The social aspect of exercise can be fun and all, but not all of us are up for chitchat when it’s time to get a workout in. Here’s how you can exude the right keep-away vibes to work out in a public gym with minimal interruptions.
Read the room. At my gym, evenings are busy and chatty while the daytime crowd is laid-back and relaxed. Early morning, meanwhile, is the best time for loners—it’s the domain of dedicated regulars who mostly keep to themselves.
Fewer people in the gym means fewer people to talk to you. And since they’re the same folks every time, they’ll eventually get the hint that you don’t like to be bothered. Keep a demeanour that says “I haven’t had my coffee yet” and you’re golden.
Gyms vary, of course. If yours is 24 hours, you may have the best luck as part of the night crew.
This is a classic hack for a reason: it works. If somebody who is polite sees that you’re wearing headphones, they’ll be less likely to talk to you, because they can tell you don’t want to be bothered. You don’t even have to have any music playing to take advantage of this effect, although if you’re using them purely as a visual deterrent, make sure they’re large and obvious (no earpods hidden under your hair).
For best results, turn up the music so you actually can’t hear what people are saying. This will also keep you from getting distracted from other people’s comments. If you have a tendency to join in interesting conversations that occur near you, this will help curb that tendency, as well.
If somebody does bother you while you’re working out—and sure, they might have a good reason—make a big show of turning off your music, removing the headphones, and asking them what the fuss is all about. You’re creating a barrier of time and awkwardness that should discourage them from doing it again.
Do not make eye contact
This is probably even more effective than the headphone trick, but if you’re in the habit of looking and smiling at everybody, it may be harder to stick to. But all you really need to do is not make any more eye contact than absolutely necessary.
Doing your squats? Eyes straight ahead. On the treadmill? Eyes on the screen. Resting between sets? Look at your phone or study the numbers in your training journal. It’s hard for someone to catch your attention if you never look their way.
That said, you might fear being rude. Fortunately, a few nod-and-smile interactions go a long way.
Don’t smile at people during times you don’t want to be bothered. Do give a few smiles or brief greetings as you’re entering and leaving the gym. “She seems like a nice person, but she gets real focused when she’s lifting” is the approximate vibe you’re going for.
While don’t-talk-to-me vibes are your first defence, there’s nothing wrong with being straightforward once you’re caught in conversation. “Pardon me, I need to get back to my workout” is a fine thing to say, even if you end up having to say it multiple times. People tend to understand.
You can talk about how you have to finish before the kids get home from school, or you’re doing strict timed rests between exercises, or just say that you need to focus. Especially if you have a history of engaging in mid-workout conversation, it’s just polite to let your gym buddies know that you’re not mad at them or anything; you just want to spend more time working out and less time chatting.