Do's, don'ts for newly resolute exercisers

January 16, 2003|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE ARE A million stories in the Naked City, and I know yours, babe.

You looked in the mirror not long ago and saw this pale, lumpy figure staring back, and a small, strangled cry escaped from your lips.

So you freaked out and joined a health club to get in shape, you and a million other fleshy souls, which is literally how many people join gyms each January. (About half cancel their memberships by March, although that's another story entirely.)

Now someone has to clue you in on proper health club etiquette, so you don't annoy the hell out of the pale, lumpy regulars like me.

But why should I be the bad guy all by myself? So I stopped by the Maryland Athletic Club in Timonium and spoke to fitness director Kevin Sweeney and education director Stephen Holt, and together we compiled the following do's and don'ts for new gym members, so we don't have to beat you with sticks:

I don't know how to break this to you, but this is not your personal equipment. Your name is not embossed on that triceps machine or ab cruncher. So don't just camp at a machine until your entire, studly three sets of 15 reps are over.

Do a set and let others "work in."

"People are completely oblivious sometimes," said Sweeney.

Oh, you betcha. But let 'em be oblivious somewhere else.

Look, there's nothing wrong with socializing. This isn't a library. But don't sit there yapping with a friend and tying up the equipment.

If you're not using the machine, get off it and let someone else use it.

And if we see you yapping on your cell phone at a machine, we might lose it altogether.

A word or two about the dress code. Simply put, there isn't one. But let's use common sense here.

Women: This isn't a go-go bar. We don't need to see anyone spilling out of a unitard, if you catch my drift. Men: If you have a gut the size of a laundry bag, those football half-jerseys might not be the most flattering fashion accessory for you. And ease up on the tight shorts, too. It's the new millennium. Baggy is in, thank God.

Around the pool, the No. 1 turnoff remains, as it has since time immemorial: Fat guys in Speedos.

"Yeah, please put that in there," said Sweeney. "There's not a large percentage of men who can get away with a Speedo."

Amen, brother.

Try to keep the noise down, OK? Go easy on the grunting and groaning and all the histrionics when you're lifting weights.

Look, we all know you're working hard. Either that, or you're passing a kidney stone.

And when you're finished lifting, don't slam the weights down like a jerk.

"People come in and think that when they're grunting and slamming weights around, they're really working out," said Sweeney. "The fact is, to a trained ear, it's a sure sign they're not doing things correctly."

"It shows a lack of control of the weights," added Holt.

Not to mention a lack of IQ.

Wipe off the machines when you're finished with them.

Look, we all joined a health club to sweat. Sweating is good. But when you leave behind a puddle of perspiration the size of Lake Erie, that's not good.

Carry a hand towel and wipe up after yourself.

Please. We're asking nicely.

Replace the weights in the racks when you're through with them.

Hey, why should I have to hunt all over for the 45-pound barbell you left over by the lat pull-down machine?

"Be courteous and thoughtful," said Holt.

By the way, Holt also believes some of these steroid-popping muscleheads you see in every gym leave 85-pound weights scattered around as an attention-getter.

"[They think] that's a cool, macho thing to do," said Holt.

"If you're using a big weight, and you leave it laying around, people will say: `Oh, look at the big weights he's using!'"

Of course, that's not exactly what I'll be saying when I trip over the weight and they have to rush me into knee surgery.

OK, we all know it's important to stay hydrated when you work out. That's why every health club has 900 water fountains. And if you want to carry a bottle of Perrier around because you have such a discriminating palate that mere tap water will not do, fine.

But there is never, ever a need to carry a gallon jug of water around, like some of these tank-topped knuckleheads do.

"You're not going to drink a gallon of water during a workout," said Holt.

If you drink a gallon of water during a workout, there's something seriously wrong with you, pal.

See your doctor. You probably have six weeks to live.

Look, don't bring all your stuff with you when you work out.

There's no need to drag your coat, sweat shirt, sweat pants, backpack, Walkman, cassette case and Scott Turow paperback from machine to machine.

This is why they have locker rooms. Leave your stuff in a locker.

That way I won't trip over it and need more knee surgery.

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