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How Not to Be an Asshole to Gym Newbies During the New Year’s Rush

Fitness as a whole is ripe for a reckoning, to become more inclusive, more welcoming, to anyone who wants to get started. Why not do your part to create positive change? Here are some things to keep in mind at your crowded gym this month—when you don’t want to be that asshole turning off a whole new crop of people from all the good fitness has to offer.

1. Strip your weights and readjust your machines.

I’ve noticed this in every gym I’ve gone to: There are certain machines that established gym-goers tend to not strip completely when they’re done—I’m looking at you, leg press and chest-supported row. These are the kinds of machines that are conducive to moving a lot of weight, so it’s common to see a whole boatload of 45-pound plates stacked on them. Unfortunately, it’s also just as common to see people leave a 45 on each side after removing the rest following their final set.

You may think you’re helping—so the next person doesn’t have to load up from scratch—but not everyone can use that amount of weight for their sets. And reracking that weight to something they can lift can be difficult for someone just starting out. Forty-five pounds is a lot, especially if you have to reach up to unrack it! By leaving those big plates on, you’re sending the message that this machine might not be for them.

Along that same note, it’s also a good idea to adjust the settings on the machines you use back to neutral (or at least, mid-range) when you’re done with them. If you leave the leg press on its tallest setting, short people are going to have a hell of a time getting it back to their level. Same for a tall person leaving a rack set up for their overhead press—a short person can really struggle taking down that barbell from a height that may well be above their head.  

2. Don’t claim multiple pieces of equipment across the gym.

Circuit workouts are great when you’re short on time or want to keep your heart rate up. Depending on what equipment you’re using, though, these types of circuits can also make it really hard for other people to know which equipment is in use and which is fair game. For instance, if you’re going right from the chin-up station to a bench with free weights to a lat pull-down to the leg extension machine—you’re taking up a lot of prime real estate. A person new to the gym might not yet feel comfortable asking if they can “work in” with you (or may not know that’s a thing!) after you vacate one area for your next exercise. I remember a few times when I ended up leaving the gym before doing a certain exercise I wanted to do because I was afraid of encroaching on someone’s territory.

Since gyms tend to be busier with the New Year’s rush, my advice—whether or not you think someone wants to use one of “your” machines—is to break your circuit up into smaller parts (say, two supersets of two back-to-back exercises rather than a circuit of four moves that requires four separate machines) and program them with exercises you can do with the same equipment. For example, maybe you superset a bench-supported row and dumbbell chest press, so you only need a bench and dumbbells. That way, there’s no uncertainty as to what equipment is available, and you’ll be ready to move on quicker. It’s just courtesy.

3. Avoid hovering.

If you are waiting for a piece of equipment, resist the urge to hover around silently until the current user leaves. This is creepy and unsettling for anyone, but I can tell you from experience, it can really shake up a newbie—who, if you can remember what it feels like, might struggle with feeling like they are “allowed” to take up prime space if someone else wants it, too.

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