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gym-iny cricket
do i really have to be the conscience of the health club?
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)

Those of you who read my columns religiously (that is, while wearing a yarmulke), and memorize my every word, will likely remember a piece I wrote a few months ago in which I mentioned that I joined a gym and was going to get in stellar shape.

It would have worked, too, if it hadn't been for you snooping kids.

And the fact that I got downsized and lost the membership I had through work.

However ... and it's a big "however" ... I have been gainfully employed for slightly over three months, and have rejoined said gym, though for more than the gorgeous corporate rate I'd been getting. (People outside of this fair city, however, tell me that a $62/month corporate rate is not generous. I don't know if I believe those people. They also tell me that driving is the wave of the future.)

I have, as an upshot of reacquiring my membership at the gym (New York Health and Racquet Club, for you stalkers out there), started once again going to the gym. For a while I was all about the elliptical machine until I was diagnosed two weeks ago with three herniated discs in my neck. So now I try to do exercises that require my head to bounce on my spine somewhat less frequently. Yesterday, I watched a moth bang against a window. God, what a workout.

I have noticed a disturbing trend, though, as I have been spending a lot more time in the gym than probably ever - people don't seem to have a freakin' clue regarding gym etiquette. This is made even worse because in some cases there are actually signs telling you what to do.

I've felt for a while now, for example, that the people who use their towels to cover up the treadmill/cycle/elliptical console are not only a little shady, but also blatantly inconsiderate. For those who don't know at all what this means, most gyms have a 20- or 30-minute limit on cardio equipment (treadmills, exercycles, etc.), especially if things are busy and there are people waiting in line. How do the gym employees know if you've been walking your little butt up imaginary stairs for 40 minutes? It says it on the console of the machine you're using, or it would if you didn't have your towel draped over it.

Which is to say that people who feel as though their workouts take precedence over the 7 people waiting in line, despite the clearly posted signs that say things like, "There is a 20-minute limit if people are waiting in line." I know that might seem inscrutable to some: "How am I supposed to know if people are waiting?" "What's a line?" But I'd be willing to make a bet that these selfsame people raise a crying hoolelia when they're waiting in line and someone goes into minute number 21.

My umbrage, I should mention, is not with the length of time for which people choose to use the machines. I tend to set my workouts for a half-hour. What bugs me is that they're so shady about it, covering up the console, as though everyone else is too stupid to know what that really means. If I'm running for 30 minutes and someone stops me at minute 22 and tells me I have to stop, well, I'll stop. If that someone is a voice inside my head, you're all against me, all of you!

I think it really comes down to either an inability or, more likely, a disinclination, to put oneself in the shoes of another. It's actually a virtue probably lacking throughout society today, but can be seen in microcosm at the health club.

And all it takes is asking yourself, "Would I want this?" "Would I want to wait in line for 40 minutes even though there's a 20 minute limit?" No. "Would I want to stand there panting while you take as much time as you can to fill up your 1-liter bottle of water from the fountain?" No. "Would I want to see old men wander through the locker room wearing only flip-flops?" No.

And they do. I imagine old women do the same thing in the women's locker room. And when I say "imagine" I don't mean "fantasize," for all you sickos out there. Maybe they don't. Maybe this is some special hell reserved especially for us guys.

However, and this really goes out to old, young, middle-aged, whatever - I cannot emphasize this enough: wear a towel. Do not stand in front of the mirror, combing your hair with your pasty ass in my face. Do not shuffle down the aisle to your locker, towel over your shoulder, balls bouncing off your knees. And, especially, do not sit down on that bench.

This is not homophobia. This is simply that I have no desire to see you in the altogether just hanging out, in much the same way I wouldn't want you wandering around with a nosebleed. I don't do it. My friends don't do it. The locker room is not the place to explore your leanings towards naturalism. There are only four times when it's okay to be naked without a towel, and two of those are "when you're putting your towel on." The others are when you're actually stepping into the shower and when you're getting dressed. You may notice a trend.

It's all about consideration. While we're at it, don't bring your cell phone with you when you work out. Even if you use an iPhone or Palm Pre, which doubles as your mp3 player, at least don't answer the damn thing. I know this seems like common sense, but I swear just yesterday I saw a guy on the treadmill just chatting away as though he was in his living room. There's a reason we're all wearing headphones, big guy, and it's not so that you can sit there on your RAZR without too much background noise.

As a matter of fact, don't do that in the locker room, either. I got to hear a guy on Tuesday beg his landlord for a rent extension. "I will come to you tomorrow with a check. I will be good for the check. Tomorrow. Just wait - when will you be in tomorrow?" I know we all shower next to each other, but some things should remain personal.

Actually, you know what - maybe you really shouldn't hang out in the locker room at all. This may or may not be a gay thing; I honestly don't know. If I liked guys, I might view the locker room as a great meeting place. Or maybe it's something else. Regardless, there are guys at my gym (all the locations, as far as I can tell) who just hang out in the locker room.

Usually in their underwear, they just sit on the benches shooting the shit. What is that? I mean, they're not employees. And they're not bothering me, per se. It's just weird. Why are you talking to me about the stock market and your upcoming vacation plans while only wearing a banana hammock? You seem friendly enough, but you see how I'm getting changed, taking a shower, doing my hair, etc.? You're not doing any of those things. Why not? Weird.

Oh, yeah. Wipe off the equipment when you're done using it. We're all sweating here, assuming we're doing it right; I don't like grabbing the "heartrate monitor" and finding it wet, and I'm sure you don't either. Ehhhhh. (My friend Lisa points out that with the H1N1 virus re-rearing its ugly snout, this goes beyond just the "ick factor," into a legitimate public health concern. Lisa's good like that.)

I know some of you - the ones who work out at home or are lucky enough not to need the gym (or just don't belong to one) - who are probably saying, "Do these things really need to be spelled out?" The answer is that they shouldn't, but they do. I've seen firsthand every single one of these "common sense" guidelines broken on numerous occasions. Most of them as recently as this past week.

But this column isn't aimed at you, obviously. Feel free to spend as much time naked in your home gym as your heart desires. As long as it's not when you're having me visit, Brett. No, this column is for those who needed to be told this. I like to think that my readership is made up of better-than-average people, but it probably isn't. I'm sure some of you out there never thought, "Oh, most other men don't want to see my penis in public." Or, "Wait - listening to my problems with my mom doesn't make your workout more pleasurable." Or "There are people besides me who don't want to touch sweaty gym equipment." Seriously?

Because I never ever ever ever again want to be forced to think to myself, as I was yesterday, "Why is that old hairy guy just hanging out naked with his towel draped over his arm in the shower area but not actually going into a shower? Why?" If you can't tell, my mind is still screaming a little bit.

That said, if we ever reach the "Starship Troopers" future in which everyone's attractive and there are coed showers, then, sure, I suppose the female recruits can hang out naked in the locker room for as long as they want. But only out of consideration for the rest of us.


A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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annie 333
9.8.09 @ 1:23p

It's much worse in the steam room, which I adore, until Fran comes in, whips off her coverage, plops down butt-naked and starts telling me about her grandchildren. And how she really doesn't mind about her neighbor's lesbianism. And, come to think of it, do I like men or women? All while her lids droop languidly and her body makes squishy sounds on the tile.

adam kraemer
9.8.09 @ 5:01p


I haven't actually been in the steam room yet. Maybe for that reason.

lisa r
9.8.09 @ 6:01p

My club's steam room is located in the pool area--you have to be in a swimsuit to enter it. So far, I haven't seen anyone try to pass off their birthday suit as a suitable alternative to a swimsuit.

mike julianelle
9.8.09 @ 7:21p

Just an FYI, I rarely hit the gym during its highest traffic times so jockeying for a treadmill isn't an issue, but I have been known to drape my towel over the console. This is not to thwart the people waiting for a machine, but merely to hide the elapsed time from my OWN eyes.

I find that if I clock watch while I run, I am much more likely to cut things short too soon. Cloaking the digital readout prevents me from knowing that I've run longer than I thought I'd be able to, and thus makes my workout more effective. I might quit at 7 minutes if I was watching the clock, but by hiding it, I can make 25 minutes feel more like 15, and that is a valuable thing.

tim lockwood
9.9.09 @ 12:58a

I miss my Y membership; we had to give up such luxuries in this crap economy.

But I recall that I actually liked clock-watching, what little I did of it. I knew that if I was supposed to be on the treadmill for, say, 25 minutes, then 21 minutes wasn't going to cut it. It was like, by having the clock exposed, everyone could see whether or not I was cheating. Sure, I suppose no one actually knew what my exercise goals for the day were, so they couldn't tell if I short-changed myself 4 minutes or gave myself an extra minute. But by having the clock exposed, I kept myself disciplined to give myself the full measure.

Usually, though, I just watched the odometer. I might start off going for two miles as my goal, but if I felt good enough to do it, I would see if I could squeeze in an extra quarter-mile. Or maybe half-mile. "Aw hell, I overshot the half-mile mark, now I have to make it a nice round number again." That's how my mind worked.

adam kraemer
9.9.09 @ 1:14a

Yeah, Tim, I'm with you. If I know how much longer I have, I'm going to hit that mark. If I'm not looking at the stopwatch, I'm a lot more likely to want to throw in the towel early.

lisa r
9.9.09 @ 9:12a

I watch the calorie counter instead of the clock. Its a bigger motivator for me--although last night when the two Chatty Cathies came in at 9:30 and established themselves next to me yet again I threw in the towel 10 minutes early. They talk loud enough for the entire main floor to hear them, and I can't hear the TV over them (our gym has individual TVs at each machine, with headphone jacks for the audio).

adam kraemer
9.9.09 @ 4:42p

I mentioned in the column about my spinal issues; it breaks my heart every time I look at the calorie counter on the stationary bike that I'm burning half the calories of the elliptical.

lisa r
9.9.09 @ 7:34p

I can burn more calories on the treadmill than an elliptical or bike. I just put it on Hillclimb, and set it for an hour at 3 mph. I have back problems, too, and the walking helps--and its easier on my knees than the bike.

It helps to have something worth watching on TV when I walk for that long. I once walked an extra half hour because the baseball game I was watching went into extra innings!

adam kraemer
9.9.09 @ 7:36p

I've been loving the pre-season football; between actual games and ESPN's coverage, I've hardly noticed time passing. Except, of course, for when my calves start to spasm.

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