My New Job, 10K Run , Commitment and Passion

If someone told me that within a span of two months, my husband and I would sell the house our family has lived in for 17 years, I would change careers (after 23 years) and leave the job I have had for over eight years- I would have said- YOU ARE CRAZY!

But yes, that is all happening right now. I am pleased and excited to report that I am now working at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. I am working with the Development team on Annual Giving and Events.  For those of you who do not know about the Hebrew Home, it is a remarkable place filled with passionate, bright, dedicated people. It is a non-profit geriatric care organization dedicated to providing a full range of senior care services- from independent living to the most intense level of nursing care.

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My job is in fundraising, with marketing, public relations, and writing mixed in. If you are fortunate enough to work for an organization that you are passionate about, you are a lucky person. I am working with a group of hard working, intelligent, compassionate people and I can’t say enough wonderful things about my immediate boss. I feel pretty lucky these days.

In the hopes of bonding with my co-workers and to get a rigorous workout, I entered a 10k run with people from my new work place.  What better way to get to know my fellow co-workers and bosses than to run alongside each other? Unfortunately, before I committed to the 10k run, I failed to review the race map which indicated “challenging, steep hills” peppered along the race course. I could have backed out and ran the 5k instead but I already told my new co-worker triathlete friend that I would run the 10k with her. How would that look if I backed out of the 10k? Like a lack of commitment on my part. Not good at all.

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The morning of the race, I left my house at 6:30 a.m., armed with mapquest directions as to how to get from point A (the parking area at the nearby high school) to point B (the race start). Even with GPS and mapquest, I am woefully navigationally challenged. So I did what I usually do when I am alone and concerned about finding the right place to be- I glommed onto the first non-threatening race participant that I saw and chatted it up as I followed her to the registration table. Thank you Hillary from Riverdale.

I eventually met up with my new friend Jessica and with seasoned runners David and George.  Together we stood at the starting line, waiting with bated breath for the fog horn to signal the start of the race. We all hoped to pace ourselves for the challenging run and were unsure if we would wind up running the course together. However, after only a few minutes of running with David and Jessica, my adrenalin kicked in and I started running too fast. I ran a bit ahead of the others until my labored breathing on the steep hills forced me to slow down. The rolling inclines came at such a steady pace that I wondered if the race course was up hill in both directions.

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As I struggled to catch my breath, I willed myself not to walk up the hills. During one particularly steep incline, I almost did not make it up without stopping. I felt like I was going to be sick. Foolishly, I did not eat breakfast or drink anything before the race. SInce I usually run or work out on an empty stomach, I figured that I would be fine. Rookie mistake. It won’t happen again.

Another mistake I made was that I did not program my running app to calculate mileage as I ran. I was constantly asking the water volunteers, other runners and strangers along the race route, “How many miles are left? or “What mile is this?” Obviously this was annoying for everyone involved. Another mistake I made was that I wore brand new running sneakers. I know, I know. Big mistake. But my old running sneakers were literally ripped down the sides. I ran in these new sneakers the day before the race for a flat two and a half mile run. Needless to say, I really felt the sting of the bulbous blister on my instep by mile five. It felt absolutely ripe and ready to burst. If only. Instead, I felt the pain and tenderness for two more days. I actually went to work, to a formal meeting, in stretchy wedges- it was that or Birkenstocks with my business suit.

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Shout out to Sharon, the 35 year-old mother of three, former Riverdale resident, now New York City transplant, who ran with me the last three and a half miles.  Sharon put up with my incessant questions; “how many more hills until the finish line?”; “are they very steep hills or just a little steep?”; “slow rising steep or holy crap, my neck hurts to look up steep?” Yes, I was THAT runner. By the end of the race, Sharon actually thanked me for talking to her and helping to take her mind off the incredibly difficult hills. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to run more with Jessica since her promise to sing while she ran would probably have helped me to forget my bulging blister and the lack of oxygen in my lungs.

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But what really weighed on my mind was the realization that in a few short months, as I run six miles towards the finish line, I will have already swam one mile in the Hudson River and biked 40 miles through Central Park. At least it will be six flat miles.

I am a fast learner. The morning of the New York City Triathlon in August, I will have eaten a healthy breakfast and drank the appropriate amount of fluids, I will be wearing my shiny, new triathlon watch to track my mileage- a birthday present from my husband, which by August I will definitely know how to use- and I will remember to NOT wear new running sneakers.

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In the next few months, I look forward to training with Jessica and her triathlete friends as I prepare to ride with The Bicycle Planet cycling group. Shout out to David- see you in August. And if we are running alongside each other- I will shamelessly attempt to engage you in nervous banter. Please humor me.

Go Take A Hike!!

I mean it, “Go take a hike!” Last weekend, my husband, Jay and I took our pug, Max on a fabulous hike. The dirt trail started in the quaint, one-block town of Cold Spring Harbor, NY. The trail is actually located in Cold Spring Harbor State Park, part of the Nassau-Suffolk Greenbelt Trail, located at 83-141, 25A in Cold Spring Harbor. Parking is easy and there is no entry fee. The adjoining Cold Spring Harbor Library has bathrooms for hikers’ use.

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The views are beautiful on this very steep hike. I have heard that if you go in the summertime, you won’t see much of a view through the trees but you will enjoy the benefit of a cool, shaded hike. The hike itself is only 1.25 miles in each direction but it felt like twice that far. Maybe the hike felt longer because we stopped periodically to give Max water or because Max stopped to play with every dog we passed on the hike. Little Max, only 19 pounds with short legs, had to be carried twice uphill on the way back. Although he loved the hike and even ran ahead (on a long leash) in certain spots, the steep hills became challenging for him.

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We saw several people using hiking sticks which may be useful for the steep inclines. We also saw a few people jogging the trail which I thought would be really fun until I realized that the steep, jagged path may be a recipe for disaster for an accident-prone person like me. Instead, next time, Jay and I came up with the idea of each of us wearing a 20 lb. weighted vest during the hike.

It sounds like a great idea now- extra cardio- but wait until we are actually trying to walk uphill with our weighted vests. I’m sure there’s a funny blog post in there somewhere.

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We ended our hike at the bottom of a hill where the trail met Lawrence HIll Road. If you cross over this road you can enter into Trail View State Park and hike it all the way to Bethpage State Park.

Jay and I will probably hike further next time, wearing our weighted vests, without Max, as the longer hike may be too much for him.

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Check out the Long Island Greenbelt Trail online at ligreenbelt.org for hiking maps and trail information. The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference is a non-profit organization that has created more than 200 hiking trails on Long Island. A few years ago, I bought an informative book, “Hiking Long Island: A Comprehensive Guide To Parks And Trails” by Lee McAllister. The book features hiking trails and nature walks throughout Long Island.

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Happy Hiking!

(view from the parking lot at the base of the trail)

Is CrossFit Really Dangerous??

ABSOLUTELY NOT! CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied, functional movements performed at relatively high intensity .”CrossFit is one of the fastest growing strength and conditioning programs around today. CrossFitters are trained in explosive plyometrics, speed training and gymnastics movements while maximizing strength to weight ratio and flexibility. A heavy emphasis is also placed on Olympic and power-style weightlifting.

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Training the CrossFit way encourages you to work out 3 to 5 days a week. The workouts are highly intense and short, taking about 5 to 15 minutes to complete. In total, each workout lasts about an hour- including stretching, warm-up and the WOD (workout of the day). People joke that the CrossFit warm-up exercises are tougher than the workouts at a “regular” gym- that’s not a joke. With regard to healthy eating, CrossFit recommends a daily eating plan of meat, fish, vegetables, nuts, seeds and some fruit. little starch and no sugar. This diet is similar to the popular Paleo and Zone nutrition plans.

CrossFit may be one of the most extreme exercise workouts around these days but in my opinion and from the research I have done, I do not believe that CrossFit is inherently dangerous. The CrossFit I belong to, CrossFit Central LI located in Syosset, NY was established in 2007 and was the first CrossFit certified gym on Long Island. It’s owner, Chris Isernio is also the hands-on manager and a certified trainer of the CrossFit gym. We spoke about all the negative publicity and criticism that has plagued CrossFit recently. According to Chris, “the negative feedback stems from people training with inexperienced coaches. Maybe there is a great athlete who gets his Level 1 coaches’ certification and then without much other training opens a CrossFit gym.” In addition to the inexperienced CrossFit coaches, Chris said that another problem is overzealous coaches. According to Chris, he has heard of incidents where certain coaches just want to work the CrossFitters to the bone, “they keep pushing and pushing- it’s unhealthy.” According to Chris, “overstraining is a real problem and experienced coaches know this. Experienced coaches advise their athletes to work out hard (if they want to and are able to) 3-4 times per week not 7 days per week.”

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So why has CrossFit’s safety been and continues to be a hotly debated topic? Here are some points to consider:

1) Rhabdomylosis- In a recent HuffPost article, Eric Robertson, an assistant professor of physical therapy at Regis University in Denver, Colorado, wrote about the dangers of Rhabdomylolysis (Rhabdo), a potentially fatal condition that can be caused by severe exertion, among other things. Rhabdo occurs when skeletal muscle is damaged causing proteins to be rapidly released into the blood. This results in harm to the kidneys and can ultimately lead to kidney failure. Rhabdo is not a common condition and not unique to CrossFit. There have been cases of Rhabdo in football players, triathletes, marathon runners and body builders. In the same article, to prevent Rhabdo, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News, recommends staying hydrated both before and during exercise, taking breaks during workouts and listening to your body.

2) The possibility of injury is increased with participation in ANY high-intense fitness regimen. This is especially true if you are new to Olympic-style weightlifting and plyometric workouts or if you have a previous injury. Performing exercises when you are in a fatigued state increases the risk of injury. Listen to your body. In other words- if you are tired- REST!

3) Not all CrossFit coaches are created equal. Before you join a CrossFit gym, make sure that the coaches have the appropriate certified CrossFit training. Make sure you ask about credentials for any coach who is responsible for teaching you proper lifting technique. CrossFit is dangerous when done improperly or without a well-trained coach.

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4) CrossFit is mostly geared towards healthy people who enjoy vigorous exercise. If you have an injury or weakness, tell your CrossFit coach. They will work with you to tailor the specific exercise to your needs and limitations. A year after my hernia surgery, I was skittish about the GHD machine ( Glute-Ham developer torture contraption, seriously- google it). I felt the machine was straining my abdominal muscles at the hernia scar site. My coach immediately told me to stop what I was doing and to lay off abdominal workouts for a few days or until I felt comfortable. He then showed me other abdominal exercises to do instead of the GHD machine if I thought that it may bother me again.

5) Know your body. This cannot be emphasized enough. Injuries usually occur when someone is making poor decisions about their body or doing too much too soon. Athletes get caught up in the competition of the classes and push themselves too far. No pain, no gain should NOT be your mantra.

6) CrossFit is challenging. The workouts are fast-paced, constantly varied and grueling. Crossfit is hard. It`s always hard! Crossfit never gets easier, you just get faster. I have done half-marathons, triathlons, kayaking, rollerblading, Spin, hot yoga, rock-climbing, yet nothing challenges me on a daily basis as CrossFit does. Working hard at CrossFit this past year has given me the confidence to enter an Olympic length triathlon this summer. My husband is the one who got me interested in CrossFit and we constantly challenge each other. I hope to always push myself to do more, to be more and to achieve more.

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People joke that CrossFit embodies a cult-like mentality. I think this is because CrossFitters feel a sense of camaraderie with others who CrossFit. Why? Because after a particularly grueling workout when your body is drenched in sweat, your breathing is labored, your heart is racing, when you collapse on the floor, only the person laying next to you can appreciate the effort it takes to lift your arm for a congratulatory fist-pump.

A special thank you to Jay Hoffman for the awesome pictures in this post and for all the terrific photographs in all my posts.

Acupuncture For Relief Of Pain

I have been wanting to try acupuncture for a while to help alleviate the low back pain I sometimes experience. I was inspired to write this post about acupuncture because I have always heard positive comments about the practice.  Lately, my husband has been suffering from low back pain and radiating leg pain caused by several bulging and herniated discs in his back.

With the approval of his orthopedist who specializes in sports medicine, my husband has been back at the gym, lifting (not with his maximum weight) and vigorously working out. He is stretching religiously and going to a weekly yoga class.  Needless to say, he is trying to avoid pain relief injections and hopes to not have to consider surgery for this problem. Hence, the acupuncture discussions. Besides my minimal low back pain, at times I suffer from upper back/bi-lateral shoulder pain. During a recent massage session, the masseuse explained that I will continually suffer from this shoulder/back pain as long as I carry such a heavy work bag. I can’t help it. I like to be prepared. Always, no matter what the occasion. Admittedly, the work bag that I commute to the city with is so packed with essentials that a family of four could use what’s in my bag to camp out for a week.

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Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine dating back over thousands of years . Acupuncture is most commonly used to treat pain but is also useful in treating many conditions. Acupuncture involves inserting extremely thin, metallic needles through your skin at strategic points on your body. It is a technique for balancing the flow of energy or life force (known as qi or chi)- believed to flow through pathways (meridians) in your body. When acupuncture needles are inserted into specific points along these meridians, it is believed that your energy flow will re-balance to bring about a healing response. As the acupuncture needles are inserted, most people feel nothing at all, or a mild tingling. The thin needles are then manipulated by the practitioner’s hands and/or through electrical stimulation.

The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as an effective treatment for more than 35 diseases, illnesses and conditions, including the following:
chemotherapy-induced nausea
fibromyalgia
headaches
low back pain
teeth grinding
cognitive issues- ADD and inability to focus
energy problems- lack of motivation and chronic fatigue syndrome
insomnia
asthma

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Acupuncture is also used to stimulate the immune system, relieve drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, aid in weight loss and to help stop smoking. Acupuncture treatments are often used with aromatherapy, massage and meditative exercises to enhance the healing benefits.  Most traditional medical doctors believe acupuncture is not an effective treatment, however, clinical trials have indicated that acupuncture can assist in pain relief.

Like any medical or alternative practice, there are risks involved in acupuncture treatment. However, the risks of acupuncture are low if you have a competent, certified practitioner. The most common risk is infection at the injection site or sites, especially if the practitioner does not use clean needles. It is important to ask your acupuncturist if he or she uses disposable needles. These are the safest type of needles when it comes to limiting the spread of infection. Diseases like hepatitis can be transmitted by using dirty needles. Acupuncture may be dangerous for patients who have bleeding disorders because they can bleed profusely from a small needle puncture. Also, someone who is taking steroids may not be a good candidate for acupuncture since they may have a compromised immune system and be less equipped to fight against needle-borne infections.

For more information, speak to your doctor or contact a reputable medical facility that is  known for acupuncture treatment like Johns Hopkins Medical Center or the Mayo Clinic Health System. When choosing an acupuncturist, ask people for recommendations and check the practitioner’s training and credentials. Most states require that non physician acupuncturists pass a certification exam. It’s a good idea to find out what the requirements are in your state. Interview the acupuncturist before treatment and ask what is involved in the treatment, how it will help your problem and how much it will cost. Find out whether the treatment is covered by your insurance.

After doing the research for this post, I realize that there is almost no down side to trying acupuncture and I will definitely give it a try. Stay tuned!

Stretching And Bending Exercises- Beneficial To All

Bending, stretching and squatting exercises are beneficial for every age group. Maybe you are a 20, 30, 40 or 50 something weightlifter or fitness buff who wants to add more stretching to your workout routine. Or maybe you want to stretch more on your “rest day.” Perhaps you are a 50, 60, 70 something- who has heard about the benefits of exercise for years and now you want to join a gym or go on a daily walk. Keep reading because this post is for you.

If you are starting to exercise later in life, don’t be discouraged as flexibility decreases with age and physical inactivity. As we age, muscles become shorter and lose their elasticity. Regardless of your age, you can increase your flexibility by incorporating stretching into your daily routine. However, it is important to realize that aerobic fitness and strengthening are just as important if you are in your 20s or your 60s. Remember to always consult your doctor before starting a new exercise or stretching routine (for older adults).

What are the benefits of stretching? Daily stretching can improve physical performance. Increased flexibility makes it easier to perform daily tasks such as lifting, bending and turning. Stretching increases circulation and keeps tissues healthy by raising the temperature of your muscles. Lack of flexibility can lead to loss of balance, which can cause falls. A regular stretching routine can reduce injuries by helping to maintain a good range of motion.

The National Institute on Aging and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend stretching lightly before engaging in stretching and endurance activities and then stretch more thoroughly after your workout. If you are unable to perform strength or endurance exercises but are able to do stretching exercises, perform them at least three times per week for at least 20 minutes each session. Make sure to do each stretching exercise three to four times during each session. You should stretch slowly and as far as possible without pain. Hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Then relax and try to stretch further with each repetition. Warm up before you stretch- a bit of walking, stationary bike, jump rope should be sufficient.

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I have a friend at the gym who stretches for approximately 45 minutes before he works out. People sometimes give him a hard time- joking that he is warming up for the next day’s class. Yet he knows how his body would react to a strenuous weightlifting workout if he has not stretched properly.

It is never too late to start to get fit. The National Institutes of Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other health professionals suggest that exercise is the key to overall health for seniors and older adults. Exercises and fitness routines that are highly recommended for every age group, especially older adults are ones that build, maintain or increase balance, strength, flexibility and overall endurance.

Try this squat exercise which can be done with a chair, anywhere. Okay, well, maybe not anywhere. Maybe not on line at the bank or at Starbucks, but you get the idea. This is a great exercise for strengthening hips, thighs and buttocks.

In front of a sturdy, armless chair, stand with feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Then extend your arms out in front of you so they are parallel to the ground and lean forward a little at the hips. Make sure that your knees NEVER come forward past your toes.

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Lower yourself in a slow, controlled motion, to a count of four, until you reach a near-sitting position. Pause. Then to a count of two, slowly rise back up to a standing position. Keep your knees over your ankles and your back straight. Repeat ten times for one set. Rest for one to two minutes. Then complete a second set of ten repetitions. If you are unable to go all the way down, put a couple of pillows on the chair or only squat down four to six inches. Do whatever is comfortable for you. Also, placing more weight on your heels than on your toes can help you keep your knees from moving forward past your toes.

Everyday is a new beginning. Make your tomorrow a day to stretch, strengthen or get fit. “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”- Theodore Roosevelt

One Month After New Years…….

So it’s one month into the new year and I’m wondering how everyone is doing with their New Year’s resolutions. Did you vow to exercise more or eat healthier? Did you promise not to keep hitting the snooze button on your alarm so that you can get to work earlier and be more productive? Well, if you did resolve to make some sort of change in your life -one month in, why don’t you assess your progress or lack thereof.

I am doing moderately well with my resolve to eat healthier and practice what I preach. I have to work harder so as not to let personal setbacks and road bumps get in the way of the goals I have set for myself. My father had a heart attack last month (thank goodness he is fine now) but that shouldn’t give me free reign to eat chocolate for breakfast lunch and dinner. Well, I didn’t do that- but you get the idea. Then my trip to Florida to see my in-laws, who are rapidly declining in health, did not go well.  Unfortunately, this bad situation prompted a winefest like you’ve never seen.

When life throws us curve balls, we need to swerve so as not to get hit. We may need to re-adjust our plan- but keep going forward. Don’t get hit by the ball. Although my poor eating and drinking choices were offset by copious amounts of exercise, you can’t exercise away a bad diet. When I wasn’t by my father’s hospital bed, I was at the gym or running. One of the highlights of visiting my in-laws was that my husband and I were able to swim laps in their community pool and run outside. With triathlon training approaching, I tested the waters, so to speak, by swimming a continuous half-mile. And then I got sick, a respiratory infection that made it painful to breathe. Non-stop coughing forced me to take a break from cardio for a week. Again, not a reason to engage in an unhealthy eating free-for-all.

So what if you promised yourself that you would work out more and that hasn’t happened? Ask yourself- “What is preventing me from achieving my goals?”  Maybe you are in a fitness rut. If you live on the east coast- are the unending days of sub-zero degree temperature getting to you? Maybe you just need to change things up. If you can afford it- throw in a new fitness class every other week or once a month. Check out what cool fitness classes are in your area.

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In my neck of the woods there are many drop-in classes to choose from: Soulcycle (spinning), Zumba, kickboxing, hot yoga (bikram yoga done in a room heated to 105 degrees), swim laps at your local community center, try indoor volleyball, try Crossfit or a boot camp class. Groupon and Living Social are always offering fitness deals.

What if some days you don’t even want to leave the house? Workout at home. There is no excuse!  Try this workout:

5 Rounds

25 air squats
25 pushups
25 sit-ups

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Remember, if you haven’t started to achieve the goals that you have set for yourself….. start now. Everyday is a fresh start and a new opportunity to begin your journey. Good luck!

Gym Etiquette- Read This!!!

As you read this, I sincerely hope that you don’t see yourself in any of these scenarios. If you do recognize yourself- please stop whatever it is you’re doing! It’s wrong, it’s gross and people are probably talking about you.

1) Never do bicep curls in the squat rack. This has become a running joke at my gym but, seriously, dude/dudette. Don’t do it. The squat racks are for front squats, back squats and bench presses. That’s it. There are places to curl…….in your own home. No, seriously, find another spot in the gym to curl your weights.

2) Wipe up after yourself. No one wants to work out in the crime scene outline of your sweat. It’s disgusting and unsanitary. During the sweltering summer months, countless times I had to tip-toe through man-size areas of sweat, like a hopscotch game, just to get to a clearing where I could do burpees. I know that hurling myself onto the gym floor, face to face with the germ-infested mat is not exactly sanitary, but I want to believe that the gym floor may have been cleaned at some point. In my mind, if the mats are dry, at least that is some indication of cleanliness.

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3) Use deodorant before coming to the gym. Put on cologne if your workout odor is that bad. You don’t want to be that guy or that girl. There’s a guy at my gym who smells so bad that you can actually taste the stench that his body is emitting. We are all there to workout and a normal amount of body odor is to be expected but I shouldn’t smell you from across the gym. If you shower regularly and use deodorant, then maybe you have a medical condition, check it out.

4) If you belong to a gym where you shower, keep personal hygiene rituals at home. No one wants to watch you clip your nails, shave your body hair or pick at your skin. If people are waiting, don’t take a marathon shower. Don’t monopolize mirror, hair dryers or other accessories that everyone is supposed to share.

5) Put the weights back where you found them. After you finish lifting, put the bar and weights away. Don’t assume that the next person will lift the same amount of weight you can. The next person may not even be able to put your weights away. This rule applies even if you’re only using 10-pound plates. If the next person wants to use heavier weights, they shouldn’t be bothered with removing your weights.

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6) Put all gym equipment away where you found it. I don’t want to have to high jump over the kettlebell that you left on the floor. It’s dangerous and rude. Don’t assume the next class will use it. After you finish your sit-ups, wipe down the mat and back cushion. If I need one, I will get my own. Maybe I don’t want to use your warm, sweaty abmat. I’d appreciate it if you put your jump rope, wood box and weighted balls away when you’re done, instead of me having to leap frog through the random gym equipment left on the floor.

Everyone comes to the gym to de-stress, chill and have a positive fitness experience. Don’t ruin the mood. Rude gym members can disrupt the zen-like, inner calmness that the gym refuge brings.