I was in between sets of rope pulls and barbell rows at the gym when a man approached me last week. I wear headband earbuds and earplugs when I work out, but that didn’t stop him from beckoning to me before launching into speech. Confused, I pulled out my earplugs and paused my music.
This muscular man looked me up and down with a strange, hungry look before saying, “My goal is to look half as good as you. Thanks for the motivation.” Then he winked.
Annoyed, I muttered a noncommittal, “ok.” The rest of my workout, I watched over my shoulder to see if he was around.
This incident made me angry. On the surface, it’s flattering that someone would think of my hard work as motivation. But approaching me and interrupting my workout in a space I consider sacred, is crossing a line. And it’s not the first time it’s happened.
I’m writing this post because it’s happened to me, but I know I’m not the only one. Women (and men too) are often the subject of comments and unwanted conversations in the gym. It’s intimidating to be a newbie in the gym, but if a stranger approaches a woman and makes her feel uncomfortable, it can be a factor in choosing not to return.
For me, the gym is a place I go to recharge. If I’m working out alone, I don’t want to talk to anyone. I put on my music as a sign that I’m not to be approached, as I focus on my workout, my movements and the beat of the song. It’s my own form of therapy, a way to unwind and focus on strengthening my body and mind. When someone interrupts that focus out of a selfish desire to share their thoughts or reactions to what I’m doing, it breaks my focus. It’s rude and thoughtless.
An unspoken rule of thumb is to never approach someone in the gym when they have their headphones on (unless it’s an emergency or they are failing on a set). But if they aren’t listening to music, there are times it’s appropriate to approach a stranger in the gym. Compliment hard work and effort, not body. Ask about the exercise they’re doing or for tips. But don’t stare at them as if they’re a piece of meat, and don’t keep bothering them if they look uncomfortable. Be courteous.
Some people probably think I’m being too sensitive. Yes, I am a sensitive human being, and I won’t apologize for that. But I’m also tough as hell. I don’t let experiences that anger me defeat me. I find a way around them, and you can too.
So what can you do if someone gestures to you at the gym or tries to talk to you when you’re in your zone?
If you want, you can listen and respond accordingly. “Thanks, but I’m trying to focus on my workout,” is a good response if someone won’t leave you alone. Or, “That makes me uncomfortable.” Be honest, be polite, be firm. Don’t leave any room for them to continue bothering you. But you don’t owe it to a stranger to listen to them.
The day after the first incident last week, an overly tan, middle-aged man approached me as I moved from one set to another. I saw his lips move and saw the specific look in his eye that tells me something I don’t care to hear is coming next.
Instead of pausing my music, I gestured towards my earplugs, gently shook my head, “no,” and walked past him to begin my next exercise.