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Fitness Etiquette: Is it okay to show off while working out?

Posted Jan 21 2013 1:42am


I’m just gonna call it: This is bad showing off, on both their parts. And I do mean “parts” literally.

In my new quest to become the Emily Post of Fitness (which would be totally awesome because then I’d basically just get to make up arbitrary rules and use the power of social disapproval to enforce them), I’ve decided to tackle one of the lesser-talked about fitness quandaries. You already know you’re supposed wipe your own bodily fluids off equipment and stay to the right if you’re going slow on a running trail so now it’s time to move beyond Gym Etiquette 101 and open yourself up to a whole new realm of possibilities in which to embarrass yourself. Today we are discussing The Gym Show-Off (although these can easily be found in any athletic endeavor and are not contained by mere walls).

If I were really Emily Post-Up (see what I did there? I totally worked in a fitnessy sports analogy – “posting up” is something they do in basketball. Don’t ask me what it is, just be proud that I know it exists.) I’d start with a letter to which I could begin my reply Dear Esteemed Reader and start dropping some wisdom on you. But I already confessed that I’m self-appointed and so we’ll drop the pretense and just assume we’re talking about me. Because we are.

Here’s my problem: I’m a relatively bendy girl. This means that I don’t feel most traditional “cool-down” type stretches. All of those lifting our arms and touching our toes things are fun but they don’t stretch my muscles. I won’t even feel a “runner’s stretch” until I’m down in full King Pigeon:


Yes the tutu totally enhances my stretch. You should try it. Like, now. 

I solved this problem of pointless-for-me instructor-led stretching by just substituting a more effective-for-me stretch and calling it good. That way I don’t waste time doing slow-motion Jazzercize and the instructor doesn’t have to worry about modifying the routine for me. All was fine and dandy with this approach until the other day a friend teasingly poked me as I did a backbend while everyone else laid flat. “Show off!”

Now, as a veteran show-off, I should not have been surprised by this. Except I was because in this case I was legitimately not trying to show off. First, I’m merely bendier-than-average, not Cirque du Soleil show material  (although I wish was) so if we’re being honest there’s not that much to show. (Unless I have another wardrobe malfunction but then we’re in an entirely different show-and-tell category.) Second, aren’t people always telling us to “make the workout your own” and all that? And third, if I’m going to show off usually I’ll do it in a much more ostentatious manner than a stretch. Costumes are involved. Rockett kicks. Sometimes a Mariachi band. And then I post it to the Internet. Ahem.  I mean, if I’m going to whore for attention let’s take it all the way to Lindsay Lohan levels, amiright? Plus, I’m usually doing something I’m wholly unqualified for and will probably hurt and/or embarrass myself in the process.

But that day I had no swagger, no bluster. Only quickly congealing sweat. I blushed and dropped down to the floor. As I pretended to stretch like a normal person I thought about what it means to be a Gym Show Off. If we’re being totally honest, peacocking during a workout is a time-honored tradition and pretty much everyone does it at some time or another. That’s basically why there are mirrors on every flat surface in the gym, right? (Oh and I suppose for checking form and fixing ponytail bumps. But NEVER for popping zits! That’s back to remedial Living in Society 001 for you.) But show-offs are as annoying as they are ubiquitous. Nobody likes the girl lifting up her tiny tank top and asking everyone that walks by “Do I have a six-pack or an eight-pack – it’s sooo hard to tell in this light!” And you kind of want to punch the guy who positions himself six inches in front of you to groan erotically while he hefts a very large dumbbell. (And then you kind of want to laugh at him when he pulls his groin doing so.) But on the other hand, it’s super cool watching someone do a muscle-up on the chin-up bar or a perfect arabesque on the barre.

So how do you know when it’s appropriate to throw in a double-hitch-kick-toe-touch left over from your days in the cast of Oklahoma! or, even better, demo a move for someone else? How do you know if you’re the good type of show off (“Oooh! Ahh!”) or the obnoxious kind (“Eww! Gah!”)? When is it okay to show off during a workout?

Step 1: establish your true motivation. Ask yourself: Would I be doing this if I were at home alone in my living room with not even my cat as an audience? If your answer is yes, then proceed and just try to ignore the stares. If your workout calls for handstand push-ups on parallettes and you can do them then by golly don’t hide your light under a bushel! But if the answer is no, move on to the next step.


Step 2: check out the faces of those around you. Sure you might just be trying to help a sister out by demonstrating proper deadlift form but unless she specifically asked you or you’re a personal trainer/instructor then don’t be surprised if she goes all McKayla Maroney on you.

Step 3: respect the venue. Are you in a restorative yoga class? Lamaze class for childbirth? Or anywhere with children or elderly people? Rein it in. (Mostly because children and the elderly are natural show-offs and are so utterly adorable doing it that they must be allowed center stage and possibly their own internet meme.)


Step 4: Realize that if you’ve gone through this much thought you’re probably too socially aware to be a bad kind of show-off anyhow and commence feeling self righteous.

Notice what I didn’t include? Having a show-off-able skill. This should be standard operating procedure but I’ve found that generally the better someone is at something, the less they feel the need to prove it. (Which probably explains 3/4 of my Experiments on this site…) Plus, some of my favorite show-offs are showing off nothing more than their fun-loving personality by way of a shoddy cartwheel – and it’s all good.

I would posit that show-offs are important, essential even, to any good fitness endeavor. Good show-offs – people who truly are amazing at what they do, and know it – give us something to aspire to and work towards. They show us the importance of taking risks and putting yourself out there. Plus they’re just fun to watch. Bad show-offs – people who may or may not be amazing at what they do but have a crappy attitude – give us something to guard against. They help us measure what’s a worthwhile risk and what will just injure you. Plus they’re also just fun to watch.

The next time I did a backbend in a class cool-down session I attempted to do a kick-over, which really is just a peacock move. Normally it’s easy for me but for whatever reason this day I crumpled right onto my head in front of a room full of people. And sometimes, having a show-off around is just good for reminding us that in the end we’re glad we’re not them.

Do you have a show-off move you like to do sometimes? Do you have a show-off horror story (either you or someone else)? When do you think it’s appropriate to show off during a workout? (And yes, your answer can be “never”!)


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