The Ten Commandments of the Gym (if Thou Wishest Not to Piss Off Thy Neighbor)

Moses

I have been a gym-goer for over 20 years and worked in a Fitness Center for a year now. Here is my take on the 10 Things gym-goers should observe to avoid the most common pet peeves.

  1. Thou Shall Not Talk Loudly on Thy Phone. This is annoying anywhere, but particularly vexing at the gym. Whatever business you have, take care of it elsewhere; we don’t care about your carpool schedule, feud with the cable company, or your plans for later in the day. Do not initiate a phone call unless it is urgent; if it’s urgent, why are you on the stair-climber? If someone calls you and it’s urgent, get off the machine and deal with it. If it’s not urgent, recite the following: “I’m working out right now, can I call you later?”
  2. Thou Shall Clean Up after Thyself. If you have left bodily fluids on a machine, CLEAN IT UP! There is a reason why there are cleaning rags or wipes in the gym. Not only is this an issue of health (which is presumably why we came to the gym in the first place), it is just a matter of common decency. While we’re at it: RE-RACK YOUR WEIGHTS. We’re all impressed (not!) that you can pack a ton of 45s on the leg press…we’re more impressed when you put the plates back. Think about the next person who may not be able to lift those 45s…that was you once. Do not leave your towels on the ground in the gym or in the locker room; your mommy and daddy will not be coming by to clean it up and the hard-working staff shouldn’t have to clean up our towels when the bin is probably just a few steps away.
  3. Thou Shall Not Sojourn on the Same Piece of Equipment. Some gyms have multiples of many pieces of equipment (usually cardio), but that may not be the case on resistance/weight equipment. Be considerate; do not be a hog. If you see someone “hovering,” offer to let them work in a set. By all means, DO NOT read a book, take selfies, update social media status while on a piece of equipment; I have seen it all. Just rude.
  4. Thou Shall Not Grunt Overly Much. Ugh. This may be the number one reason why newbies get scared away from the gym. To you it may be a way to advertise just how hard you are working, to the rest of us you look like the posterior end of an equine beast and you sound the same too.
  5. Thou Shall Wear Proper Attire. It goes without saying that athletic footwear and workout gear should be worn in the gym, but one still sees jeans, sandals/flip-flops, street shoes and bathing suits on the fitness floor. Proper footwear is especially an issue for adequate support and protection. Here are some other no-nos: men’s t-shirts with the arms cut out almost to the waist (you have nipples, we get it), women wearing a sports bra as a top (is it ok if I just wear a jock strap and no shorts?), shorts or shirts that are too tight, shorts that are too short (the only balls we want to see at the gym are medicine balls), t-shirts or other clothing with foul language.
  6. Thou Shall Not “Hit On” the Other Gym Members. This is related to number 8 below. The gym is not a pickup bar. People come to work out and they need to do so in a safe and secure environment. No one wants to be harassed anywhere, but especially not in a gym where so many of us feel vulnerable.
  7. Thou Shall Not Take Pictures or Videos that Include Others. Unless you have their permission, this is just an invasion of privacy. If you are taking a selfie, make sure no one else is in the frame. Under no circumstances should you take videos or photos of others without their knowledge no matter how funny you think their form looks. I’ve seen adults almost come to blows over this. Again, gym-goers want to feel safe and secure. Use discretion please.
  8. Thou Shall Not Talk Incessantly. You know the type. Instead of a quick hello, they stand next to you and yak, yak, yak. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “well, I really need to get back to my workout,” or walk to another piece of equipment, or put your headphones on, they do not get the clue. People are at the gym to work out; most of us do not have a lot of time and we want to make the most out of whatever time we do have. Keep it brief and watch for visual and auditory clues that you have overstayed your welcome. BTW, “go away,” is a good sign that you should move on. Just sayin’
  9. Thou Shall Not Change the TV Channel without Checking with Others. In some gyms this becomes a real issue. Many gyms have monitors on every piece of cardio, but others do not. A whole crowd could be tuned into just a handful of screens, so don’t just assume that you can switch off “Murder, She Wrote” and others won’t care. Some gyms are careful to have a variety of news stations on; DO NOT change them all to CNN, Fox or MSNBC. You only need one TV to get your news.
  10. Thou Shall Not Sing Out Loud to What is on Thy Earbuds. Um, we can hear you, and to paraphrase Simon Cowell, “that was absolutely horrible.” Unless it’s Earth, Wind and Fire…

There. I feel better now. Now go forth and observe, and verily thou shall be a righteous dude or dudette at the gym!

Exercise on the Sabbath

A few days ago at the Mandel JCC, a member who is a regular and long-time runner–who knows that I am a rabbi and a personal trainer–asked me (out of curiosity, I suppose), if running is permitted on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

This was not really the kind of question that I could answer on one foot (even though my left foot is still in a boot!), but I gave him the short answer, and promised to do a little more research. The short answer (so Jewish!) is: yes…and…no. It depends.

I started my “little more research” at my favorite Halachic (Jewish legal) source, Rabbi Googlowitz. A simple search on http://www.google.com revealed a surprisingly large number of web pages on this topic.

The long and the short of it…here is the issue. Traditionally, Shabbat is seen as being observed in two general ways: Shamor (guarding) and Zachor (remembering). These two broad categories come from the fact that the Aseret Hadibrot (The Ten Commandments) appear twice in the Torah–once in the Book of Exodus and once in the Book of Deuteronomy–in almost identical form. With regard to the observance of Shabbat (the 4th Commandment), one version uses the word Shamor and the other Zachor. Commentators said that the verses differ in order to instruct us that there are two aspects to making Shabbat holy and special. One is through guarding (observing the myriad laws about what can and cannot be done on the 7th day); the other is through remembering (doing the non-legal things that bring enjoyment to the day like having a festive meal, visiting friends, studying Torah, etc.) , often referred to as Oneg (literally, “joy”). The question becomes: is running simply exerting one’s body and therefore considered to be a violation of shamor–a kind of “work” with a productive purpose…or…is running an enjoyable activity in whose participation we can derive enjoyment, and therefore a kind of Zachor/Oneg? If the answer is the former, it is forbidden; if the answer is the latter, it is permitted. So…you are allowed to run, but only if it’s fun!

This is a very condensed version of the answer, but I was surprised to find that two pretty traditional websites: http://www.aish.com (Aish HaTorah) and http://www.ohr.edu (Ohr Sameach) said pretty much the same thing. Check them out for yourself to get the sources and the context.

By far the most comprehensive article I could find on the topic was written by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner; it was endorsed overwhelmingly by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly (the rabbinic association of the the Conservative Movement–which is ironically the name of one of the liberal/progressive branches of Judaism). He covers all kinds of exercises and the various circumstances and contexts in which athletic activities are permitted or not. Here is the web address: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/2011-2020/lubliner-recreation-sports-shabbat.pdf

My conclusion: like everything else having to do with exercise and athletic activity, if you’re not enjoying it…either you’re doing it wrong or perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it at all!