Yesterday afternoon, I decided to go to my gym.
After my usual 30 minutes of warm-up cardio, I moved to the weight machines. My gym has 6 leg machines in an area where I do 3 sets of 15-20 reps on each, waiting only 30 seconds between each set so I don’t cartelize the machines.
There’s a guy who monopolizes the machines by checking his phone between sets for 2-3 minutes, for example, which keeps him on a machine for at least 15 minutes. I don’t want to be that rude person. So I try to be considerate and do my 3 sets quickly— plus the “hit it hard” factor of 3 sets with only 30 seconds of rest between each really builds up my legs. Not rude machine hog + tired muscles = a win-win.
There were 4 people in my small, empty gym. This means that there were plenty of machines open. I normally do my upper body and core/ab exercises at home via DVD, so I use the gym for my cardio and legs of steel. (That’s right… steel, I say. They’re not skinny, but I leg press 200 pounds 20 times for 3 quick sets like it’s nothing, pals. Mama got some big strong legs.)
So I used the inner and outer thigh machines, and after those I normally move to the leg press machine, then use the 2 hamstring and quad-building machines. But this guy kept using the leg press machine, walking away across the gym, then coming back to use the leg press machine again. So no big deal: I used the machines in a different order, trying to not get in his way. He had probably used the leg press machine for 6 or 7 sets when I finally had nothing left but that machine.
My husband and son were waiting for me at home to go to a family gathering, so I needed to finish up. I figured the big dude had used that machine 6+ times—surely I can whip out my 3 sets (again, I allow only 30 seconds of rest between each set… I’m fast) and get out of here. I tried to stay out of his way and use the other 5 machines, but this is all I’ve got left, and I need to get going. I should mention that we also have a lying-on-your-back “sled” leg press machine at our gym that was open this whole time that basically works the same muscles.
So I got onto the seated leg press, ready to whip out my last 3 sets and go, and after my first set of 20 reps, I rested for 30 seconds.
Guess who came to sit on a bench 10 feet to my left and stare at me between my first and second set? Yep. The same guy who’d now used the machine at least 7 times. I’d tried to be considerate for this man by saving my time on this machine for my last exercise, because I thought, “Surely he’s going to be done using it soon? How many freaking sets are you going to do on the same machine, dude?”
I sensed he was going to come ask to “work in with me,” so I quickly started my next set. He sighed loudly, obviously, doing the bodily version of an eye roll, then stalked over to the other side of the gym. You know, the other side where the identical-except-you-lie-on-your-back leg press machine lives? Yeah.
So I had 2 of my 3 sets down, and was giving myself the 30 second rest break before I started my last set. One more to go and my workout was done. Annnnnd… then Sir Douchebag came back over to sit on the 10-feet-away bench and stare aggressively at me. Again.
I turned my head to adjust the weight, to let him know I was ignoring him. This seemed to anger him, the same way a toddler gets mad when you ignore their attempts to get your attention during a tantrum. I tensed my legs to push through my final set on the seated leg press machine.
I wear headphones to the gym to block out sudden, unexpected noises because I am diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety and Panic Disorder and PTSD, and the weight slamming of lazy-lifters (i.e. people who lift more than they can handle, and don’t understand that controlling the weight on the way down matters just as much as the upward movement) has sent me shaking to my car, fighting a panic attack.
So I didn’t hear this guy walking the 10 feet toward me. He gestured and was saying something, but I couldn’t hear him over Queens of the Stone Age, so I pulled off my headphones, and said in an irritated voice, “Can I help you?” because I knew damned well what this idiot wanted.
He wanted to “work in with me.”
In case anyone is unaware, what “Hey, can I work in with you?” means when you’re a woman in a gym is: “Hey, I’m a big guy, and your girly workout is less important than mine because I’m stronger and feel entitled because of this, so move out of my way.”
Whether or not that’s how it’s intended, that’s how it feels, guys. Deal with it. But most importantly, try to understand it.
Also realize my gym is not a crowded gym in a large city, where “working in” might be necessary. My gym is a tiny, empty gym in the Great Plains region of our fine country. There were exactly 5 people in the gym this day, including me.
Never mind that I’ve belonged to this gym for over 2 years and I’ve never seen this guy before.
Never mind that I’ve been working out since age 15 and have better lifting form than he does (he was one of the aforementioned loud ‘n’ lazy-lifters, by the way).
Never mind that he’d already used this particular machine 3 times as many times as I had.
Never mind that I pay the same fucking monthly dues as he does for the machine usage, and was in the middle of my workout.
HIS workout was obviously more important than mine. HE felt entitled to sit like an aggressive asshole, 10 feet from me and stare at me in an attempt to make me uncomfortable, giving no thought to how physically threatened that might make a woman feel— or perhaps giving ALL thought to how intimidated that would hopefully make me feel.
Unfortunately for this dipshit, I have an anxiety disorder that sends me past freeze or flight, and directly into fight when I feel threatened. This is not something of which I’m proud—in fact I’m working on stopping this response, because when I finally blow, I go dangerously big, and I have a child who needs his mother—but I learned young that if you show fear, the aggressive men see you as prey. And I will not allow myself to be victimized without a fight ever again.
So I said “No. I’m going to finish my set.” And I put my headphones back on.
He continued to sit, glowering at me from the nearby bench to my left, staring as I now slowly, passive-aggressively did each leg press, adding 10 more reps onto my usual 20 just to prove to him I wouldn’t be bullied off the machine.
In the middle of my last set, while he glared at me, I again pulled off my headphones, and said, “There’s a gym full of other machines you could be using right now. Is there NOTHING ELSE you could be doing besides using this machine?”
He replied, “It’s the last thing I need to do before I’m done.”
I replied, “Me too. So I’m going to finish,” and continued until I was done.
He then made a big production of hastily jumping on the machine like he was in a huge hurry when I got off.
As I grabbed my purse to leave after that, I noticed this guy (again, with only 4 other people total in the gym, he was easy to spot) on the other side of the room, getting busy with another machine.
So, not only was he a self-centered asshole who thought his workout was more important than mine, he was also a liar.
Last thing you had to do? Yeah, whatever, asshole. The actual last thing you had to do was fuck with me while I tried to squeeze my 3 quick sets in-between the 8 sets you’d done on the same machine while I stupidly tried to save it for last… because of I was trying to be considerate of you.
I won’t be considerate again. And fuck you.
Women who lift weights, I want to remind you that your workout is as important as anyone else’s, so don’t ever let anyone intimidate you off the machines this way.
If, like myself, you’re hustling and working it—not playing on your phone, or chatting while sitting on a machine—but actively trying to get some strength training; you have just as much of a right to be on that machine as any guy in the gym. Don’t let them intimidate or bully you out of their way.
This is not a writing about gym etiquette, this is a piece about a male being oblivious to his privilege. Being male and not realizing how threatening you can seem to women equals you being oblivious to your male privilege. Wake up. And stop it. Imagine someone frightening your daughter, mother, or significant other this way if it helps you find your empathy or understand.
And guys who do this: shame on you for being completely insensitive to how scared you can make a woman feel with your body language and words, and for assuming your needs are more important. Your parents obviously raised you poorly, so I guess the rest of us will have to teach you to recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around your entitled ass for them.