I smelled him before I saw him.

Actually, he smelled so bad I could almost taste the stench he was giving off. If reading this comment disgusts you, then imagine how I felt. My gym is a large and busy affair, so locating the offender was no easy task. I don’t know why I had to figure out who it was that smelled so bad he could knock a buzzard off a gut pile; it is part of my nature to want to put a face to someone who repulsed me so.

I disregarded half the occupants of the gym as the guilty party because I didn’t believe a woman could smell like this. I saw one guy who looked rather sweaty using a hamstring curl machine and walked past, only to realize it wasn’t him. Then I heard the offender; it sounded like he was giving birth to a full-grown porcupine. Making so much noise was his second strike.

He was using the lat pull-down machine. If this had been a cartoon, then stink lines would have been coming off his body. But since it was real life, I sauntered by and got my confirmation. The guy in the skimpy blue tank top was definitely the fragrant transgressor. Skimpy tank top? Not a strike, but a little tacky.

He was bigger than me, but I thought his technique sucked. Crappy lifting technique isn’t a strike in the rules of gym etiquette, but screaming like someone is circumcising you with an epileptic wolverine on every rep is just plain annoying. I was not tempted to commit a gym etiquette no-no myself by offering unsolicited advice on his abysmal lifting practices. Lat pull-downs are best done with the upper body remaining stationary, not rocking back and forth like a guy in a padded cell wearing a huggy jacket.

Then he got up and walked away from the machine without wiping it down. I looked at the ectoplasmic residue left behind with contempt, reminded of a scene from Ghostbusters. Strike three, buddy. You just failed Gym Etiquette 101.

Actually, the way this guy smelled was worth three strikes all by itself. I can handle a lot of ignorance in terms of proper gym-going behavior, but stinking up the joint is hard to tolerate. I wanted to go up and give him the business, but I’m too Canadian for that, or too chicken — one of those two.

Enough about him, let’s talk about you.

If you want me (and other gym-goers) not to hate you, then here are some basic rules you need to follow:

  1. Above all else, please don’t smell bad. I understand that we’re there to work out, and a normal amount of B.O. is to be expected, but I shouldn’t be able to smell you from 20 feet away. Shower regularly. Use deodorant. If you’re into hybrid training, do weights first, then cardio, not the other way around. Just because you’re a gym rat doesn’t mean you should smell like a drowned rat. If this doesn’t work and you’re still making people gag, then you have a medical condition. See a doctor.
  2. Clean up after yourself. The towels and sprayers are there for a reason. Unless I’m married to you, I don’t want to be swimming in your goo.
  3. If someone asks to work on a piece of weightlifting equipment, then let him or her if it’s not a major inconvenience. I realize sharing isn’t always fun, but if the place is packed then it’s the nice thing to do. On a similar note, don’t hog aerobic equipment either. If you can last two hours on a treadmill, then perhaps you should just be running outside.
  4. Grunting is OK, but it shouldn’t sound like you’re an Octomom going through a natural delivery.
  5. Return it from where you got it. When you’re in a crowded gym and you abandon one of the limited bench press or squat racks with plates still on the bar, no one knows if someone is still using it. This is what we in the fitness business call a “dick move.” If you’re a guy and I catch you doing this at my gym, I will personally tell every woman present that I witnessed you not wash your hands after using the bathroom.
  6. You leave, you lose. A few seconds to dash to the water fountain not withstanding, if you’re super-setting during a busy time, then expect that you may end up losing one of your alternate pieces of equipment when not using it. Don’t pout or make a fuss. Suck it up: Adapt and overcome.
  7. Spot those who ask and consider asking a certified trainer about proper spotting technique if you are unsure of what to do.
  8. Be good to the equipment. Don’t drop weights or let plates slam down. It’s annoying, and you might damage things. Olympic lifters get a bye on this.
  9. Don’t give unsolicited advice. Just mind your own business and let the dumbasses hurt themselves.
  10. Check your ego at the door. Don’t strut around like you’ve got an impacted colon, and don’t try to lift more than you can handle. If I see your neck getting crushed from doing too much on bench press I’m just as likely to point and laugh as help you.
  11. Don’t talk on your cell phone unless it’s an urgent call from someone who is very pregnant. You don’t build your biceps by lifting your phone to your ear.
  12. Don’t be too chatty with other lifters. A little conversation is okay, but remember that we’re all there to exercise rather than socialize. Also, don’t initiate conversations with people wearing headphones. They don’t want to talk to you.
  13. Don’t ogle the women. They don’t like that, and you don’t want to get a reputation as Creepy Staring Guy. If you must, take a quick glance using the mirrors, then get back to work. Drooling is bad too.
  14. If you happen to be a woman reading this article, feel free to check us guys out. We do like that. As least I like it. Hey! Look at my biceps.
  15. No PDA! Seriously, get a room.
  16. Dress appropriately. Just because you’ve got it doesn’t mean you should flaunt it.

I like the gym. I love it. It’s my home away from home. I think the real secret to getting and staying in good shape is simply to love the exercise you engage in, and if your fellow gym patrons are courteous, then it makes loving the place a lot easier.

And I did consider adding “No curls in the squat rack” to this list, but realized that there is no hope for someone who does that.

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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.

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