The gym is a personal place, a place where stress-crazed students can escape from the daily grind. For many, a solid workout has the potential to be the best means of releasing anxiety and frustration. But because the University of Wisconsin's most popular facility, the Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF), serves the exercise needs of thousands, it is overcrowded, germ-infested, and far from a pleasant atmosphere.

In response to an increase in gym usage, the SERF underwent a substantial renovation in 2003, at the same time as the University Ave. real-estate boom. The three additional floors provided more exercise space for students and faculty. But even after a $6 million renovation that improved the air ventilation system and the fitness equipment, and added an aerobics studio and basketball/volleyball courts, students still bump heads while waiting for access to cardio machines and group fitness classes.

While a newer and larger facility would be the ideal solution to overcrowding, the University faces severe budget restraints, and this will probably remain a dream. (In the scheme of things, the vexing gym environment sits low on the University's list of priorities.)

In the meantime, as we wait for a state-of-the-art health complex, students and faculty should actively improve the inadequate facilities by joining together and integrating gym etiquette into our workout routines. By practicing some common courtesy, we can make a trip to the SERF a more enjoyable experience.

Gym-goers share a common interest and should be understanding of mutual missions — to stay fit amid an unhealthy college culture. Health experts recommend exercise as a way to reduce daily stress. But because the SERF is an intense, fast-paced and competitive atmosphere, many forget that the gym is only as healthy an environment as we make it.

In the tightly spaced cardio room, which serves the needs of spandex-clad workout-freaks, clueless freshman, and occasional exercisers, students often fight for use of the newer, well-oiled elliptical trainers. Exercisers should be patient, even if it means waiting a few minutes for a "good" machine. Girls and guys — please stop pacing around the cardio room while waiting for a machine. Stop staring at every exerciser engaged in a workout — follow the sign-up procedure, quietly sit down the stretching mats, or just leave the room and come back later. If you're concerned about the clock, save your workout for non-peak hours (before 10 a.m., mid-day, and after 7 p.m.), or take a jog around the track.

Cardio-room novices — machines are available on a first-come-first serve basis and the sign-up sheets allow others to view availability. Use the sign-up sheets! Over-exercisers: promptly depart from the machine after a 30-minute workout.

Few students take the time to wipe down equipment after use. The SERF has become a breeding ground for infection, and germs are anything but healthy. Each machine houses millions of microorganisms, and bacteria-ridden gym equipment has been linked to a host of strange rashes, sexually transmitted infections, and other infections. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a bacteria, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), has been found in athletic clubs. Because MRSA, a version of the common staph bacteria, is resistant to the methicillin antibiotic, MRSA is difficult to treat. This bacteria can infect the blood and bones — a potentially life-threatening complication. MRSA's antibiotic resistance also makes it more likely to spread, since the normal course of treatment fails to eliminate it and the infected person remains a carrier. "The CDC cites close physical contact and equipment sharing as reasons for outbreaks. Researchers have also found E. coli, strep bacteria and the influenza virus in gyms and on athletic equipment."

Signs posted throughout the SERF suggest that gym-goers use blue towels and a disinfectant spray to wipe away sweat/grim/disease — theoretically, a preventive measure. Often times, however, these blue cloths are super-saturated with a nauseating combination of anti-bacterial spray and human fluids. Gyms affiliated with the University should eradicate this unsanitary method and purchase disposable anti-bacterial wipes as a more effective means of bacteria prevention.

Gym users should be somewhat tolerant of others committed to similar goals and cognizant of their peers. So please, for the sake of mankind, avoid distracting clothing and potent perfume, refrain from staring, and clean up your perspiration. Sweat it out — just not at the cost of others.

Rachel Alkon ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in English/creative writing.