Workout Etiquette

My mother taught a “social graces” course to young girls which was called “White Gloves and Party Manners” many years ago.

Aside from learning proper grooming and dressing, how to correctly arrange place settings, and using the gentile way to stand up, curtsy, and greet people, the emphasis was on good old-fashioned etiquette.

“How do you do?”

“May I please…?”

“Thank you very much.”

grayscale woman photography

Pretty basic, but a wonderful experience for these girls back in the late sixties and seventies.  Today, and very sadly, good manners, common courtesy and kindness are becoming a thing of the past. The “me” generation (is that the X, Y, or Z generation? It’s hard to remember) is even rubbing off on some of our middle age brethren, which is even more disheartening.

I miss friendly greetings, the basic “please and thank yous” – even when in a grocery store or a clothing shop.  How did our culture get so rude?

As for etiquette at the gym – as Tony Soprano said often, “Fuggetaboutit.”  Zero politeness.  I understand that people are there to do their thing, but when walking in there, I feel I get stared down as if people are asking themselves “what the heck are you doing in MY gym?”   There are rules posted in gyms, which most people have the decency to follow (wipe down the equipment after use), but some are “machine hogs,” completely oblivious to the next person who wants to use the free weights, the stretching mats or the few best ellipticals the gym offers.

person holding black and silver steel barbell photography

Then there’s the person talking on their cell phone – loudly- while next to you on the treadmill.  Seriously? Not everyone there is cordial, friendly, or even civil, but maybe they don’t want to be there in the first place and would rather be home watching Netflix with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.  This is why I choose to hit the Cycle Room when the spin classes are over, keeping those lights off and having that time to myself.

Lap pool etiquette rules are similar to those in the gym, with a large sign requesting various courtesies when using the competition pool.  Eight lanes are open for most of the day, opening at 5:30 a.m. (Nope, NOT FOR ME!), then closing at 1 p.m., then reopening at 3:00 p.m., but most lanes at that afternoon time are reserved for high school team practice. You’d think that showing up at 12:30 p.m. would be a great time to take a half-hour swim. Your thought process says well, frankly, everyone probably swam in the early or mid-morning, and it’s a school day and work day, so it won’t be busy. Right?

Wrong. So very wrong.

At a recent visit, all 8 lanes had a swimmer, and 4 out of 8 lanes were “doubled up,” meaning 2 swimmers were swimming side by side, also known as splitting the lane. Circle swimming is listed on the rules sign, but that’s really for a team. That involves swimming up one side, turning at the end then swimming down the other side in a counter-clockwise, and rather long circle. Not good (or safe) for the mix of fast and slow swimmers who are there to do some laps and those who don’t swim competitively.

I planted my towel against the wall at the deep end, and surveyed the situation. If a lane was free, I would normally dive in from the deep end and kick on my back until I was able to touch the shallow end, put my cap and goggles on, and proceed to swim.  If all lanes are “taken,” out of courtesy, I’ll walk from the deep end around to the shallow end and sit on one side of the lane with my feet dangling in the water until the person in the lane notices and moves to one side.

That didn’t happen today. Even after I used my best White Gloves and Party Manners ammunition.

“How do you do?”  Ignored.

“Excuse me – please, may I share the lane with you?”  Ignored.  And ignored again.

Middle-aged men (some who think they are still high school swimmers) pretended I wasn’t there, and didn’t move over. Maybe they had water in their ears and foggy goggles.  If you recall the scene from the musical Chicago where the poor, confused husband of Roxy Hart sings “Mr. Cellophane,” well, there I was, starring in the water-based revival, with a rubber cap on my head. Then, I looked 3 lanes down and saw one of “The Regulars.” They’re the folks you see just about every time you go, even though your own workout time varies.

water swimming competition pool
Photo by Pixabay on

I’ve never wanted to swim with one particular “Regular” man, because rather than swimming strokes in the water, he gently floats along…kind of like a jellyfish does in the ocean.  I’m afraid I’d wash him over to the next lane or he’d start to sink. But, somehow, this older gent saw me, and immediately moved over to one side of the lane.  Slipping into the shallow end so as not to create splashing or whitewater, I gingerly started breaststroke. Then I practically hugged the lane lines while swimming freestyle, nicking my fingers occasionally on the hard plastic rings, because disturbing this nice man was the last thing I wanted to do.

Then he vanished! I was scared initially, but after swimming closer I noticed he had moved over to the next lane of the pool that is closer to the stairs. I stopped next to him and started to apologize if I’d startled him, and he was kind and gracious, assuring me he was just finishing up. Then with his European accent, he told me he was 91 years old, swims 3 times per week for 20 minutes at a time and that he and his “young wife” (she’s 86) were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary today.

Reaching over the lane line to shake this gentleman’s hand, whose name is Marcel, I congratulated him on his anniversary and for swimming as often as he does.  While I wanted to curtsy, that would’ve been just wrong in a pool, but I thanked him for being so kind and courteous.  It warmed my heart to spend a little time with him, and because of Marcel, I was able to enjoy the rest of my swim and not dwell on the oblivious “others.”

So, in these not-so-friendly times, please try to be kind and gracious wherever you are, just like my mother taught those young girls so very long ago.  Maybe I can teach a course called “White Swim Cap & Pool Manners?”


Author: sinkorswim204

I'm a “veteran” Broadcast producer as well as a former high school and collegiate swimmer who still loves to write. I hope to inspire others to stay afloat in these often turbulent waters while enjoying some new challenges in my middle age.

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