Gyms’ grunting policies bring grumbles

Fitness centers have differing policies on noise.
Thursday, November 30, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:15 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weights clang as they’re returned to the racks. Feet stamp on treadmills. Dumbbells smack the floor. Lifters strain for that extra rep and let out a pant or grunt. Gyms and fitness centers, with their plethora of noises, will never be mistaken for libraries. Just don’t let the grunts be heard across the room.

Grunting has come under fire after a recent incident at a gym in New York.

Al Argibay, a corrections officer, was working out at Planet Fitness in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., when he grunted between bouts of heavy breathing. Argibay and Planet Fitness differ on what happened next. Argibay described the grunt as passive, but a fellow gym member complained that Argibay broke the gym’s no grunting rule, according to the New York Times. Argibay was escorted from the gym by police, his gym membership was cancelled, and a debate emerged about what can and can’t be done in gyms.

“I think there’s a line you can draw between gratuitous noise and the legitimate sounds of maximal exertion,” said Lou Schuler, co-author of “The Book of Muscle” and “The New Rules of Lifting.”

Where that line lies is up to individual gyms.

Meghan Dimsa, strength and conditioning coordinator for the Mizzou Recreation Complex, said that the complex doesn’t have an explicit rule prohibiting grunting, but would address the offender if other members had complained.

“If it’s anything that’s obnoxious or interferes with other members, we would have to get involved,” Dimsa said. “It’s a very subjective thing.”

Kyle Kochtanek, 20, who worked out Wednesday at the Recreation Complex, doesn’t find other members’ grunting offensive at all.

“I think it’s funny; it puts a smile on my face,” Kochtanek said. “It doesn’t bother me too much because I’m usually wearing my iPod, but we always point (the grunter) out.”

At Wilson’s Total Fitness on Forum Drive, fitness supervisor Stacy McKinney said that loud grunting is prohibited, but the gym wouldn’t go to the lengths that Planet Fitness did to remove a grunter.

“We don’t allow it, but it’s not like we’re going to ask (the offender) to leave, unless it was a chronic problem,” McKinney said. “I’ve been here nine years and we haven’t had to deal too much with that.”

According to some studies, grunting is beneficial to weight lifters.

Dennis G. O’Connell, a professor of physical therapy at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, said that lifters can move 2 percent to 5 percent more weight when grunting, thanks largely to the abdominal and back muscles that are enacted during a grunt.

“I love seeing people work out; I just try to coach them on their breathing patterns to release the intra-abdominal pressure,” McKinney said.

The main reasons for the grunting crackdown, several Columbia gym employees said, is to create a less intimidating environment. The first definition of “grunt” on is “to utter the deep, guttural sound characteristic of a hog.” It’s a description that conjures up less than pleasant images and can easily be disconcerting to even an advanced lifter.

“I think gyms had legitimate reasons to start enforcing rules of decorum,” Schuler said. “We’ve all been in situations where all it took was a couple of morons to ruin a party or send everyone in search of the next bar. If you’ve got a commercial enterprise, you can’t let a small minority of your clientele drive away everyone else.”

Planet Fitness, Argibay’s former gym, is designed for beginning lifters. Argibay, who was attempting to squat 500 pounds, didn’t fit in with that clientele. The gym also has a “lunk alarm,” a screeching siren that can be activated by a member who sees another member breaking one of the gym’s rules,

However, grunters, take heart. Your habit isn’t being singled out. Other practices, such as dropping dumbbells on the floor from waist-high or higher, are also banned at gyms because of loud noise and safety concerns.

The bottom line? Treat the weight room just like you would any other public place.

“My main goal is to provide a safe workout environment for everyone,” Dimsa said.

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