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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

GYM ETIQUETTE — Manners vs Courtesy


So here we are in early February. Sigh. The gym is packed, which is good . . . and bad. And while it is true that everyone has to start somewhere, does it have to be DW Fitness First on Tottenham Court Road? Apparently it does. So, in the interest of a harmonious gym environment, here is my handy guide for all those newbie gym-goers, on how to fit in at the gym and be good little boys and girls. . . . MOP UP YOUR SPILLAGES — get on your hands and knees 

Every new gym-goer knows the importance of being fully hydrated, and they therefore all come to the gym armed with an amazing array of drinks containers — filled to the brim with pre-workout, intra, and post-workout drinks. As the newbies diligently set about their new training regimes (hardly breaking a sweat, I might add) they just as diligently make sure that they take a swig of their chosen drink after almost every set. Which is fine, if only they managed to not spill it everywhere! At peak times the gym floor seems to be awash with gallons of fluid! It is a mystery to me how they manage to slop so much of it all over the place. Leaving aside their inability to drink without dribbling, it never occurs to a single one of them to actually get some tissue, etc., and mop the spillage up. Just last night, at home, I attempted the complicated manoeuvre of closing the kitchen door (en route to the living room) while holding a cup of tea in one hand, and a plate (with a sliced-up protein bar on it) in the other. Of course, disaster ensued and I slopped a whole splosh of tea onto the (white!) kitchen tiles. What to do?! My new friends at the gym would have been open-mouthed with astonishment, gawping, as I took the unprecedented step of putting down what I was carrying, fetched a wet cloth and, on my hands and knees, wiped up the mess! A course of action unheard of at FF, TCR. SYNCHRONISED TRAINING — it’s not the Olympics 

One of the fun things about attending the gym is having a gym buddy. (Not to be confused with a training partner, which is an altogether more serious proposition.) Apart from discussing what outfits you are going to wear, and which drinks container to bring, you can actually train together. And what could be more fun than doing your exercises at the same time? And I don’t mean being in the gym at the same time, I mean actually exercising at the same time — using two benches, double the amount of dumbbells, two gigantic space-taking-up Swiss Balls, etc. Synchronised Training is NOT good gym etiquette. Good gym etiquette is doing your exercises alternately, using one bench, sharing just one set of dumbbells, etc. This is not a couples event, it’s not a three-legged race, stop hogging the machines. Space, and equipment, are always at a premium in any busy gym — don’t be selfish! LEAVING YOUR SWEAT ON THE CARDIO EQUIPMENT AND BENCHES 

We are back to fluid spillage, but this time of an altogether more odious type. The thing is, we are meant to sweat when exercising. The harder we train, the more intensely we exert ourselves, the more we progress — and the more we sweat. It is a necessary part of hard physical work, and being out of breath and pouring with sweat is all part of the fun. Some of us need just to sit on the stationary bike, and mere seconds later are turned into a human fountain. Which is fine, but we have an obligation to wipe up the bodily fluids we excrete, especially if they end up on the benches, and other equipment. It is, frankly, quite amazing that I should even be writing about this — who wouldn’t wipe down a sweaty bench after use? You’d be surprised. My exasperation is best summed up by the words of President Obama, as he tried to express his frustration with Donald Trump during a Hillary Clinton event in 2016. "Look, if a guy's spent 70 years on this Earth showing no regard for working people — there's no record that he's supported minimum wage, or supported collective bargaining or invested in poor communities — and then suddenly he's going to be the champion of working people? Come on. Come on, man!"  

This is how annoyed feel when I see someone strolling away from a sweat-stained bench, without a second thought for the mess someone else is going to have to clean up. Come on. Come on man! PUT YOUR WEIGHTS AWAY — in the correct place 

An eternal battle, fought in every gym, up and down the land, is being constantly waged — keeping the gym neat and tidy. One of the most annoying aspects of training is searching for the dumbbells or weight plates you need. So frustrating, having to wander about looking for that missing 10kg dumbbell, all because the last user just could not be bothered to replace it. The worst offenders leave used equipment in completely separate parts of the gym — I have even found dumbbells that have been discarded in the distant wastelands of the cardio area! Rude. Not only should dumbbells be returned to the rack, they should be returned to the correct place on the rack! The general public has long believed that bodybuilders are not all that bright, and perhaps they are right. When I matriculated from school in 1985, I passed, but only just, partly because I felt the curriculum was not a very balanced one — I mean, not a single question on the Mr Olympia! Outrageous! Anyhow, the nadir of my final results was a GG for Mathematics, that’s a score of between 8 and 12%. For the record, an H was a distinct possibility, so I actually felt pretty pleased about securing my eventual GG. For quite a few years afterwards certain people referred to me as Double Gee. You know who you are, Angela. What I’m trying to say, is that if a Double G scholar, such as myself, can work out the dumbbells’s numerical order system, anyone can!!! Thankfully, it’s not rocket science, the 2’s go next to the 4’s, and the 4’s go next to the 6’s, etc., ad infinitum. Well . . . up to 50. UTILISE THE MACHINES CORRECTLY — the clue is in the name 

I love creative people, I am married to one after all. My wife Suzy is a potter, and she has enriched my family’s life with her beautiful creations. I am filled with a happy sense of calm and pride when I see, or use, one of her lovely plates or bowls etc. However . . . there are certain environments where creativity is not to be encouraged. The gym is one of them. I am an old-school guy, and if it was good enough for Arnold, it is good enough for me. Do the basics, and do them well, that is the key to bodybuilding success. I’m sure Instagram PT’s, desperate for a few more “likes”, are to blame for this new craze I see of standard machines being used in increasingly unorthodox ways. It is jolly annoying when I want to do some no-nonsense dips or chins, on the Dip and Chin Assist Machine, and someone is titting about on it doing a glute exercise — one which invariably takes ages! Likewise, an interminable set of glute kickbacks (20+ reps on each leg!) done on the Leg Extension,is, frankly, not on. As I mentioned earlier, the clue is in the name and every machine has a handy sign on it, consisting of a pictorial demonstration and written guide. Use it!!

SHARE THE EQUIPMENT — Part One The gym is a communal environment — when you purchase a gym membership, you do not buy the actual equipment that you use. The equipment is not yours — it’s everybody’s! During your rest periods, it makes good sense, and is well-mannered too, to allow another person to then do their set while the equipment is not being utilised. When my older daughter, Pandora, attended Play School, there was always plenty of squabbling over dollies and other toys, etc. Once, after I had given her a talking-to about the “concept of sharing”, Pandy, after thinking about my lecture, marched over to some unsuspecting kid, loudly yelled out, “Sharing!” and snatched away its toy! I feel some of our novice gym users are at the same mental-developmental level with regard to community of property, as dear little Pandy-Pops was then. SHARING EQUIPMENT — Part Two Over the years I have been blessed to meet some inspirational and admirable people, all of whom have helped to change and form me (I hope!) for the better. When I was a teenager I had a friend called Gary Karlson. Gary had cystic fibrosis, and, being born in the 1960’s in South Africa, that pretty much guaranteed an early death. Try telling Gary that! What an enthusiastic, inquisitive, super-clever and endlessly cheerful guy! Always laughing, never complaining. He was a true inspiration, a lesson in how to live life to the full and never feel sorry for oneself. Towards the end of his life, Gary fought with such dignity and determination, sometimes doing physio for twelve hours a day. Although he died more than 25 years ago, he is still a major figure in my life, and I think of him, and am inspired by him, even now. When I worked as a bouncer at the Backpacker Pub, many, many (20!) years ago, the owner was a man called Sean Sullivan, and he was such a fantastic man. He was no-nonsense, and you had better not cross him — but such a giving and generous man, and through his example he taught me how to share one’s good fortune and success with others, thus helping them to have their own successes. Tragically, he died suddenly a few years after I met him, but I have never forgotten him or the way he treated those around him. Another man that I hugely admire is my uncle, Robert. Kind, generous, caring, and also an incredibly brave and principled person. He is a man who stood up for what he believed in, even though those beliefs resulted in him being thrown into a Zambian jail, accused of treason!!!! A pretty serious situation to find oneself in. I think of him as an ordinary man, who behaved (and still does) in an extraordinary way. The reason I mention these important people in my life (of course there are more than just these three) is because I am friends with another person, one of my clients, whom I have learnt, and continue to learn, so much from. He is a very private man, so shall remain nameless, except to say that he is in his mid-90’s, and is a living example of qualities society once held dear, now long since discarded. A living example too, of an honourable life — lived quietly, with dignity and decency. “Nameless” is such an interesting man, and when I think of him I cannot help but grin; he has a fantastic sense of humour and a zest for life that is inspirational. He has caused me to consider so many aspects of my life, that without his stimulus, would never have even entered my consciousness. He is also interested in the many “unseen” areas of life — The Mechanics of Living, for example. He loves concepts such as “Action Thinking”, and gives thought to the subtle differences between words and their precise meanings — for instance, the difference between Tired and Exhausted — tired being a state of mind, exhausted being a physical state. Although Nameless is in many ways completely up-to-date and aware of modern ways (we email and text each another, and he does his shopping online) he is nonetheless ill-at-ease with the Twenty-first Century. When I challenge him on this, he states, as an example of what is typically wrong with the modern world, the fact that people no longer know the difference between manners and courtesy. As he says, manners and courtesy are two sides of the same concept — essentially manners come from the head, and courtesy comes from the heart (and what right-thinking person would ever choose the head over the heart?) Manners are a prescribed form of social politeness, courtesy is a feeling, actually wanting to stand up on the Underground so someone less able than yourself can sit, etc. Courtesy is not compulsory, it is a willing and happily given choice. Which brings us back to the title of this paragraph: SHARING EQUIPMENT — Part Two We now know from SHARING EQUIPMENT — Part One, that it is good manners to share. Part Two concerns the subtleties of sharing equipment with courtesy. Allowing a fellow gym-user to utilise the piece of equipment you are using, during your rest periods, is the basic premise of good sharing gym etiquette. Simple good manners. When sharing equipment with courtesy, however, here are a few aspects to consider, especially if you are the one asking to share. If you are asking to share any equipment that needs to be adjusted to suit you, it must be restored to the settings of the original user. For example, if you add weight to the bar, it is courteous to take that weight off again, if you change the handle on a cable, put the original back so as not to inconvenience the person who kindly allowed you to share with them in the first place. Be aware of the sharer’s training tempo — if they are having minimal rest periods, it is incumbent upon you to adjust to their speed, it is discourteous to slow them down. If a third person asks if they can also share the equipment, that is not your choice to make, the original user has that responsibility. Know your place. Unfortunately, I have many more gym faux pas that I find irksome, but that will have to do for now. The Gym Family is a large one, and its community is made up from a large spectrum of users, all with their own goals and aspirations. Whether we are hard-core gym rats or lycra-coordinatated gym bunnies, we all share a common love of — hard training, muscle-building, the gym life, and general well-being. Let’s celebrate this wonderful fitness life that we all share, and make the gym environment a pleasurable and friendly one, for all.  


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