Awkward Gym Encounters

This morning I’ve finished doing leg lifts on a dip machine and am about to do some decline crunches when this dude approaches me: “Hey, man, can you spot me?” He smells of sour cream and onion BO.

Points of information: I don’t know this man, he reeks, and I am not comfortable spotting people. I am also wearing headphones, which is like wearing an invisibility cloak: Don’t disrupt someone with headphones. So why are you asking me, dude? Do I look like a for-hire spotter?

However, I acquiesce. It’s more awkward to say “No, I can’t” than to feign spotting (unless I end up allowing the barbell to crush his sternum; that could be way more awkward).

A few weeks ago, something just as wtf-inducing happened. I’m standing in the squat rack at my college’s gym (#GradStudentProbz). That’s this thing (in case you’re like me and don’t know what any equipment at a gym is actually called):

Squat rack

And a dip machine, mentioned above, is this:

Dip Machine

The gym is not busy because it’s morning and presumably the youths are hungover. Two other spot racks are open. But – BUT – some dude decides to interrupt Head & the Heart on my Spotify and ask, “Do you mind if I work in?”

My face must read what I am thinking because he clarifies, “Is that okay?”

I mean, totally, dude, I don’t mind, because since 1991 I’ve been taught to share. No big deal that there are TWO other empty racks, but sure, let’s share. Do you want some of my protein bar, too?

I then proceed to let Dude “work in” – I used to not even know what that means – meanwhile standing off to the side during Dude’s sets thinking, Would it be passive aggressive if I went and got another rack? Like, “Sorry, I thought we could both just have our cake instead of using the same plate – no, worse, we're using the same fork here”?

This all left me pondering how much I don’t grasp gym culture. As a former fat kid, I was never socialized “properly” to the land of recreational bodybuilders and protein chuggers. I taught myself how to use equipment by observation (how Darwin of me) and YouTube videos. I never use the word “gains,” and I question the impractical fools hauling around gallons of water with them during the workout (yes, this is a thing: Guys carry around a milk gallon-size jug of water and sip it between sets). Like, there’s a water fountain on the wall; I think you’ll cramp if you drink all that in the next two hours. Are you dehydrated?

All in all, gym culture can be more complicated than learning to call a large a venti at Starbucks. As soon as I think I have it down, someone asks me to spot them, and I’m left wondering if I’m weird for thinking they’re weird. I came to the gym alone; I am a lone coyote, not part of your wolf pack. And howdo I spot someone bench pressing dumbbells? It would be a split-second decision about which dumbbell to grab if you gave out.

And is it normal to flex behind someone (me) in the bathroom mirror while I’m washing my hands??? Or stare at me while I’m doing pull-ups? (I’m already insecure about my form….) And why does no one return dumbbells to the rack? Or you put them where my dumbbells are supposed to go! And also, I think it’s very rude to use two machines at once if the gym is busy; that is called hogging in the real world, not supersetting.

Of course, maybe my opinions are off-base, and I'm the awkward one. But either way, I don't think you want me spotting you, so stop asking me.