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How To Deal with Annoying People at the Gym

Of all the things I've written about, the most popular concerns annoying people at the gym. Nothing gets us steamed like the guy who leaves pools of sweat on the bench or the woman who douses herself with perfume right before her workout. And don't get me started on the grunters, the cell-phone yellers and the machine hoggers.
The question is, how do you deal with them? That often depends on your personality and just how annoying the person is. There are a number of ways to confront (or avoid confronting) the perpetrator and choosing the right way can help you get past these annoying people and focus on your workout.

 1. Flattery

You know the old cliché about catching more flies with honey. The same applies at the gym. Most people enjoy a compliment, so use that to your advantage when dealing with an annoying gym-goer:
  • To the person who left 1,000 pounds on the bench press: "You are so strong ... I could never lift that much! In fact, I don't even think I can lift those big plates. Maybe you could help me?"
  • To the person who keeps bumping into you in kickboxing class: "I'm really enjoying your energy. It's almost like you don't even notice other people are around!"
  • To the person who's been on a machine for a half hour: "You know, most people would wonder if you're ever going to finish, but I'm really learning a lot from your technique."

2.  Be Helpful

Some of us, no matter how annoyed we are, can't bring ourselves to confront irritating people at the gym. However, there's a way to use your good manners to nudge people in the right direction without seeming to do so:
  • To the person who left a big puddle of sweat on the seat: "Oops, I think you forgot something. Here, let me get you a fresh towel."
  • To the naked guy in the locker room: "Are they out of towels again? I hate that! Let me see if I can go find some."
  • To the person yelling at their spouse on a cell phone: "You know, it really annoys me when my husband/wife calls me at the gym, too.  I mean, don't they know you're here to exercise?  Geez."

3.  Subtle Sarcasm

Another way to get your point across is with a little subtle sarcasm, although this can be a tricky one if you use the wrong tone of voice or use it with a person with no discernible sense of humor. This should be used with great caution:
  • To the woman who douses herself with perfume: "Wow, that is some amazing perfume. I can smell it all the way over here!" Smack your lips and add, "I think I can even taste it."
  • To the person listening to his iPod with the volume up to 11: "It's very generous of you to share your music with the entire gym. Black Sabbath is it?"
  • To the guy who throws his way-too-heavy weights on the floor: "Gee, did you get that move from the Neanderthal Workout? I heard that's a great way to pull muscles ... I mean, build muscles."

4.  Be Straightforward

To avoid wasting time or energy, one way to deal with annoying gym members is to come right out and state the problem.  Being matter-of-fact can take the sting out of it, which may make the person less defensive.  This approach is also handy when dealing with someone you know - a friend, acquaintance or someone you see at the gym on a regular basis.
  • To the naked guy in the locker room: "Dude, where's your towel?"
  • To the person with bags and equipment scattered everywhere: "You moving in or what?  You know they have lockers here, right?"
  • To the person who's been on the leg-press machine forever:  "Excuse me, is there any chance I can work into your sets or should I move on?"

5.  Be a Tattletale

If you're a non-confrontational sort, your best option may be to talk to the manager to request action. This may not be good in all situations, after all someone who's talking into their cell phone at high volume is annoying, but it isn't life threatening.  However, there are situations where your workout or even your safety is at risk:
  • Someone's hurting themselves or you (e.g., throwing weights, smacking you with a jump rope)
  • Someone has gone past his or her allotted time on a machine and there's a line of people waiting
  • Someone's harassing you in any way
  • You see something offensive (e.g., a person accidentally - or otherwise - exposing themselves, spitting, etc.)

6.Be Passive Aggressive

If you're married or have ever been in any kind of relationship, there's a good chance you've used this tactic with someone in your life. After all, it's a great way to get your point across without having to say a word:
  • To the person who walks away without cleaning up: Loudly throw your towel down and wipe the seat with exaggerated motions while muttering, just loud enough for him or her to hear, "I hate when people leave sweat all over the seat." You can also sigh loudly and roll your eyes within ear/eye shot.
  • To the person who's hogging the machine: Stand nearby and cross your arms over your chest while glancing at your watch every 10 seconds.  As a bonus, clear your throat and shift from foot to foot as you mutter something about how glaciers move faster.

7.  Ignore Them

My favorite approach to annoying gym goers is to ignore them. After all, get a bunch of sweaty people in one place and you're bound to get annoyed ... why ruin your workout over it?  To do this, you'll need a few tricks up your sleeve:
  • Headphones and an MP3 player: The right workout music can block out everything around you.
  • Focus: Remember what you're there for and focus on each exercise you're doing.  Don't let annoying people distract you from your goals.
  • Flexibility: Be prepared to change exercises if there's a machine hog and allow time for putting away other people's weights and cleaning off machines.  You'll waste less energy being angry and spend more on your own workout.
  • Forgiveness: Most people probably have no idea they're annoying. We all occasionally get self-involved to the point where we forget to pay attention to how our behavior affects others. You'll feel a lot better if you forgive, move on and get back to your workout.

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