Every gym has this guy. (He’s a car! No he’s a human! Wait, he’s a Transformer!!) Is it terrible my first thought was “I would have taken off my jacket and tucked in my headphone wires first?” Because I really kind of want to try this even if it is the definition of ridiculosity.
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?! (edited to add: apparently someone has, I’ve just never seen it.) – 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.
So when I got this e-mail from Reader A about wanting to breakup with her gym, I totally felt her pain! And I’m guessing many of you have as well. She writes:
I love your blog as well as your book! It has been so fun, insightful and comfortable to read and work through life and fitness with you. Thank you for sharing so intimately the many aspects of your life, and for always keeping such a tremendous sense of humor (even during the painful seasons)! I am right there with you on many of the journeys.
I would appreciate your insight: Have you ever wanted to break up with your gym for reasons unrelated to fitness? I’m a workout junkie–love how exercise makes me feel and I know how good it is for me on so many levels. But I’ve experienced a motivation slump, and caught myself in traps of anxiety that have nothing to do with my workout experience and everything to do with the social aspect of my gym.
One trainer goads me in the name of encouragement, which makes me willfully (and sometimes hazardously!) defiant. Another complains loudly and holds a grudge when people cancel from her class–which in turn makes me feel socially obliged to attend even when I really shouldn’t go, and super guilty when I do cancel.
It all sounds very petty. I’m feeling really in a bind, and like I don’t have many options when it comes to finding a new crowd. I should be motivated on my own, but a fitness community is one of the things I liked most about my previous gyms, and what originally drew me to this particular establishment.
The whole thing has me completely unmotivated, and a bit indignant! It is, after all, my time and my membership and I shouldn’t spend my money and scarce energy to only come out feeling like crap.
Thanks so much for hearing me out on my rant. Any insights, suggestions or advice (point me to the right archive post!!!!) would be hugely appreciated.
Best wishes and much love,
First, thank you thank you thank you – your kind words of encouragement totally made my whole day A! But on to your questions. 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 had (gah, I hate writing that past tense!) any drama, if I have any gym drama now 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 spent a lot of time with each other so of course drama ensued sometimes. Occasionally it was among us, but like A wrote in her e-mail, more often it was part of the larger gym culture.
If you attend a gym, are part of a running club or exercise anywhere other than alone in your basement, drama and hurt feelings are 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.)
Case in point: A Planet Fitness gym recently booted one of their members for wearing this outfit:
No, it’s not because the outfit was deemed too sexy or revealing or something but rather because she was “intimidating people with [her] toned body.” Ironically, Planet Fitness’ motto is “a judgment free zone”. Oops! Later, a rep said the woman had violated the “no string tanks” part of the dress code which kind of made me laugh because I’ve seen a lot of bad workout wear in my day and spaghetti-strap tanks are hardly the worst offenders. (Looking at you dude who did an entire spin class in nothing but tightie whities and knee-high black business socks. I can never unsee that now.) The woman offered to put a tee on over the top but then quit when she received additional complaints. Then, proving that one is funny but two is a trend, a different Planet Fitness kicked out a woman for working out in a hijab (a headscarf worn by some Muslim women to cover their hair as part of their religion). Apparently they were worried it could be mistaken for gang gear.
My point: Things are weird all over, A. Be glad that your gym isn’t busting your chops over your clothes, I guess?
Seriously though, so how do you deal when your gym is stressing you out more than working you out? Here are a few things I’ve learned and I hope you’ll add your advice for A in the comments!
Do: Pay attention to the management. Every gym comes with its own zeitgeist and you can feel it the moment you walk in the door. Some gyms are welcoming and friendly, others are older and comfortable, some are all business while others are fun and games, and still others are high-end and elitist. But while everyone assumes it’s the paying clientele that sets the mood, it turns out it’s the gym management. Whether it’s a huge corporate big-box gym or a tiny mom-and-pop number, the on-site manager and the marketing team decide what kind of atmosphere they’re going to create and what type of people they’re going to solicit. And they make all the rules. I’ve learned the hard way that making friends with the management is one of the best ways to ensure a good workout experience – cross them and they can totally mess with you. I wish I could say every gym I’ve been in has been run in a strictly professional manner but people are people even if the nametag says otherwise. It’s worth your while to get to know them, preferably before you sign on the dotted line.
Don’t: Pay attention to the personal trainers. I feel for personal trainers – they are in a strange position. Many gyms rent space/time to trainers so they end up being a third party in a precarious position. Gyms that do have paid trainers on staff still usually have sales goals they have to meet which also puts them in a precarious position. Rule #1 for trainers: They’re there to do their job and get paid. You need to respect that but also remember that when you talk to them, as A pointed out, they can do a hard sell. Rule #2 for trainers: They are not all created equally. Trainers are the wildcards in my job – I have met some serious geniuses who do a lot of good for a lot of people. I’ve also met some trainers who couldn’t ID a kettlebell if you dropped it on their foot, much less be qualified to teach someone how to use it. Some trainers have master’s degrees in kinesiology while others got their certification in a weekend course that centered mainly around how to use the IED machine in case someone has a heart attack. All of this means that while you do need to be respectful of them, you certainly don’t need to listen to them – especially when they’re “goading” you at the gym, A! (Unless, of course, you hired them to train you, you like them and they are helping you meet your goals. Then you should totally listen to them!)
Do: Apologize immediately and sincerely if you screw up. Whether it’s someone upset about a “stolen” spot, a teacher miffed about you skipping out on their class (as in A’s letter) 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.
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 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. That said, if you’re spending so much of your time stressing about the gym drama, it may be time to look for a change of venue! Last fall, if you recall, I quit the gym I joined when we first moved to Colorado. Mostly it was because I felt that the management was poor and didn’t listen to their customers but part of it was because the gym aura was one of cattiness and snobbery. (Remember the mean girls who made fun of me?) Eventually you have to say enough is enough – and you are the only one who can know where that line is for you. For me, I quit the gym for a while and then I switched to the local rec center and have been quite happy there! It’s a much more family-oriented atmosphere and while it is somewhat lacking in equipment and classes, it more than makes up for it with fun people and kind staff. I can make do with measly equipment. I can’t handle constant politicking.
Do: Forgive. Whether or not you end up staying at your current gym, 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 wanted to quit your gym? What did you do? And what do you think about Planet Fitness’ dress code “violations”??
*Um, anyone watch Pretty Little Liars?? A IS SENDING ME NOTES. Ahahhahahaha!