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It's Not Cool to be Cruel.

It’s one of the most infamous lines of recent times.

“Are you talking to me?”

Robert DeNiro was downright chilling in his award-winning role from 1974’s “Taxi Driver”, but these five words hardly perished along with the character who used them. A quarter century later, you can hear them almost every day at your local health club, often times from characters who are – indeed – just as creepy as DeNiro’s.

“Excuse me, sir, could I bother you for a spot?”

“(Grunt) Are you talking to me?”

“Um, well, yes. Actually, I was. Do you mind helping me for a moment?”

“(Growl) Yes, I mind! I’m busy! Get lost!”

Of course, a gym without attitude is like a Registry of Motor Vehicles without an hour-long line. It’s almost impossible to find.

Unfortunately, there are always a handful of gym patrons who feel that being buff and being gruff need to go hand in hand. Being lean does not require you being mean. And no, it’s certainly not cool to be cruel.

Here are some of the leading pet peeves when it comes to gym grouches:

1) You’ve been eyeing that piece of exercise equipment for the past fifteen minutes but the guy has been using it as a recliner for what seems like the duration of the millennium. Finally, you approach him with a kind, gentle tone in your voice. “Excuse me, sir. Do you have a lot of sets left here?” you ask him. “Three more,” he answers, without even making eye contact. It is proper gym etiquette for a patron to offer a fellow trainer to “work in” on the machine, especially if his regimen is as animated as an episode of “Thirtysomething”. But if he does not extend the offer – and many people don’t - then perhaps it’s you turn to flat-out ask him.

2) In some cultures, it’s considered an act of celebration. Throwing plates around a kitchen, breaking them, stomping on them, it’s all an act of wonder and glee. Yet, tossing those iron plates around the gym can create a stir of another kind, the one that’s buzzing between your ears. Nothing can be as unsettling (or dangerous) to your workout as the jerk who fires these plated weights around the gym in attempt for him to blow off some steam. Maybe he’s taking out a week of frustration on those harmless 45-pounders. But it’s even worse when he just leaves them there! Not only can the sudden, abrupt “CLANG!” be intrusive and distracting in your workout, it has also been known to lead to a number of unnecessary injuries.

3) You feel like that guy in the desert as you await from the back of the line. Your mouth is chapped, your throat is begging for a drop of salvation from that water bubbler up ahead. Then, the next guy steps up to the bubbler and pulls out a bottle the size of a waste basket. It takes soooooo long for this man to pour his water, you’d think it was Guiness Beer. He hardly cares that there are 13 unlucky people behind him dying of dehydration. But perhaps it’s time he should. There are two solutions to such a nagging problem: a) refill your bottle in the sink, preferably the one behind the juice bar; or b) fill a moderate amount of your bottle at the bubbler, instead of a marathon fill to the brim.

4) “What are you looking at?” Well, DeNiro never made those five words famous, but they’re certainly ones that we’re all accustomed to. But perhaps the leading cause for scuffles among gym patrons entails no words whatsoever. Most incidents merely involve glances or “dirty looks”. While it may sound a bit absurd, excessive staring can be considered rude. More importantly, too many trainers are more concerned about what “the other guy” is doing than what he himself is indulged in. Keep your eyes – and your comments – to yourself.


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