Better Life

Gym Rats

Gym Rats
It’s never too late to learn the rules of the road for how to be an upstanding citizen of your gym.

She walked vigorously on the treadmill next to mine. She was, I figured, on the far side of 50, a brunette who wore red lipstick and a black-and-blue spandex exercise suit. She had also doused herself in a pungent perfume that I can only describe as Eau de Toxique. That was several years ago, and I was sure I’d never have to endure a more noxious scent while working out at my gym on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.


The other day, I completed my usual three-mile treadmill run next to a guy who was younger and faster than me—and who cut the cheese for almost 20 consecutive minutes. Which must be some sort of record. The stench was awful. Now, I’ve run next to guys who’ve let loose a fart or two. I’ve been guilty of it myself. But 20 minutes of unrelenting flatulence?!?!

Right about now, you might be wondering why I didn’t simply stop running and move to another treadmill. I had nowhere to go! All the machines were occupied, and I thought he’d stop at any second. But the seconds stretched into minutes, and it was hard to believe he could keep up his malodorous streak for 20 minutes. Complaining to the folks who manage the place was not an option. I’d feel kinda silly and whiny. “Excuse me, but the guy next to me is stinking up the joint. Can you please tell him to stop farting?” See what I mean?

Look, I’m 68. Like Prufrock, maybe I should just roll up my trousers and walk on a beach somewhere, eating a peach and listening for mermaids singing. But that ain’t in the cards as a regular routine. For years now, I’ve been running on a treadmill. It’s easy on the hips and knees, and I can watch the news on the attached television. I don’t lift weights, or use a StairMaster, stationary bike, or rowing machine. I wear appropriate attire, I don’t smell, and I don’t leer at the gorgeously fit woman who might be running next to me. Yoga? You’re kidding, right? I focus on my running. I don’t bother anyone, and I wish no one would bother me.

Like the guy who psyches himself with ear-splitting screams — “Pick it up! You can do it! You’re the man!” — as he sprints to the end of his run. Or the two women who chatter on and on about their kids while walking side-by-side. Or the guy who hops onto the treadmill next to mine even though there’s a whole row of free machines.

(Related: The other side of hitting the gym.)

My wife Donna goes completely batshit over a guy she calls “Cougher.” He coughs and clears his throat constantly. Every 10 seconds or so. Throughout his entire workout. “He coughs like he’s on his deathbed, he wears the same t-shirt every day, and he watches the Food Network. What’s up with that? He’s a frigging nutjob!”

Perhaps you’ve noticed I’ve yet to mention cell phones and the folks who abuse them. Saving the worst for last: the guy who barks into his phone as he continues to run, spooking me into fretting that he’s an accident waiting to happen, and the woman who launches into a loud and long conversation with a friend during a leisurely stroll that bears absolutely no resemblance to a workout. I leave my phone at home and don headphones, but I appreciate another guy’s desire to listen to the songs he’s stored on his phone. Go ahead, bring your phone. Fine by me. Here’s the deal: If you promise not to succumb to the temptation to make or take a call, I’ll gift you with Rolling Stone contributing editor David Browne’s treadmill-pumpin’ faves, which he’s provided exclusively to Five O’Clock: “We Found Love” (Rihanna), “Wake Me Up” (Avicii), “Sing” (Ed Sheeran), “Timber” (Pitbull featuring Ke$sha), and “I Need Your Love” (Calvin Harris/Ellie Goulding). Enjoy!