In college I rarely lifted anything heavier than a can of Pabst. Though I went to the gym regularly, I typically hit the machines—treadmill, elliptical, hip abductor, repeat—and never dared to darken the doorway of that cave where all the yelling came from.
Far from the open, airy floor of people working out in front of a bank of televisions, the weight room was a separate room full of men in what could, I guess, be considered shirts (in that they barely covered their nipples), grunting like elk during the rut and dropping metal objects from four feet in the air without any regard for the people around them.
I’ve since learned the many, many perks of picking up heavy things, and I’ve learned that for the most part, lifting weights does not, in fact, require a person to release the kind of guttural wail that could get them cited for public indecency. The people around me at the gym (let’s be honest, still mostly men) have also seemed to learn that lesson, for the most part.
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Of course, there are those who have not. Though most days at my big-box gym are relatively free of this kind of audible peacocking, there are still times when, over the sound of Eve 6 on the overhead speaker and Reply All in my earbuds, I’m jarred by the unmistakeable sound of One Really Loud Guy.* At which point, the following thought process begins.
1. It’s probably just the one time.
Look, we’ve all made a few embarrassing sounds in an exercise setting. From yoga farts to weight moans, it happens. We’re humans living inside imperfect meat sacks that have copious orifices from which air can escape. And yes, some lifts require dropping for safety (but if that’s the kind of lifting you’re doing, you should maybe be doing it at a specific gym that has equipment for it).
Sometimes we drop a weight when we didn’t mean to. Sometimes we make a sound.
It’s probably just an aberration, right?
2. Oh, nope. It’s definitely just how he does it.
Huh, he’s really just treating those regular barbells like the Olympic kind you can throw on the floor. He’s dropping them from waist height. Wow, every single set requires him to make an ear-splitting moan that would make my grandmother blush.
He’s just really that loud.
3. I hope he’s been here for a while and I only just noticed.
Maybe he’ll leave soon.
*evaluates his relative level of sweatiness*
*evaluates the amount of time he spends chopping it up with that other guy who’s always here leering at the ladies leaving Spin class*
Ugh, no. He’s going to be here all afternoon.
4. THIS IS INCREDIBLY RUDE. I FEEL PERSONALLY ATTACKED BY THIS.
There are signs posted all over this place that explicitly tell you not to drop the weights. I remember when Planet Fitness was in the news for its no-grunting policy! Clearly he is in violation of basic gym etiquette. WHEN DID MANNERS BECOME PASSÉ?
5. Wait, maybe he’s onto something.
Would I be stronger if I allowed myself to grunt? Have I been meek at the gym because the patriarchy has convinced me to take up less space and generally be smaller and quieter in the world?
6. Experiment time!
*tries to let a little grunt out while doing a squat*
*numerous men turn to stare at me; one immediately comes over to comment on my form*
Nope, that’s why I don’t do it. That’s exactly why. Grunting is definitely only acceptable for men who don’t have to worry about being treated like prey at the gym. Everything is awful. This is why I lift.
7. Righteous indignation.
I WILL LIFT TO TAKE UP MORE SPACE IN THE WORLD AND FEEL POWERFUL!
However, I will do it politely because damnit, being polite in a shared space isn’t confined to just one gender.
8. Hey, that went a lot more quickly than I thought it would.
Turns out, when you’re enraged by someone else’s minor behavior, it spurs you to lift harder, faster, and without pausing to check Instagram real quick. So… thanks, noisy guy. Hope to never see you again!
*Disclaimer: I am aware that people of all genders can be loud at the gym, but let’s be perfectly honest that in conservatively 98 percent of instances, it’s a cis guy. Y’all are just louder. If you’re upset by this observation, consider evaluating your own noisiness.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and political consultant who also has an exercise habit. She enjoys plant-based proteins and working out in t-shirts with snarky phrases on them. You can follow her on Twitter @mshannabrooks.