Physical Fit: Mind the Gap

This is not so much a rant as a rambling, trip around my thoughts regarding appropriate gym etiquette. I’ve discussed some of my issues before about crowding and personal space. Lately, it has beset my thoughts with ruminations of “Why?” And so… here we go…

I recently posted about what I like to call “Gym-crowding” month. This is always a bit of a difficult time for me as I am not a fan of the press of human flesh. So, with the turn of the year bringing colder months and the recognition of “Oh, hell what all did I eat during the holidays?!?” it makes it all the more difficult to return to the gym and get back on track for my fitness and health routine. I just really dislike having to fight for my right to elliptical or experiencing the awkwardness of jostling to get to a machine or weights with another patron as we race to see who can get there first. It just doesn’t work for me. In truth, had I been lucky enough to choose the right numbers in a recent lottery; I would probably invest in my own home gym and be done with it. However, I didn’t win any large amounts of cash, and I still believe it is probably in my best interests to get out of my house to workout.

As it happens, my gym recognizes those of us who are decidedly introverted, and in an attempt to cater to our dislike of our own kind and possibly good business sense of spreading their business through the day, the management of Planet Fitness provide information about gym population based on time of day. It’s fairly accurate (while experiencing some off tally fluctuations throughout the year). I can look at their numbers and see that there are times when I would encounter fewer rivals for the tricep machine. Most of this information is rather intuitive. You know that there are going to be more people right after work. You can pretty well guess that the middle of the night is less populated (my gym is 24-hour). There are a few surprising things, though. For instance, lunch is a little bit of a rush. There are a good many people that like to take their lunch break at the gym, I suppose. Additionally, there is some sort of strange mid-afternoon spike. So, the data provided by the management, is appreciated. I find that my favorite times are early morning before I go to work or sometime before the actual lunch rush. I take an early lunch to hit it before the crowd does. I avoid the place after work. My absolute favorite is my weekend workouts. I can usually rely on Saturday and Sunday mornings being a ghost town with only a few of us rattling around in the big place like dried peas in a tin can. It’s heaven. I can also take as much time as I like without having to rush back to work or get out of someone else’s way. But… I digress. I told you this might get a little rambling.

I suppose, if I veer back towards topic, I would have to say that I noticed an odd phenomenon starting about 5 or 6 months ago. It was subtle and random at first. I was fairly certain it was merely coincidental. However, after some generally consistent repetitive occurrence of the incidents, I can say that there appears to be a pattern.

I am a striking person by appearance. I am tall. I am by no means delicate or fragile in appearance. I am Amazonian rather than willowy. I believe that I have discussed this before in a previous post. I do not precisely fade into the background, but I am not winning any beauty pageants. I’m totally ok with this. However, recently it seems that if I take on the appearance of a soaking wet rag and smell like an overheated horse, I can’t beat people off with a stick. I have started to wonder if by chance I have some sort of powerful pheromones that can knock people out of any common sense they might possess. However, for those of you who may even remember biology class when we discussed various biological and chemical processes of the mating behaviors of fauna, you would remember that pheromones generally have the impact of attracting the opposite gender and, to put no fine point upon it, totally pissing off members of the same sex.

Something is very, very wrong with my chemistry. I have come to this conclusion after months of observation and frustration. Picture it: I schedule my gym time to give me a mid-morning break from job stress and hopefully give me the best shot at a less crowded gym. Sure enough, walking in, I perceive that there are a mere handful of individuals scattered through the facility. It was great. I figured I would be completely in my groove sans molestation by the talkers, walkers, and generally intrusive members of my species. I was sadly mistaken, and I was approached by no less than three… yes, three men that all used as their initiating salvo “How you doin’?” or something equally ridiculous. Seriously, this happened. So, this was my first inkling that something had gone wonky in my universe. The pattern continued, and as time wore on, it wasn’t just the men. Nope. Women joined in and wanted to talk to me about everything from workouts to soap opera characters (of whom I had literally zero knowledge nor did I wish to have).

Over time, it happened more and more frequently. I switched up my routine and started getting in my workout earlier in the day. I figured people don’t want to talk to you at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. For the most part I was correct. Then, the sad day arrived… it seems my sweat has powers to rival the most powerful of attraction tonics. The gym was all but empty. There were no less than 15 empty elliptical machines, not to mention a plethora of other cardiovascular exercise equipment. I chose one on the end so that I was safe from incursion on at least one side. It didn’t save me. Two ladies entered and while one stood on the empty side of me looking around and talking to her friend loudly, the other took up her progress on the other side using the elliptical immediately adjacent to mine. I resisted the urge to stop and in my best tour director impersonation identify and direct them to the now 14 other options for elliptical that would not require them being right next to me.

I focused my attention on my own progress, listened to my headphones, and tried to ignore the intrusion to my personal bubble. I figured that they would probably do their own thing and as I had not made eye contact nor acknowledged them in any way. I was… mistaken. Oh heavens, I was!

They had started by talking over around and through me, but then, each of them attempted to draw me into conversation with little comments, questions, remarks… Any of you try to hold a conversation while running on an elliptical? Well… maybe folks reading this are more adept with their physical coordination and maybe have more stamina and breath. I do not have that capability, honestly. If I split my attention from what is coming through my headphones, the display screens in front of me, and the physical movements of arms and legs, I am very likely to be catapulted into the treadmills immediately behind and cause quite a commotion if not some nasty injuries to myself. Additionally, I do not speak English before coffee. I don’t speak human before coffee, and most people are lucky if I do not sink fangs in response to any attempts to communicate pre-caffeine. These women had very obviously not gotten the memo. However, after their 10 minutes of talk and elliptical, they departed to allow me peace in which to finish my own 40 minute “run.”

The whole experience and that of the previous months has caused me to wonder what prompts people to invade the space. A friend called it the “gym equivalent of the guy that doesn’t respect the urinal gap.”

I cannot decide if it is just the overtly friendly nature of extroversion, or if it is generally some lack of social perception that would prompt people to push into another human’s personal bubble. Like I mentioned, I briefly considered the pheromone prospect, but I don’t know if that is a viable thesis. It remains to be seen and I suspect testing that might be a more disgusting journey than I am willing to embark upon.

So, for the time being, if you, dear reader, happen to be out there in the world of the workout, be respectful of the personal bubble. You may feel compelled to speak to that person lifting weights or sweating on the cardio machine. You might assume that they, as part of the human race share your desire for social interaction. You can think about it… but don’t do it. Seriously, take a moment to consider that the person is there concentrating and working towards their goals with purpose. If you truly wish to converse with a stranger at the gym… do so in the lobby or at the water fountain or for the love of all that is holy in that little area where people sit to consult with the trainers, but let the person enjoying their gym have some peace in which to do so. Additionally… always mind the gap.

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