Thirty years ago, I was sought by the muscle mag editors to write about giant arms, coconut deltoids, barn-door lats and thunderous thighs. Today, they want me to discuss gym etiquette.
I'll give it a toss. I don't have any ego problems with that. I'm cool. However, if next month the powers at large ask me to provide my secret recipe for high-protein brownies, I'm outta here.
Gym etiquette. Let's see. Each gym will require its own respective protocol determined by its amenities, environment and neighborhood. There are those exclusive clubs with the golf course, pools and courts where one's burp and yawn is registered; and there are those exclusive gyms with artistically bent bars and battered dumbbells lying in abstract heaps, where to speak is to yell loudly, and spearing 45-pound Olympic bars from one corner of the floor to the other is known as sharing. Comin' atcha, big guy.
I've trained in them all. Most gyms are somewhere in between. I personally like Joe Gold's original policies regarding gym etiquette. Crack the dumbbells and I'll crack your head. Drop the weights and I'll drop you out the window. Ya don't put your bar back, I'll put you in the dumpster. Very effective. Today, this approach no longer works. We've gotten soft over the years, and everybody's got a lawyer.
In gathering article material, I compiled a quick wish list of dos and do nots. I write based on my experience as a gym owner and employee, instructor and big-time user. It became a long list; grouchy, I thought, yet wholly necessary. I would in no way display this code on my wall for fear of it being torn down - the wall, that is - and for fear of my own tar and feathering. The list, however, served to bring into focus and magnify some wandering social virus.
It's composing brought to surface the submerged logic of the intelligent man (woman, whatever). A smart person enjoys smart rules and regulations. He or she isn't subject to them but freed by them. Disorder is a breeding ground for irresponsibility and disrespect. Truth is, without order there is chaos. In a setting of governing of the people, for the people and by the people, we thrive. In a pecking-order chicken coop, it's flying feathers, cackling and chicken doodoo.
This, too, I notice: Margins of leeway for misbehavior are certainly necessary. We make mistakes, accidents occur, occasional bad moods alter our right attitudes and egos clash as life rolls on. Yet, to the degree margins are exceeded, things get sloppy, mutual regard subtly deteriorates, and rapport is misplaced by alienation. The process is slow, it's pervasive, and the bad guy tends to overshadow the mild good guy. Beware.
So much for doctrine, don't you agree? Let's get down to muscle-building in a stress-free environment. After all, the atmosphere and the attitude of a gym are in many ways more important than the very equipment.
Be A Good Bodybuilder
You want to grow, lose fat and gain lean muscle mass. Be a good guy, bodybuilder Type A (i.e. a male or female bodybuilder with guts and heart), as compared with a bad guy, bodybuilder Type B (i.e. a girl or guy who's mean and arrogant). Be innovative. Encourage one another, share your equipment and don't commandeer two or more gym tools as you superset and engage in furious training. At the same time, suggest with diplomacy to the Type B trainee that monopolizing equipment is an act of selfish dogs and is not to be tolerated.
Don't you hate it when there are three sets of choice dumbbells lined up before an incline bench, dormant and unattended, as some witless hog wearing his intentionally ripped T-shirt and practiced sneer slugs Gatorade from a funky gallon jug? Don't lose your pump. Don't you love it when you stand self-consciously in the center of the gym floor exhibiting to your girlfriend the cool aspects of your favorite, most meaningful second home, and Bucko yells across the gym floor, "I feel like a #?@!-in' animal today, and I'm going to rip these #?@!-in'g weights apart!"? Grrrr/rrrippp/crash.
Enthusiasm needs to be mastered, inspiration channeled and the tongue clamped to the lower lip with a pair of vice grips. No coarse, foul language. No screaming, biting, scratching or pulling hair. This ain't no stinking zoo, ya ape.
A couple of questions: When you're done with dinner, do you take your pots, pans and dishes and throw them in the general direction of the sink and retire to the living room to watch TV? I don't think so. When you're done with your computer, do you turn it off and beat the monitor repeatedly with the keyboard? Probably not. After parking your car, do you slam the door shut six or eight times and kick the tires like a brat having a fit? This is a tough one. Take your time. You don't have to answer right away.
Bad To Your Health
Why, then do some of us insist on dropping the weights from some dizzying height - unless, of course, they're too heavy, uncontrollable and we mistakenly failed to secure a reluctant spot. They're' not beach balls. Another thing: Slamming plates together on an Olympic bar as if that determines our ability to lift the weight can impair hearing or cause cardiac arrest, both of which are dangerous to our health.
Gee whiz, Godzilla. Metal against metal, metal against concrete, metal against rubber or carpet bruises the humble soul and tears asunder the arrogant. Mellow out, Mondo. There's someone bigger, stronger and faster than you right around the corner. Stand back. A list of pet peeves of serious and considerate gym members also includes training next to people in wingtips, flip-flops, bare feet and muddy work boots.
They're often carrying a banana, an open Big Gulp from 7-Eleven and dragging around a gym bag the size of a small RV. You think for a minute that you're standing in line as a surreal supermarket buying junk food and a cheap video. People: Stop, shake off the dust of the agitated outside world. Put on your workout gear and get in the swing of things. It's not a subway station, a bus stop.
It's a gym for cryn' out loud. No spitting in the air. Build, move, go. Reps, sets, focus, all with harmony and thoughtfulness and care. Take the high road, not the weeded, littered, aimless back alley. You'll get lost. And then what?