I had an altercation at the gym this morning.
It was more like a one-sided lecture and me taking what I consider the “high road.”
I wondered how I could combine this with the “Baby Big Five” post today, and realized that the same thing happened in Kruger.
We unintentionally frightened a baby elephant as we were trying to leave, and he charged us with all his fierce, baby elephant glory. I’m guessing he was a bull.
This morning in the gym, as I did my five minutes of warm-up on the elliptical (my usual) I scouted the strength training area for my first three sets (as usual) to see what was open so I could just get started. It’s leg day, so my first three items are Smith Machine squats (I can’t do open squats with the bad leg), leg press, and stiff leg dead lifts. The leg press was occupied, the 45kg barbell was in use, and the Smith machine had a bench beneath it with a towel draped across. The bench and towel remained unoccupied for the five minutes of my warmup, with three guys hanging out nearby, chatting.
In Kruger, we watched a small herd of elephants meandering across the road in front of us, eating, pooping, just, y’know, being elephants. After a long time, we knew we needed to get moving. We were on one of the back roads, about halfway through a long stretch between paved areas. We had a long way ahead of us to reach our rest camp before the gates closed at 6pm.
After watching a baby elephant cross the road, leaving mama behind still grazing on a tree, we decided to wait awhile longer, until the mama crossed as well, so we didn’t drive between them. We waited another fifteen minutes beyond when we were ready to leave, but still mama and baby stayed on opposite sides of the road. We almost decided that the calf belonged to one of the cows ahead of it, since it didn’t seem to care that she was still on the far side of the road. It wandered farther from the road, and time ticked by.
In the gym, I got off my elliptical and approached the group of three guys standing next to the Smith machine. “Sorry to interrupt,” I said politely, “but are any of you on the Smith machine? I’d like to do squats.” They smiled back, said they weren’t on it, and said some guy was using it awhile ago but they didn’t know where he’d gone. “Just go ahead and move the bench and swap out with him if he comes back” one of them suggested. Having seen people not put away weights on a regular basis, and occasionally forget towels, I also thought that was a good plan. I already knew five minutes had passed based on my elliptical timing and they hadn’t seen him for “awhile” so I thought he either abandoned it, or I would have time to get a set in before he returned.
In Kruger, we decided enough time had passed with the calf wandering farther from the left side of the road toward the rest of the herd, and determined that maybe it belonged to one of the cows ahead of it. We started up the bakkie and slowly moved forward. What we previously thought was the mama, grazing on the right side of the road, didn’t even look up at us. We drove slowly forward, careful not to rev the engine or spin on the gravel as we moved.
At the gym, no sooner had I moved the bench to the side and started swapping out weights, than a guy appeared and started lecturing me. “I’m on that machine.” I looked at him, and smiled. “Okay, no problem. I can wait or swap out. How much longer do you have?” He didn’t seem to hear what I said “No. I’m on that machine. You don’t ever go touching someone’s stuff or moving things around. I’m on that machine.” I looked him straight in the eyes, not going to raise my voice, but not going to let him intimidate me either. “How much longer do you have?” I repeated the question, beginning to put the weights I was taking off back on. “You don’t move things that aren’t yours!” He stared back, then started dragging the bench back under the Smith machine.
In the park, the moment our truck came directly between the calf (on the left) and what we now figured was his mama (on the right), he raised his ears and charged the bakkie.
“Listen,” I said to the guy at the gym. “You weren’t here. I asked around, then I moved it to start my workout. Just tell me how much longer you have. It’s not a big deal.” He finally answered “Four more sets.” I bit my tongue from asking if he would be taking five to ten minute breaks between each set, and refrained from lecturing him on gym etiquette, particularly during prime busy hours (it was 7am). He seemed to be muttering again, so I just said, “Look, you don’t need to make this into a thing. This is a non-issue.”
I earn my place in that strength training area, and I know my gym etiquette. That makes me confident enough to handle his outburst pretty well, but even I was a little surprised at how even-toned and calmly I responded to him.
The baby elephant charged and we just drove steadily forward. The mother looked up, but her expression seemed more perplexed at the baby’s reaction than at the bakkie driving past. I watched him in the side mirror as he slowed and then trotted back to his mother as we drove away. She continued grazing, as if to let him know, “Incident over. Go about your business.”
The 45kg barbell was available again, so I grabbed it from the rack and started my deadlifts. One of the trainers I know there, a big bodybuilder, came over to ask me if everything was all right, and was I getting a confrontation this morning, and did I need him to break anybody’s bones for me? I smiled and said, “Thanks, but no. Just a gym thing. The only thing I need broken is a little more of my muscle.” He laughed and I finished my sets. After the Smith machine guy’s first of four remaining sets, he got up to go to the other side of the gym again. I looked him in the eye, square-shouldered, smiled and asked “We good?” I asked it with a calm air of expectation that we should be. He nodded and smiled, and fifteen minutes later, the machine was mine. Of course in that same amount of time, I got in my full sets on the lifts and on the leg press.
I was proud of myself for both holding my composure and talking to him directly, and of course, not letting a third party get involved. Nothing says “I’m a girl and can’t handle myself in the free weights area” more than letting a guy jump in to defend you. I would do it all again the same way. You can’t be expected to go track down the user of a machine on the far side of the gym, especially if you don’t know who it is, and more than five minutes nowhere in sight of your machine is considered abandoning it by any normal standards.
There was no use trying to explain gym etiquette, because (a) people don’t want to listen when they’re in confrontation mode; and (b) that’s a relative term, as everyone’s interpretation is different. Be direct, (like a guy), hold eye contact, and don’t let others intercede on your behalf, because it would only just undermine your credibility.
The best you can do is stay calm, know your interaction will be brief and that he’s just having a baby elephant day: charging at something he perceives to be a threat.
Have a beautiful day, friends!