Sunday, January 6, 2013

What's that puddle?

In my 15 years of participating in group fitness classes, I've been a member of four gyms, a kickboxing dojo, a bellydance school, a salsa/swing dance company and a zumba studio. Note I said a member, not an expert. There's only one field in which I have my black belt, earned through blood, sweat and tears as well as careful observation of areas where others have struggled.

I am a fitness etiquette ninja.

In honour of New Year's resolutions everywhere, I'm providing the following tips for all gym-goers, both newbies and those needing a refresher. Ignore them at your peril. You don't want your car to be keyed in the health club parking lot, do you?

Let's start with the big one. In all types of fitness classes, the regular attendees have spots where they like to stand. "Like" in this case means a fanatical obsession whereby normally rational women transform into snarling dogs when someone infringes on their territory. A favourite instructor once suggested we should just whip down our yoga pants and pee on the floor to mark our spots. I saw a few people fumbling with their waistbands before we realized she was joking.

Standing in someone's spot is the most likely faux pas for a newbie and the consequences can be painful. If you're lucky, the mean girl and her friends will glare at you the entire class and whisper loudly about how you don't know the moves while the instructor is setting up the next song. If you're unlucky, the mean girl will stomp on the back of your heels, elbow you in the ribs or actually knock you on your ass to make the point that you're in her spot.

How can you avoid this fate? Shuffling around in a noncommittal way before the class starts and promptly moving out of the path of anyone storming up to a specific spot are good strategies to defuse any potential brawls. If something goes wrong and you end up in the crosshairs of a spot bully, pretend you're dealing with a rabid dog and speak slowly and clearly while steadily backing away: "I am sorry. I did not realize this was your spot. Please put down the water bottle." Or just give her an elbow right back and yell, "It's my spot now, bitches!"

When you arrive late to a class, quietly take a place at the back of the room. Sauntering straight up to the front row is a highly advanced move that should be attempted only by a visiting instructor, or by someone who so regularly attends the class that her spot is left open out of respect even when she isn't there. Flouting this rule can result in the extremely awkward situation where a person returns from refilling her water bottle or going pee mid-class to find you've stolen her spot. Not good.

Also in poor taste is eating garlic, Italian sausage or Pizza Hut shortly before a group fitness class. You may think no one will notice those little bursts of fragrance from your mouth or anus. You would be wrong. Dousing yourself in anything other than unscented deodorant is not appreciated either.

Again, personal space matters. We're all standing as far away from each other as possible for a reason, and it's not because of hygiene violations (okay, sometimes it is). It's because most cardio classes involve limbs flailing around wildly in all directions. If you crowd your classmates, you'll probably catch a fist or foot in the face. The offender may or may not apologize, depending on how many other fitness etiquette rules you've broken.

Sometimes bad things happen through no fault of your own. If static cling has its way with you and a purple thong flies out of your pant leg into the middle of a class, pretend it's not yours. Don't push it with your foot to the front of the class, before picking it up and squirrelling it away in your lululemon jacket pocket. That's weird. Are you really going to wear it again once it's travelled all over a dance studio floor?

While we're on the subject of attire, light-coloured workout pants are a bad idea if your perspiration glands are remotely functional. No one wants to see your vagina sweat. Pale blue and grey are especially prone to making you look like you're not toilet-trained. And if you must stroll around naked for an extended period of time in the women's locker room, for god's sake bend your knees if you need to pick something up off the floor. Particularly if this is before your shower and you're over the age of 60 with no familiarity with bikini waxes. This is the gym, not Grannies Gone Wild.

The most important fitness etiquette rule is an easy one. Have fun! Really. In every class, you'll find someone the instructor calls by name and everyone seems to know. He or she may do each move perfectly or be struggling to keep up, but what these people all have in common is a big smile and a warm hello for their classmates. Tell people you're new and ask for help if you need it. Most regulars are kind-hearted and love to help out a newbie, and it can be a real motivation to keep up your new routine when you know you're going to see a friendly face in a difficult class. Just make sure you stay out of her spot.

54 comments:

  1. You hit the nail firmly on the head! The "dot" thing is dot on. It gets nasty. I have spatial issues in the gym or when working out in a public place, period. Stand back! The locker room nakedness problem is just plain gross. I don't want to see you even though you want me and everyone else to see your new boobs. AND I don't care to see your fresh Brasillian either! Fun post!

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    1. There's no need to huddle under a towel like it's junior high, but a 20 minute nude stroll around the locker room while drying your hair and doing a full face of make-up is a bit much.

      Someone once came in late to a class, walked up to the front row and stood right beside me, before yelling at me to move over and give her more room after I smacked her hand doing jumping jacks. You can imagine what I had to say to that. What nerve. She wasn't a newbie either, just rude.

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  2. Also don’t douse yourself in cheap perfume before class and try to stay in your spot. Don’t travel all over the room just short of taking out the person next to you as you work out. We have a member who does that and my gym buddies hate standing next to her. They also dislike the girl who grunts loudly as she does sit ups. My spot is in the front row just left of the instructor, so if I am nice enough to tell you - you are in the right class and that you are going to like it head straight to the back of the room. On Mondays Christine stands next to me and Tuesdays Nancy. On Thursdays if I happen to take the late Zumba class I can’t have my spot. It is claimed by a mother and her daughter. Even gym regulars have to follow the rules.

    Thanks for a fun post.

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    1. Yes - the staying in your spot is a pet peeve, but I didn't include it because newbies usually can't help it. They have enough to process just trying to follow along. But there's no excuse once you've caught on. It's really rude in a busy class to bounce around so erratically that you're taking up several spots at once.

      Your comment made me laugh because it reminded me of my acquaintance Courtney, who not only insists on being in her spot, but gets pissy if everyone around her isn't standing in their regular spot. One time someone took my spot so I stood on Courtney's right instead of her left, and it threw off her whole class. Ha! We gym rats are a strange breed.

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  3. So funny! And helpful. I'm taking my first yoga class in years next week and this is a perfect refresher. I actually love the idea of saying - "it's my spot now bitches!" I will aspire to that level of territoriality in the coming weeks. ;-) Fun post!

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    1. Glad to be of service. The spot thing is crazy and everyone knows we're being childish and ridiculous, but we just can't stop ourselves. I thought a warning for newcomers was only fair.

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    1. Exactly! It happens, but we don't all need to see it.

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  5. I like your advice, especially about people liking their place in class; we are creatures of habit aren't we? We tend to sit at the same place at the movies, church, etc., and we aren't happy if someone takes our space :)

    betty

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    1. That's a great point that I didn't even think of - it's not just the gym. People like their familiar perspective, physically and otherwise.

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  6. vagina and butt sweat are the worst! i take hot yoga classes and there's just not avoiding them in such a class, but thankfully, everyone in the room is dripping sweat after about 20 minutes, so we just try not to look at each other's crotch regions after class.
    i do like my spot closer to the front of the room so i'm not getting someone's feet in my face all through class.

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    1. That's why I wear black pants. As you said, you try not to look, but it's hard not to see bum sweat on light grey pants from the other side of the room.

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  7. Perfect post and the vagina sweat picture... UGH So true!

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    1. I've actually seen much worse. An instructor doing bicycle crunches at the end of class in tight pale grey cotton shorts...it was SO bad. You'd think she would have known better.

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  8. Yes, yes and yes. After a bunch of years sweating it out at the gym with the etiquette breaches, I finally couldn't take it anymore. I gave up my gym membership, started running outside instead, and have never looked back. Vagina sweat. Gross.

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    1. I know a lot of people who feel the same way. I need the energy and competitiveness of a class to stay motivated, but there have been times I've skipped a class just to avoid the drama. Which defeats the purpose...ugh.

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  9. Hahah these rules sound too hard. I'll just stay home, away from people. :P

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    1. Haha! A perfectly reasonable approach.

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  10. This was freaking hilarious. And it should be printed and posted at all gyms for the months of January through March!

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    1. Maybe if everyone had to read this before they came in, we could all play nice with each other and no one would have to leave class with bruises.

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  11. Oh, this is so funny and so true of every class I've ever taken! I used to take zumba classes a couple of years ago--there would be about 100 people in the class (not exaggerating, it was in a gym). I would get so annoyed when someone infringed on my bit of space in the back of the room when I went for my water bottle. But usually once we started "dancing" I was given a wide berth...not sure what that said about my skills. And those people in the front row will cut you with their zumba-zippered pants/shirts/skirts/shoes/hats/headbands/ earrings/thongs/banana hammocks/decorative scarves/bells if you get too close.

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    1. It's a whole scene, isn't it? I've restrained myself to zumba tops and capris, and not at the same time. Since I've taken actual bellydance classes, I've never worn a belly chain to zumba - it just seemed like a bit much to me. Then again, the classes I take have a hefty dose of hip-hop-based moves too, so a belly chain would look really weird.

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  12. I already don't go to the gym, and this stuff is reminding me why I prefer working out at home! On the couch. With a book.

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    1. I'm awfully tempted to do that type of workout tonight instead of going to kickboxing.

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  13. oh my lord, please tell me the thong thing didn't happen to you! :D :D :D

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    1. No, thankfully I just witnessed it. That was bad enough.

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  14. This is fabulous. Now I want to go to a class just to be a fly on the wall and see if I can pick out the newbies. Sounds like fun!

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  15. i'm now totally afraid of going to your gym. i'm going to take run instead. hopefully, i won't have a pair of undies on my back.

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    1. Oh, it's not just my current gym and studio - this stuff has happened every place I've been. It's the stealth underwear that hide in a pant leg that you have to watch out for!

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  16. Ha! Very good points!! Thank god I don't make eye contact with anyone as a rule....I am sure they are all giving me dirty looks ....

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    1. Why? Are you a repeat offender? Haha!

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  17. Ugh. Someone else's vagina sweat gives me a good reason to NOT join a gym. So funny! You continue to crack me up!

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    1. Just keeping it real...people should know what they're getting into.

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  18. Here's a tip from a martial arts class: if you are doing tai chi (a calm, relaxing martia art), it is not appropriate to grunt like you're having a bowel movement with every motion. Seriously bad chi.

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    1. It's never appropriate to carry on like you're in the bathroom in a group setting. Even with strength training, you're lifting too heavy if you need to roar like a lunatic with every rep.

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  19. Loved this! I haven't been to gym in a while, but yes to all of it!!

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  20. Just one of the reasons I don't do group classes. Hilarious post.

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    1. I think they're an acquired taste.

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  21. Love it. I just joined a boot camp too. A good and funny reminder. Thanks!

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    1. Boot camps are one of the things I can't do - I should, but they're just too painful on my joints. Gah. I sound like a decrepit old woman. Good luck with your session!

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  22. Oh and I would like to add one more fitness no-no:

    Wearing a thong and low rise exercise pants. No one needs to see that every time you bend down to touch your toes. Ew.



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  23. See this is why I shy away from the gym entirely in January. The onslaught of New Years' resolution-ers is a bit much. I'm like a gym groundhog: I come out in February. Nice post!

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    1. Haha! I'm a bit of a gym groundhog too - I probably work out less in January than other months just because I can't deal with the oblivious crowds. Fortunately it doesn't take long for hordes to clear out.

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  24. Ha! I laughed out loud at this - hilarious and so completely true!

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    1. Yup - I wasn't exaggerating at all. Everything in this post has either happened to me or in front of me. People take their space mighty seriously!

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  25. This is why I hate group fitness! I'm one of those "spot" people, though, but mainly because of anxiety and OCD. It's like I can't function at all if I'm not in my spot. Haha!

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    1. I have come thisclose to leaving a class before because I didn't like where I was forced to stand, and people were crowding me. Totally an anxiety trigger. In fact that's part of the reason I'm so attached to "my" spot: it minimizes the number of people around me.

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  26. So true! I definitely had my own spot when I regularly went to aerobics. That's been a long time ago now...way too long!

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    1. Do you miss it? I had to stop when I was pregnant because I was high-risk and it was awful. I whined about it so much that my husband suggested I go sit in the back of the class and just do the arm movements.

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  27. I could not stop laughing. It's so sad. I have truly experienced the 'mean girls'. They make you not want to be in the gym. Craziness!

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    1. It's a sickness. People who are normally pleasant just go right off the deep end.

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Lend me some sugar!