Gym Drama: How to Deal When Your Workout Stresses You Out

by Charlotte on February 6, 2012 · 20 comments

Gossip, intrigue, power plays and morality plays: From the small stuff to the life-and-death stuff (sometimes literally), gyms are a microcosm of life. Add all the hormones, endorphins, sweat and fatigue from a good workout and you’ve got a recipe for the best reality show ever – seriously, why has no one ever done a gym reality show?! – or for some serious gym drama. Love it or hate it, the reality is that because we’re all flawed human beings, we’re all going to run into it sometimes. Some of us more than others. Ahem.

Over the years I’ve got more than a few e-mails from readers asking about whether or not the Gym Buddies and I ever have any drama and how I deal with it so it doesn’t ruin my workout (and life) mojo. The answer to the first question is easy: we’re a group of women who spend a lot of time with each other so of course drama ensues sometimes. Occasionally it’s among us, more often it’s part of the larger gym culture – but in either circumstance I’d be a jerk to write about it on here. I learned the hard way years ago that that is a line I do not cross. (And don’t go looking for that post, it was pulled and deleted the day after it went live and the crapstorm erupted.) The only people that intentionally get humiliated on this blog are me, myself and I. And the occasional Kardashian.

The answer to the second question is harder. If you attend a gym, are part of a running club or exercise anywhere other than alone in your basement, it’s going to happen. It’s a part of life, albeit one about as pleasant as the first poop after a day of eating beet salad. (If you’ve never seen beet poop, you’ve got to try it. It’s something everyone needs to experience at least once, just so they can say they did it. You know, like bungee jumping. Except gorier. And out your butt.)

So how do you deal? Here are a few things I’ve learned and I hope you’ll add many more in the comments!

Do: Apologize immediately and sincerely. Whether it’s from someone upset about a “stolen” spot or a more serious misunderstanding, when people’s feelings get hurt I’ve found the best thing to do is just to own your part in it. Admit that you made a mistake and apologize. If you can do anything to remedy the situation, do so. And then leave it alone. Drama goes to DRAMA when it keeps getting dredged back up.

Don’t: Gossip. Anyone who knows me knows this one is so hard for me. I love people! I love people’s stories! I want to be a part of all the stories! And I love hearing about their lives – especially the juicy parts! But there’s a fine line between caring about someone and wanting to help them and just spreading the muck around because it’s way more interesting than the 300 rounds of Elmo Uno that take up the rest of my day. How do you find that line? Ask yourself if you’d say it if that person were present. (Sadly for me, sometimes I forget to ask myself this until after I’ve said it. Doesn’t work so well that way.)

Do: Turn on the humor. A little laughter can go a long way, particularly if it’s at your own expense. People understand that everyone screws up, sometimes they just need to be reminded of that.

Don’t: Get it in writing. Sweaty back prints on the weight bench come and go but texts, emails, Facebook and nasty notes last forever. (The only exception to this is when you write ghost notes in the steam on the mirrors. That goes away but it also comes back when the mirror refogs. Use this to your advantage and start writing fortune-cookie messages!)

Do: Plug your earphones in and tune everyone else out. Gym drama (or sometimes “girl drama” although in my experience both genders are equally susceptible) is one of the reasons I hear most often for why people don’t like going to the gym. Some people circumvent the whole thing by getting in, doing their workout and getting out – no socializing allowed. To make this really effective, pop in your earbuds. While this works for some people, for many of us the social part is what makes the gym fun. But sometimes if you’re in the midst of some hardcore dramz the best thing to do is lay low and let it blow over. If you get to finally listen to that audio book you downloaded last year then so much the better!

Don’t: Quit your workouts. Sadly I’ve seen some people stop coming to the gym all together over some type of drama. Having done my fair share of bawling my eyes out in the Y parking lot, I know the temptation. But the one certainty of life is that it never stays the same and this too shall pass, probably faster than you think.

Do: Forgive. Whether you are the wronged party or the person who did the wrong-ing (that makes total sense, right?) or both, forgiving the other people and yourself is both healing and freeing. Try giving people the benefit of the doubt – even if you believe the best about someone and it turns out not to be true, they may be inspired by your faith in them to live up to your expectations the next time. Or they may think you’re a fool but better to be a happy fool than a sad cynic, right? It can be tough but carrying a grudge is heavy weight-lifting in a way that will definitely not improve your health!

So, I feel kinda weird giving advice like this – it makes me sound like I’m an expert in this and while I am a bona fide expert in sticking my foot in my mouth, I’m definitely not the authority on extricating it. Help me and your fellow readers out by sharing your stories and suggestions! Have you ever been caught up in some serious drama? How do you deal with it?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kay in India February 6, 2012 at 12:27 am

Interesting! I’ve never had to deal with gym drama in my building as it seems to be unused by most of my fellow complex residents! Apart from occasionally snickering at the ‘aunties’ who wear flip flops and get on the treadmill, I don’t really pay attention to other people there. They definitely have rules in the gym [and obviously proper attire and footwear is one of them], but you still see an occasional older lady [aka 'aunty' in this part of the world] wearing pajamas and flip flops to the gym.


Elisa February 6, 2012 at 3:40 am

No drama in my gym. It’s a one-on-one, by appointment only kinda place and I work with two guys. My last gym was so drama filled, I couldn’t stand it, and was in and out to train my clients.


Cort The Sport February 6, 2012 at 4:16 am

Our gym is FILLED with drama and personalities and I’ve often thought it would be the perfect place for a gym reality show!! With so many personalities, age groups, demographics, body odors, manners, goals, loudness levels, bravado, and insecurities, conflict does arise. You are right to suggest that things be handled other than Facebook/Email/Text because those typically backfire on the writer no matter who was originally in the right.

My only direct drama involvement would have been losing my temper with my previous trainer IN the gym when he dared to suggest that someone else might be working harder than me. Yes, I snapped. Yes, expletives left my mouth.


Charlotte February 6, 2012 at 8:03 am

Your gym sounds a lot like mine! As does your competitive spirit;)


Miz February 6, 2012 at 4:31 am

no gym drama here!
and not just because I usually workout around the domicile either :)


BethR February 6, 2012 at 5:00 am

A few years back there was a reality show called Workout based in a gym. Lots’o drama.


Charlotte February 6, 2012 at 8:10 am

How did I miss that?!


BethR February 7, 2012 at 7:00 am

This is where Jackie Warner got started.
Total dysfunctional gym drama: sex, sweat and sit ups :)


Naomi/Dragonmamma February 6, 2012 at 6:30 am

Oh, yeah, keeping my big yapper shut is a learning curve that I’ve needed to accelerate since my conversion from a gym rat to a gym employee. I really, really, really try to think with my brain for several seconds so that my filter has time to activate before stupid things fly off my tongue.

I’m hoping that’s a typo on that sign; I bet it’s supposed to be “no swearing”.


Charlotte February 6, 2012 at 8:11 am

True, I imagine as an employee you are even more enmeshed in it all!


Penny February 6, 2012 at 7:40 am

I WISH there was drama where I train. I keep myself to myself, and have done for the 7 -odd years I’ve been a member. I did have an awkward moment last week waiting for a spin class to start…. I was pedal turning and a girl came in just before the class started and knelt down to set up her bike next to me… her very nice pair of gym trews got caught in my pedal… RIP. I felt terrible, but there are only so many apologies you can make…


Cat@thingsmybellylikes February 6, 2012 at 10:19 am

This is weird. I just posted about beets and my ongoing attempt to force myself to eat them. I swear your description of beet poop has set me back about two years. Do. Not. Want.

As for gym drama. Simple way of avoiding it – don’t gym! Gym drama is part of the reason I exercise at home, alone. Far from social interaction and all the perils that go with it.


Abby February 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

I’m kind of easily irritated by other people so it doesn’t go so well with my penchant for group fitness classes. Honestly I’d just hire a personal trainer for all my workouts if I could afford it and then figure I’d have the best of both worlds. But short of winning the lottery that’s unlikely to happen so I settle these days for sighing loudly when people set up their mats and equipment practically on top of mine when I’ve been there for 10 minutes. Or shooting dirty looks at the guy who comes in late and sets up right in front of the mirror so then I can’t check my form. I try to be courteous but seriously. The other day I smashed into a girl who came in in the middle of Zumba and popped in right next to me while my back was turned. I feel like basic social skills go out the window at the gym sometimes.


deb roby February 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I don’t see a lot of drama in my gym. I’m either immune, or we’re so frakkin crowded that we squeeze the drama right out. Oh wait – the fingerprint ID system screened a whole of the drama (trouble makers/gangsters/fighters) out of the place.

Of course most people are wearing earbuds and working out alone or in their little groups.


Quix February 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm

My gym is mostly older folks so I don’t see much drama, save the occasional “I reserved this machine and someone’s on it” shenanigans or chatty people that don’t understand mid-sprint is not the time for them to strike up a convo. Although, one lady just about kicked my husband off his bike because she was older and needed THAT recumbent bike and he could use the other stand up one because he was young, heh.

I definitely go headphones in, loud music, and avoid the world.


Jody - Fit at 54 February 6, 2012 at 7:59 pm

That is why I workout when most do not! :-) But more because I want to do what I want to when I want to do it! ;-) Isn’t that what you are writing about!!! ;-) BUT, I do it when I don’t bother people & I am respectful of the few there! :-)


Amber February 7, 2012 at 10:23 am

I don’t have any gym drama! What am I doing wrong? ;) I think it’s probably because I don’t do the fitness classes. And also that I’ve worked pretty hard at having unapproachable aura ;)
Oh, but I did help a complete stranger decipher a pregnancy test in the locker room a couple weeks ago. That’s about as exciting as it’s ever been.


Heather Cook February 7, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Whoa… what gym do you go to?

Possibly I haven’t been going enough… but 3-4 times a week for the last year and a half, at two different gyms, you think I’d see some drama somewhere!


Kevin from All Elliptical Reviews February 11, 2012 at 12:47 pm

You don’t have to go to a gym! Think about joining an adult outdoor education school where you can learn rock climbing or orienteering, or sign up for surf lessons. Or head out to hit the single tracks on a fat tire mountain bike to race down narrow paths and switchbacks, exploring desert rock formations, meadows, and open fields. Do some research and you’ll find there are camps and outdoor adventure excursions for all skill levels that are within a day’s drive no matter where you live.


fitness nj May 24, 2012 at 7:28 am

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