The Different Kinds of Gym Bullies

Many people join a gym for the social bonding and camaraderie. However, exercising with other people can have a downside. While the majority of gym-goers are nice and friendly, somewhere along the way you are bound to meet a bully. Due to the aggressive and combative personalities of some people, many gyms have a resident bully or two.

Bullies come in many forms. There are those who only act like ruffians when they are in a group while others operate alone. There are those who insist on having their own way only when they are in a bad mood. There are people who have mastered the art of polite bullying and there are those who don’t even realize that they are intimidating others.

Mob rule
Someone once told me she stopped going to her group exercise class because her “matronic” classmates were always talking during class and distracting her from focusing on her workout. They would go in and out of the class anytime they felt like it. This loud-mouthed group acted like they “owned” the place. One matron even elbowed her because she had taken the woman’s favorite spot in class.

The longer people are members in a gym, the more familiar they get. It’s that old ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ thing. There is usually a ringleader who sets the tone for the bullying. Then, there is a second-in-command followed by the group members.

As intimidating as these group bullies are, they are usually meek and mild when separated from their pack. With their friends, they are emboldened to act like obnoxious spoiled brats. Away from them, they lose their brash and bluster.

Lone wolf
It is rare to meet a lone wolf bully. Only very strong overpowering personalities can intimidate other people just by being themselves. However, if the person is loud enough, arrogant enough or powerful enough, it can happen. This type of bully will growl at you to get off his favorite treadmill or will snatch away the last exercise mat just as you are reaching for it. He will insist on playing his music even if he knows that other people don’t appreciate his musical choices. She will demand that a bodyguard follow her around as she works out even if the rules say “no bodyguards in the gym”.

These people are Jekyll-and-Hyde bullies. They only do their bullying when they are in a bad mood. Otherwise, they can actually be sweet people. I remember an aerobics classmate like this from years ago. When she was in a bad mood, watch out. She would snarl at everyone or complain loudly about the teacher. But when she was in a good mood, she would smile while exercising and you could hear her humming along to the music. I was much younger then so I learned to stay far away when she had a sour face and to relax when it looked like she had a good day. If I had been more mature then, I would not have let her moods affect my workout.

To bully someone else is to apply pressure in whatever manner to get your own way. Well, these people do it with niceness. They will “nicely” beg you to reserve a spot in the group exercise room when this is clearly against the rules. They will “nicely” pressure the front desk personnel to let them work out even if they have ‘forgotten’ to pay their dues in two months. They were probably the type who would “nicely” ask high school classmates to allow them to copy test answers.

Let’s assume you are a well-built man with large muscles and you sit down on the leg extension machine to reflect on your life. Then let’s assume that a thin young guy who is new to the gym wants to use that very machine. What do you think the chances are that he will ask you to move? Nil to nothing. The poor guy will probably just wait until you are good and ready to get off your bottom. You didn’t mean to intimidate him but you did.

Let’s look at another example. An advanced exerciser insists on joining a beginner’s class of less fit participants because she likes the time slot. This person does all kinds of fancy moves that are totally different from the rest of the class. Not only that, she insists on staying in front. She is an accidental bully because she is disruptive and distracting.

If you and your exercise barkada are always laughing and talking loudly, you are unintentionally bullying other people. I know some who had to transfer to other time slots or even other gyms just to escape the loud cackles of certain groups (usually women).

Fight Back
The fastest way to settle things is to complain to the gym staff. But, this only works if they are courageous enough to do something about it. They could be even more scared of the bully than you are.

The second way is to approach the bully and explain how her behavior is upsetting you. This is only for the brave-of-heart because you never know how the other party will react. However, for those fearless enough, you usually discover that bullies back off when you confront them.

The third is to exercise with your own group. The “balance of power” will be corrected and an unspoken mutual respect agreement is usually reached.

Note: The Art of Living with teach breathing exercises to relieve stress on Jan 15 to 20, 2007. Course fee is P3, 000. For details, email info@artofliving.org.ph or text AOL <your name> <message> to 2920 (Globe and Smart only).

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