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Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Casualties Of (Gym) Etiquette

If you're just joining us, this is the continuation of delightful habits - yes, it is used sarcastically, in case you didn't get it the first time - I have observed from people who frequent fitness centers. While many gym goers are respectful of other people who share the same paid space and facilities and act accordingly, there is a segment of the population that feels differently - these posts are about the latter group.

(See for the first part.)

And now, on to the next items in our list of (ill) manners.

6. The Place Savers

Regular gym goers know the type: they're the ones who have a "hallowed" spot, either in particular classes, or in using the treadmill that's closest to the window. These clients seem to act like they "own" a piece of fitness real estate (did they have a separate bill entry for this in their membership fee? How ever will their accountants...well, account for this in their tax returns?) and that any intrusion (read: people who got to their usual spot first) are given such a staring down that if looks could kill, the "usurper" would have suffered more bruises and would have been more bloodied than a Mixed Martial Arts contender.

(Courtesy of

In case it wasn't clear, the gym is a free space: that means no holdsies, no reservations, no absurd rationalizations. It is strictly First Come, First Served. Just like any line in life - or at least those who honor lines, like myself, like to think so.

Do not get "angry" if someone is standing on your favorite spot. Di mo yan pag mamay-ari, di tulad ng inaakala mo. (You don't own the spot, even if you think otherwise.)

Do not hurl invectives at the person who got to the stair climber 5 minutes before you did, because the machine only says "Property of ABC Gym", it does not say "Step out whenever _______________ is present, this machine is all his/hers!!!"

Above all, do not make a lame attempt to justify your insistence on a particular machine or spot by saying something along the lines of "EVERYONE knows I stay on this machine/spot always!"

This is not high school. This is the real world - and not an MTV produced TV show.

7. The Pick-Uppers

Colloquially referred to as a pickup joint that's better than a bar because you see what people look like in bright lights and hear how they grunt as a preview to, er, horizontal delights, the gym is usually thought of as a place to "score" in terms of sex/dating.

I'm not a prude, let me state that clearly, and that's the reason I "get" it. People who go to the gym have to have some form of vanity in their genetic make-up, and it's only natural that they also seek this same desirability in potential dates or lays. Add to the fact that sexual attraction is perfectly natural and a basic part of what makes us "us" as humans, and I completely understand why "hookups" have become almost synonymous with gym culture.

(Courtesy of

But, for the love of all things, could you take your "dance" outside of the gym? Once you've established your interest in each other, please do not act like you are in a badly directed pornography flick, tossing off sickening one-liners as a come-on to your potential "score". And I say this to both clients of the heterosexual and homosexual variations: Don't shit where you work (out). (Again, I understand there are "gyms" where actual intercourse takes place with the hooded consent of the management. I'm not talking about those establishments, which aren't really "legit" fitness centers to begin with.)

A friend told me of such an encounter between two members of the human species elite genus: fashion models who cannot gain weight even if you force fed them a hunderd years, who "work out" to gain weight as opposed to everyone else trying to take it off.

The female was constantly doing her bicep curls from a seated and bent over position, the better to enlarge her breasts and cleavage - as I mentioned, she is stick thin so she needed all the help in "magnifying" her assets. The male model, who typically had "chicken legs" (overly developed upper body with a serious deficiency from the waist down), kept posing his guns and chest, also for purposes of "mating".

Both unfortunately and fortunately, my friend was in the middle of their "courtship", seeing them exchange their glances of longing and desire, and (like me if I were in her place) was rolling her eyes internally.

It all came to a head when the female took the direct approach, went up to her male counterpart, and asked, in full bravado: "Are you trying to seduct me?"

Someone please call Webster Dictionary. We've been saying it wrong all these years.

8. The Clique Formers

The gym is a social space, so it's no surprise that small sets of people, clumping in groups based on affinity or interest are formed. It is pretty much the same everywhere else, except that the ones in the gyms tend to have more, uh, passionate expressions of their loyalty to their cliques.

(Courtesy of

If you've seen the movie series of Step Up, you'll know what it boils down to: a dance-off. But not a formal one; instead, nag papabonggahan sila (they try to outdo each other) in class. It starts out with someone from the other group hearing that Ms. Thing said you look fat, so you have to retaliate by saying "your level of fat makes me look like Paris Hilton!" Pretty soon, we have two sides calling each other every name in the hog-raising handbook, culminating in a show of "talent" on the group exercise floor.

I pity the bystanders in this affair, who only went to the gym to get their daily dose of endorphin rush, and burn a few calories, who did not know that today would be the day when they walked into the middle of a television drama episode of "Gym Days Of Our Lives".

Hair pulling, spitting, chair throwing, hissing and spewing...I've seen these happen before my very eyes.

And those are the antics of the male population.

9. The "Loyalists"

In the course of work that is physically draining, it is inevitable that teachers of group exercise classes will have to endure injuries, or just have a vacation in order to recuperate both body and mind. In those instances, they are forced to call in a substitute to cover for them while they are on leave from teaching their regular classes.

(Courtesy of

You should hear what "fans" of the original teacher say once they see it isn't who they expected standing in front of the class: they can be vicious.

"Is this your first day on the job?" is an entry-level insult.

I have seen substitute teachers who have had to stop teaching midway because they had to rush to the bathroom to let out a good cry from the verbal abuse they had to endure. Some teachers have had to withstand being called names, being cursed at the way unsavory characters would give them, and being looked down upon and called a "waste of time, I went all the way here...for you?!?"

(This is the reason why teachers have to announce beforehand that they will be absent for certain days and why the gym has to inform the clients well ahead of time so that class schedules can proceed as smoothly as possible without jarring the experience of clients, and while we as teachers are grateful for their loyalty, we also feel badly for those who have to cover our classes. They certainly expect better treatment as they can choose to be elsehwere doing something much more pleasant than fielding death threats.)

True story: I had barely a year teaching under my belt when I was tasked to cover for a very popular teacher. I took it as a challenge because I wanted to see if I would be well received, and was very open to criticisms, in order to better myself in the profession I have chosen.

A co-teacher who found out where I was teaching and who I was covering for felt the need to see me personally, and gave me a tersely-said advice: "Whatever you do in that time slot, leave your pride at the door. You won't have any to speak of anyway by the time they're done with you."

She turned out to be right, and it was an eye-opener as to what kind of clients I had the possibility of facing in the future.

I was teaching a step class, and I saw the spaces beside me rather "vacant", so I asked the class to come closer to me, and in jest, assured them that I bathed before I came into class. They all looked at each other and said "Wala pa yung Mafia." (The Mafia hasn't arrived.)

Yes, it was that kind of client.

The "Mafia" turned out to be 4 "Ladies Who Lunch" types, in full make-up and jewelry hanging on them like ornaments on a holiday tree. The clear leader was the one who placed her step beside me on my right.

Did I say placed? I meant "dropped noisily while looking at me from head to toe".

As we were still warming up, I had the class go through some basic steps and a little preview of what was about to be taught ("rehearsal moves" in industry-speak). Already, I could see the pack leader smirking, hear her sigh audibly, and in less than 5 minutes, considered herself astute enough to size my teaching ability and class to render her "judgement".

She kicked her step towards my direction, which flew smack into the mirror beside me, she screamed "WALANG MAKAKAKUHA NYAN! PUT-NG I-A!" (Nobody will get your steps! Your mother is a whore!) and stood there beside me, trying to induce death by staring.

Everyone - including me - suddenly went in Slow-Mo Mode (slow motion): We had one foot on top of the step, one on the floor, mouths opened wide with the realization of what just happened, and thankfully I had enough presence of mind to remember that I was still conducting a class and told everyone "Alright, everyone, continue holding in this pattern while I show you the next variation."

Oh, Pack Leader wasn't done.

My indifference caused her to rage in a different direction: she then went up to the row of treadmills (which were filled up to the brim as it was a "primetime" slot for the gym, 6 PM), went up to an unsuspecting "puller" (the treadmill exerciser who raises the machine to the highest incline, locks her arm in front and starts "walking" as if being dragged in front) who happened to be at the corner, then Pack Leader proceeds to yank off the girl from the treadmill (if memory serves, she had long, beautiful black hair), who was more stunned than hurt from the shock of her being "ejected" forcibly from the treadmill, all the while Pack Leader kept screaming, "AKO NA DIYAN!!!" (It's now my turn!!!)

Loyalty can take you to some dark places.

10. The Mirror Lover

Initially, I pegged this as a men-only affliction, when those with ripped bodies - thank you, steroids! - like to face any reflective surface, lift off their shirts or tank tops to reveal to one and all their ripped six-pack, then posing for a forced audience while simultaneously saying "I'm still a little fat, I need to work out more."

Conceited much?

(Courtesy of

Lately, however, even the ladies seem to enjoy their unabashed self-love they abuse on the mirror: lifting their breasts up to seem perkier, claiming to their friends -loudly - that they still need to lose three inches from a waist that measures 20, and pouting their lips endlessly as if they are applying to be on those ads for the "Call Me If You're Lonely" hotlines.

While we're on the subject, I wish the ladies would apply less makeup, perfumes and whatnot before they workout. It would be better if they could wear none at all, as the powders block facial pores, which have to be open to sweat naturally during a workout, the body's defense and response against too much heat induced by exercise. Some people also cannot stand certain scents of perfumes, which can lead to an unpleasant experience for them, and may trigger asthma attacks in some who are sensitive.

One of them actually came up to me, in her skimpy bra top. This girl has won fitness and bikini contests, and because she had just come from the USA, she felt she had transformed into a morbidly obese person, and while still in her bra top, complained "I was so EVIL in the States! I had corn dogs, fries, chips and soda! I am SOOOOOOOOOO fat!!! I hate myself!"

I could not see where she had gained this so-called weight, even if she did ingest the things she said she did, her body had been morphed into such an increased metabolic state that she was burning calories just by standing and breathing.

So I told her honestly: "You don't look like you gained an ounce at all. In this current state, standing in front of me, you could pose for a magazine cover and be asked for your diet secrets."

She then feigned incredulity. "OH MY GOD!!! Are you blind?!? Can't you see that I am, like, the most hideously obese person on the planet?!?"

I sized up her waistline (probably a "perfect" 24), her bosoms bouncing merrily in her taut bra top, with an abdominal area that would make Heidi Klum weep, then stated nonchalantly: "If you're so hideously fat, why are you running around in full view of all these mall goers in a bra top, then?"

That stopped her cold. Talk about false humility, and bad manners.

11. The Spatially Challenged

I seem to attract this special subspecies of ill-mannered clients, which I consider to be the rudest of all the etiquette offenders on this list.

They are marked and characterized by:

(a) a seeming incapacity for remembering that a class is ongoing, even if the schedule is clearly posted at the entrance to the group exercise room;

(b) possibly irreversible deafness, as the loud music does not cue these creatures that "there must be something going on here";

(c) possibly irreversible blindness, as they are oblivious to the number of bodies moving in unison, to the instructions of an exercise leader standing in front of the room or on the stage;

(d) and due to the foregoing conditions, they proceed to go on stage or the front of the room - WHILE the teacher is onstage as well - to cross to the other side of the room to get a mat;

(e) and who suddenly regain their hearing and sight, reacting to the catcalls of the clients who boo and make comments loudly at the audacity of the said creature to show such blatant ill manners in front of the entire class;

(f) and trapped in an embarrassing situation of his or her own making, proceeds to do the logical thing: turns his/her nose up in the air, claiming some form of moral superiority in the face of public ridicule, gets BACK on stage to cross back to where s/he came from with the mat, making a facial expression to indicate "I haven't done anything I should be ashamed of!" and proceed with feeling smug that they are "correct".

I have experienced this at least 5 times in my years of teaching. In one instance, the shamed party had the temerity to lodge a complaint that she had never been so humiliated in her life, and that she worked for the Solicitor General's office, making an implied threat that she would file charges for the episode where the clients made fun of her disrespectful behavior, to the class, teacher and the clients. She even made use of the letterhead of the Office of the Solicitor General in her letter threatening legal action, implying that she had the "blessing" of the head of the government agency (and making the gym manager practically pee in her skirt). I should've hauled her ass to the Ombudsman and made a formal complaint about inappropriate use of office equipment and misrepresentation.

I get not wanting to apologize for something that cannot be taken back, but to imply - publicly - that they were "in the right" and that everyone else is wrong in their etiquette compass just reeks of what we experience in politics nowadays: those who have done grievous wrongs against our nation justify it by saying "I'm right! Besides, everyone's doing it!"

Sobrang kapal ng mga mukha. (The thickness of their hides knows no bounds.)

Who knew that the gym would be witness and party to so many lapses in judgement, manners and character? I suppose it comes with the territory: with all the attention and focus given to the physical aspects of one's body, some people utterly forget to develop the other, more meaningful parts of what makes them truly engaging: their ability to connect with others, a large part of which is dependent on how they treat others, the way they want to be treated themselves.

I have met some of the most wonderful, magnificent and lovely creatures I have had the pleasure of knowing fully and calling friends from the fitness world. It is unfortunate that, like most groups, there are bad seeds and bad apples, which give credence to the accusations of our world of being a shallow, vain and bordering-on-stupidity universe populated by dumb individuals who just happened to have won the genetic lottery.

When the truth hurts, it's time to ask why it does.


  1. wow. may mga ganito pala sa gym? i am a step instructor myself :)

    i dont think i have met such people (luckily) and i keep my stay brief and all.

    i have experienced the "staring" downs back when i was new and tried to use the machines. i opted for group classes for i get to keep my spot instead and freely express as much as i can

    1. Hi, Seth,

      It's unfortunate but there are people who can be disruptive and not just a nuisance in the gym setting and culture. Nice to meet another step instructor!

  2. hahahah i see these people at the gym where I work-out. And sometimes, I tend to be a loyalist. Sorry. LOL

    1. Hi, missteacher,

      Nothing wrong with being a loyalist :) we all have our favorites, human nature being what it is. But it saddens me when clients become rude to a substitute teacher, who was doing a favor for the original teacher. :(

  3. Very interesting. I'm not a gym type person, so I was never aware that there is such a thing as "gym culture." I enjoyed your description of this.

    1. Hi, Monisima's Life In The Philippines,

      You are lucky in a way for not having met these characters. But then again, just like anyplace in life, there are good apples and bad apples. After years of working in the industry, these archetypes are the most prevalent I have observed in the "bad apple" side. :)

  4. Hi! I discovered your blog after reading your article on Rappler. I find your writing witty and insightful. I see myself following your blog regularly :)

    1. Hi, Kay Kwan,

      Thank you for your kind words. Please do drop in your comments. I won't bite.