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This article by Jamie Saxon was prepared for the June 18, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Just as in any societal grouping that involves more
than one human body in close proximity to another, the ritual of going
to the gym carries with it a set of unspoken rules of etiquette. In
a giant room full of sweaty bodies and the egos that drive them there,
any number of behaviors can set off alarms and ostracize you as quickly
as a chimpanzee from the fold in a Jane Goodall documentary.
It’s easier than you think to set off the human primal instinct. Sure,
you’ve felt it, like when it’s 7 p.m. at the grocery store, you have
low serum glucose, and the person in front of you in the express aisle
tries to sneak in 32 items. (Of course when it’s me doing it, I count
any multiple of an item, like cat food, as one. But when someone else
does it, it makes my skin crawl and my grandmother turn over in her
My husband felt it a few weeks ago at the AMC 24, when a woman in
the front row brought her four-year-old and 18-month-old to a 10 p.m.
show of X-Men 2 and proceeded to ignore them as they got in touch
with their own primal instinct. No less potent than road rage, these
lapses in judgment, these breaches in social etiquette, either make
you, or the person next to you, crazy. It’s no different at the gym.
The rules of etiquette at the gym include some obvious ones: Don’t
wear fanny packs. Do you seriously think you’re going to be pulled
over on the Stairmaster or the Girl Scouts might solicit you for cookies
during a spinning class? Don’t offer to rub moisturizer on the woman
next to you in the locker room; it’s not the beach. Always wipe your
sweat off the seat of workout equipment; nobody wants your DNA on
Men, don’t tuck your shirt into your gym pants — Jack La Lanne
is not sexy. Further, if you insist on pretending to love step classes
— but just stand in the back row, swaying back and forth slightly
as a meager disguise for your real agenda, which is checking out the
goods in front of you — know that all the women in the class despise
you and hope you suffer a serious tax audit.
I never fully realized the full power humans have to trigger the primal
instinct in one another until a couple of weeks ago when a breach
of gym etiquette spurred a true catfight between me and a woman in
my aerobics class. It was a beautiful thing, an experience I’m sure
is the closest I’ll ever come to female mud wrestling.
It began like this. Some people believe that the price tag of a gym
membership entitles them to a little piece of real estate — in
this case a three-foot square on the floor of Studio 1. They never
budge from that spot, week after week, month after month, and I know
instructors who say these people purposely come early to class to
make sure they get "their spot." These are the kind of rigid
people who go postal at the deli when their ham isn’t cut so thin
it could double as a bridal veil.
I arrived late to class that day, in and of itself a no-no, but I
had just been pulled over for speeding. This is true — and significant
only because I had, much to my own astonishment and personal glee,
talked myself out of the ticket. Therefore, my own ego was rather
pumped, Princess Diana goes for a workout among the little people.
The class was full, too full, but I scoped out my own tiny piece of
real estate — temporary, mind you, more like a timeshare. It was
wedged behind a rather wide woman, the epitome of the gym stereotype
I call The Sloth — someone who works out every day but, unfortunately,
because she never actually moves her body, never gets any thinner
— and her sidekick, a rather short woman who exemplified another
gym stereotype I call The Jerry Lewis — someone who is so frightfully
uncoordinated that one is filled with pity at imagining how difficult
everyday tasks like brushing one’s teeth must be for her.
One of the first rules of gym etiquette for class situations is to
be aware of the space 360 degrees around you: If someone is directly
behind you and there’s room in front of you, get over yourself and
move up a bit. It’s so uncool to have to ask the person in front of
you to move up, because, as the next rule goes, any type of verbal
exchange during class is verboten. Serious gym people don’t talk during
their workout. Nod and smile all you want but zip the lip. Women are
the worst; for many, it seems that once they reach their target heart
rate, they are overcome by the need to loudly debate with their neighbor
the right way to roast a stuffed turkey to prevent food poisoning,
what a colonoscopy really feels like, or the best way to toilet train
a toddler in under 48 hours.
As the Sloth and Jerry Lewis were defying gravity, bobbing about like
Weebles who refused to fall down, I was properly following the instructor
with full range of motion, exaggerating my motion to see if Sloth
and Jerry would get the message to move up. They did not. So, like
a seagull divebombing to catch a fish, I brazenly stepped directly
in front of them into the front row, where there was, of course, plenty
of room, thereby cutting off their unobstructed view of themselves
in the mirror. I am tall; they are not. I nonchalantly stooped to
adjust my sneaker laces, when — POW — Sloth took her first
hit, screeching loudly above the music, "You shouldn’t stand in
front of my friend. She’s short and you’re tall!" To which I brought
out only mild artillery and replied, equally loudly, "Well, if
you would just move up I wouldn’t have to step in front of
By this point the whole class and the instructor were watching (but
still moving). I felt, quite giddily, like I was on the set of Days
of Our Lives. Jerry opened fire: "If you would just stop jumping
around so much, we’d have more room!" I rarely act on my desire
to point out others’ flaws to their face (I was taught if you don’t
have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all), but sometimes
the temptation is just too great, like cutting one brownie out of
the pan and then spending the next half hour making and eating teeny
tiny slices "to even the edges." I opened fire back, "Well,
some of us actually do what the instructor’s doing…what a concept!"
I decided all of sudden, however, that perhaps I’d chosen the wrong
battle, and Sloth just might have a gun hidden in the folds of her
belly. I tossed my hair, a la Marsha Brady, and skulked back to my
After class, I suddenly feared a face-to-face encounter with Sloth
in the locker room — West Side Story in Lycra and sports bras.
Instead, several women from the class and the instructor swarmed over
me like a sorority hive over to me. The alpha gym girls congratulated
me, releasing a flood of verbiage about Sloth, which had clearly been
building up for months. They lauded my confronting her little breach
of etiquette (and apparently ignored my own). The instructor even
admitted to having run-ins with this woman. It really wasn’t that
different from Jane’s chimpanzees, though. Just better showers.
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