weight you’ve managed to load up on the bar. Additionally, it’s even less impressive when you walk off and leave it on the bar. This happens quite often in the bench press area and squad racks. But the most common place of infraction has got to be the leg press machine. Many a gym novice love the leg press machine, mostly because almost anyone can load up 500 pounds and move the thing around a little. There’s nothing worse than trying to keep a workout’s momentum going and having to stop for 5 minutes to re-rack eight of someone else’s 45-pound plates.

(For an advanced level, it’s quite common in many gyms to leave 135 pounds (two 45-pound plates, one on each side) on a bar at a flat bench. For many typical gym-goers, that’s their warmup weight. It’s up to you whether you go to a gym that has members that prefer to just walk up to a bench with 135 pre-loaded. But if there are four benches in the area, and three of them already have bars with 135 pounds, go ahead and be the “bigger man” and clear your bar completely.)

(Advanced level No. 2. Sometimes you’ll be working out, and there’s a person waiting in the wings to use the equipment after you. First off, you could easily offer to let him work in. Secondly, he might ask you to, for example, leave 225 pounds or something on the bar. In that case, it’s fine to leave the weight.)

Talk too much: Of course there needs to be rest time between most sets. But there doesn’t need to be enough time for you to tell the guy next to you everything that happened on Lost the night before. Also, don’t use the gym for Happy Hour. There are bars for that. Working out with a buddy, chatting all the while is fine. But you don’t need to catch up with everything that’s gone on since high school. Also, unless your name is Ari Gold and you’re taking a call from Vinny Chase (and really, not even then), leave your mobile phone alone. Do you really think you’re that important that you must take a phone call at the gym? Do you answer the phone while you’re at the movies, too? It’s worth noting that there may be instances when there’s something going in that’s important enough to take a phone call no matter what you’re doing — your wife’s expecting, you have a loved one in the hospital, you’re waiting for that massive job offer. If that’s the case, take the call, but quickly leave the workout area and don’t return until you’re done talking.

Linger longer: There’s nothing better than that feeling you get when you’ve finished a great workout. But you don’t need to share it with those still lifting. If you’re done, leave the workout area. It’s not that hard. Besides, locker rooms (or better, your living room) is where the wind-down process should take place. Too often, the gym tool lingers to tell others how great a workout he’s had. Is this really necessary? No, it isn’t.

Speed date: The only thing worse that lingering around other guys to chat is lingering around the ladies. Ah, the gym date-seeker. Sure, it is possible to flirt at the gym, and sometimes even called for. But usually, women in the gym just want to be left alone. If there’s a women you really, really, really want to talk to. Just try to sync up the end of your workouts. As she’s leaving the floor, ask her if she wants a smoothie, on you … and that’s on you, as in you pay for it. Not on you as in you want her to lick it off. Damn, man, buy her dinner first!

Grunt ‘n’ groan: It’s hard to find something more obnoxious than the guy in the corner doing shrugs, and letting out a massive grunt each time the weight moves. Sure, sometimes it takes a little growl to get the weight up for your last rep. But that’s your LAST rep on likely your last set. Perhaps you’ve got nothing left in the tank, and that’s the only way you can put the capper on your workout. But, seriously, you don’t need to grunt up all 10 of your second set of 185 on the bench.

Same shirt again: When you were a kid, almost everything you owned could be considered “gym clothes.” In adulthood, more of your shirts probably have buttons than have armpit stains. If you only have one set of workout clothes, try to make sure it’s laundered at least once a week. You’re a man. You sweat. Then you stink. And don’t try to cover it up with cologne … that’s even worse.

Poor form: Sure, you’d love to throw that third plate on the bar and join the 315 club, but if you have to sacrifice proper form not only is it dangerous, but it makes you look like a newbie ass. It’s important to learn proper form, especially if you’re going to be spending time in the free-weight area of your gym. Just because you manage to somehow lift the weight doesn’t mean you’re doing it right. Odds are, if you use poor form or even cheat (like swinging a dumbbell on a curl, using momentum to lift the weight), you’re never going to see any benefit. Lifting weights isn’t subjective. There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way. Learn which is which.

Know-it-all: You might notice a Mr. Poor Form one day at the gym. You recognize he’s not using proper technique, and you know better how he should be lifting. That just means you “know it.” It’s when you walk over, unsolicited, and start giving out freebie advice that makes you a “know-it-all.” Don’t be that guy. It’s not your job to make sure everyone uses proper form. It’s their job to learn, their job to ask, or the gym’s trainers’ job to intervene if someone seriously looks like they’re about to hurt themselves.

Spot me: Having a spotter is a great way to practice safety at the gym. But you need to know when you need a spotter. There will undoubtedly be a time when someone asks you to spot them, and you’ll stand there and watch the guy bang out 10 reps, never breaking momentum. Quite irritating. If you’ve been going to the gym for any longer than a few weeks, you should know when you need a spotter and when you don’t. If you’re in a set where you think you might just need a spotter for a ninth or 10th rep, let the guy spotting you know that. At least then he’ll know you’re going for an ambitious number of reps and not just wasting his time.

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