Gym Rage: Spinning Out of Control

For the millions of Americans looking for another reason to skip hitting the gym, they can add to their list of excuses one more — gym rage.

A New York City hedge-fund manager says he was assaulted by a fellow health-club member at a Manhattan gym this week because he was grunting too loudly during a spinning class.

Stuart Sugarman, 48, says that he spent two weeks in the hospital with a damaged spinal cord after Christopher Carter, 44, became so enraged by Sugarman's "whooping" that he threw him from his exercise bike.

"[Carter] didn't like the volume at which my client was cheering and getting amped up," Sugarman's lawyer Samuel Davis told "After making some rude expletive-laced comments that my client desist from cheering … he got off his bike and into a linebacker's position. Then he charged across the room, lifting my client off his bike and smashing his head and neck against a Sheetrock wall."

Carter was charged with misdemeanor assault, which his lawyer Mike Farkas characterized as "imaginative at best … [and] a manipulation of the criminal justice system."

Davis says his client suffered a concussion, a spinal cord contusion and a "massive herniated disk."

Gyms have been the focus of a number of donnybrooks in recent months, leading some to dub the phenomenon behind health-club assaults gym rage.

Two English women ended up wrestling on the floor of their Birmingham aerobic studio in May after a fight broke out over the direction a fan would be pointed.

"We looked round and saw two women standing next to the fan, arguing over it," a witness told the Birmingham Evening Mail.

"They were screaming and shouting, then the next thing we knew they were pushing and shoving each other. … They ended up rolling on the floor, pulling each other's hair and scratching each other's faces," she said.

In January, a Salt Lake City man said an off-duty cop "blocked his car with a police cruiser in a gym parking lot and tried to pull him out of his vehicle through the window" after a heated basketball game, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Each gym has its own culture and members are expected to know the etiquette unique to that club, said Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association.

"But the first rule in every gym," Bell said, "is don't hurt anyone else. If someone in the gym is annoying you, the proper thing is to do is go through the chain of command. It is better not to confront [a] member that's annoying you, instead tell a trainer or go to management."

Bell recommends picking a gym with a culture most befitting your workout style.

"Pick a gym culture you feel most comfortable with. Traditionally hard-core gyms like Golds and World are pretty high intensity. You would expect to hear grunting, groaning there."

Despite the recent spate of media reports, Bell said fights in gym were rare.

"People who go to the gym are generally pretty tolerant of each other because they're all there for the same reason."

Mitch Abrams, a sports psychologist who specializes in anger management, agreed that fights in gyms were probably no more likely than fights anywhere else, but because "gyms are places of heightened physical activity, people may feel greater license to use physical means to resolve disputes."

"There might be a slightly heightened likelihood that gym members might solve their problems using muscles, but that's merely an explanation and not an excuse. There is never a reason to put your hands on anyone."

Abrams also said that conflicts are fueled in public places where a perceived slight takes on greater significance because there is an audience.

"Once someone has thrown down the gauntlet and the argument has an audience, it's difficult to stop a fight."