Can you imagine for a moment after a grueling set of squats, stumbling over to the leg curl machine looking face down into a pool of sweat from the previous user? Yuck!
Just picture lying face down on a machine, breathing in the smell of sweat, your chin touching the leather and getting wet from somebody’s bodily secretion! Think I’m joking? I don’t jest about things this disgusting.
Don’t make these gym blunders when you can easily avoid them and make the experience for the next person as best as possible. It won’t take but 2 seconds of your time when you are finished to ensure the gym is the House of Pain, the shrine or the temple it is to many others.
It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner who’s just starting out and learning the ropes or somebody with years of gym experience, we all have to work together to use the same equipment. By avoiding these simple errors in gym etiquette, you can breeze through your workouts leaving the equipment and area fresh and neat for the next person. Let them enjoy the lactic acid build up or the pleasure of breaking a personal best without the less hygienic aspects of the gym.
Why should you listen to me? Because as a bodybuilder with over 16 years of gym experience, I’ve seen many of these mistakes and made a many of them myself. I know how it feels to make them and I know how it feels when you are on the receiving end. Many times my workout momentum is interrupted because the person in front of me didn’t care enough to make my experience what it needs to be for me to reach my goals.
People need to be reminded of these gym rules because while you might not care, the person who’s next paid their gym dues as well and should be able to use the equipment in its original state without having to clean up after your mess.
Let’s go over gym etiquette one blunder at a time shall we?
1: Share. Don’t Hog The Machines
This is more of a problem at a severely crowded gym but it deserves attention no matter where you workout, unless you are at home. And then it’s only relevant in cases of multiple personalities. However, this is a guideline and not set in stone. Let me explain.
After a set of cable rows, I was approached by a man who just wanted to work in with me. Being a nice guy, I said “sure,” and let him have at it while I rested a few minutes. At this point, sharing the equipment had been a rule for me without exceptions. But to my surprise…
The person proceeded to do over 100 repetitions and took over 5 minutes to complete.
Needless to say, in essence, I had lost my drive and found another machine to use because I simply couldn’t wait.
In this case, it might not have been such a good idea to share. On the other hand, if you know you are doing some type of long set that will take time, be polite and let the person know. “Can I work in with you? I will probably do a high rep set. It might take 3 minutes? Does that interfere with you?”
Sharing the equipment can make everybody’s workout move a lot faster. And while you are resting, there’s no reason to just sit on the bench and hog it. At the same time, don’t let somebody blatantly steal your equipment in the name of sharing either. Evaluate the situation but try to accommodate them if possible.
Exceptions to this rule? You bet. Not just the one I mention above but if there’s a lot of weight changes involved or moving of safety bars, it can be best just to let them know how many sets you have let and let them evaluate that. For example, if you are doing squats in the cage, then changing the weights, modifying the height of the bar is more work than is necessary. If they could just wait until you are finished, it would be beneficial to both of you.
2: Clean Up On Aisle 3!
In my opening story, I elude to the fact that lying face down on a leg curl machine looking into a pool of bodily fluid is gross. How much effort does it really take to carry a small towel and wipe down a machine once you are done with using it? Not much effort is required at all. It seems daunting to have to go around sanitizing the machines
Martin Luther King said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
When you choose to leave an area messy that translates to a slower workout for everybody down the line as the person behind you has to clean up the mess.
Please consider that some of us have teenagers at home (yes our choice) and we pick up after other people all day. I think I speak for many when I say; I don’t want to have to pick up after you too!
3: Keep It Down (No Screaming Allowed)
What if you heard two grown men screaming at the top of their lungs in the gym?
My first thought was they were lifting some serious amounts of weight and breaking a new personal record. Maybe even the gym record! As I swung my head around to look having this visual imagine in my head, I was shocked to see they were only hosting around 35 lbs.
It wasn’t the primal grunt you’d expect after a world record breaking powerlift, it was two guys who wanted the attention of everybody in the gym.
Many of us are busy people. We get bombarded with ads all day long begging for our attention. The gym isn’t a place we need to give more attention to people simply because they need it. Practice proper breathing and you won’t need to draw attention to yourself or annoy those around you.
4: Put the Weights Down Gently Please
After finishing a set of incline dumbbell presses in poor form, the giant 6’ 5” man dropped the weights from shoulder height to the floor.
One of the dumbbells broke from the force of the fall.
There goes that set of dumbbells that my gym will never replace. To this day, I wish we had them because they were the next logical weight in my progressive sets.
Dropping the weights is loud and annoying that can damage surrounding equipment, the weights themselves and possibly roll and injury somebody else.
If you can put the weight up, then you can safely let it down and put it away. Dropping the weights shows a total lack of respect for the equipment and anybody else who needs to use it.
5: Don’t Pressure People
If you need to use a machine or a specific piece of equipment, please wait your turn. You can ask to work in with the person or find an alternative exercise to do. But hovering over somebody in hopes your close proximity will make them flee and finish their set early is not acceptable.
If they are slow, try and see if they will share the equipment. Many times you’ll find success in this sneaky strategy.
If not, it’s helpful to know many difference exercises you can do and find an alternative. The great Larry Scott knew over 100 exercises for the biceps alone. The more exercises you know, the less of an issue it becomes if your piece of equipment or area is occupied.
6: Limit the Chatter
Your primary goal is to get fit, and do more work in less time. Not conduct business transactions, or meet and greet every single person who comes through the door.
Two people who both agree to chat at the gym are fine. This is one of those rules that has a lot of grey areas and needs further explanation. If both parties want to talk, that’s fine. Please don’t hog the equipment for your social gathering but there’s no rule against talking.
Where it gets sticky is when somebody is chatty and the other person is on a tight schedule. Watch body language. If the other person keeps looking at their watch or keeps eyeing the equipment that might be an indication they are doing a fast paced workout. They may not want to engage in a heavy conversation at that moment. Not everybody can just end a conversation abruptly as they feel it’s rude.
Be aware of your surroundings and if you want to be a little chatty, that’s fine as long as the other person agrees. I’ve seen far too many people chat away while the other person simply begins the next set and is barely paying attention anymore.
7: Proper Gym Attire Is Required
Nobody is asking you to wear the latest and greatest fashions to the gym, but dressing appropriately is best for your safety and benefits your overall workout.
Can you do a set of pull-ups in jeans? You sure can if you forgot your gym clothes.
Can you do squats in sandals? Maybe but if you drop or somebody else drops a weight on your foot, it’s not going to be a pretty picture.
Dressing for the activity is something most people do without a second thought. But for your own safety it’s just smart to dress accordingly. Your body will function best in the gear designed for the activity in question.
8: Attention Getters
This was covered in Rule #3 but it’s bothersome enough that it requires a bit more clarification. Simply looking for attention in the gym is bad gym behavior and shows a lack of respect for others around you. If you need the attention that bad, you may need to seek counseling as well.
Grunting, moaning, forcing air out at the completion of a movement is one thing but simply yelling, shouting, screaming for attention is sad gym behavior.
I’m busy in the gym trying to pay attention to my own body and how it feels. I really don’t want to be bothered looking across the gym expecting to see a world record being broken but be disappointed to see it’s just you making the loudest sounds you can in hopes I will pay attention.
I’d venture to guess many people reading these rules aren’t the types that will do that anyway. But it’s juvenile and people who are screamers in the gym are people you want to avoid.
9: No Foul Language
I know, you don’t care. It’s a gym. It’s not school or your home so you’re going to say and do what you want. And if anybody doesn’t like it they can go… you know what I mean.
The simply problem with that attitude is that no everybody wants to be bombarded with foul language. Depending on the gym, there may be a lot of kids in the vicinity. It’s just not appropriate to be a sailor in a family gym.
There’s a person who I will call “Jack” that is a nasty, vulgar guy who loves to talk dirty, swear and tell the nastiest stories he can. And while he gets plenty of laughs from many of the men in the gym, there are quite a few women who don’t find it all that amusing. And people with different lifestyles might not think the 100th homosexual joke is super funny.
Does he care? Nope.
But what right does he have to infringe on the enjoyable workouts of others? None.
You aren’t there to please everybody and at times, a foul word will slip out. That’s to be expected right? But over the top behavior just annoys and offends those around you.
10: Don’t Glare
What you don’t know is that people can be quite self-conscious of themselves when they workout. If you are new to the gym, aren’t sure of yourself and have self-image issues, the last thing you need is a gym full of people who can’t stop staring.
The biggest complaint for joining a gym is that people don’t want to be embarrassed and stared at while working out. For many, it’s a big step to join a gym and be seen in public. Please don’t make it any harder on them.
Do you know people who ridicule obese people for not being active and getting fit and losing the fat but would glare and stare if an obese person were to join their gym?
There’s all type of people at the gym and it’s human nature to look. Just be conscious of behavior and try not to stare or glare at somebody for being there. Many you are self confident in your abilities but they might not be quite yet and having people just look at them and watch their every movement is not helping anybody out.
11: Lose The “T-ude” or Attitude
Personalities are one thing but having an attitude at the gym, trying to own a piece of the territory or intimate others is behavior that should be punished with a gym membership revocation. People are there to workout, not be intimidated, bullied, pushed around or deal with the “Big Man on Campus” types.
A majority of people who join gyms do so to relieve stress.
Having to deal with your attitude is a waste of their time. Drop the attitude and ego at the door and focus on what you are there to do.
Much like in school, keeping your work area clean and picked up helps you finish faster and makes the station or area ready for the next person. I’m not suggesting you be a neat freak but just be neat and tidy and it will help those around you who need to use the equipment.
Overloaded gym bags, water bottles, keys, weight belts and other items might be necessary for you to workout but at least keep it neat.
I’ve walked by gym stations only to stumble on somebody’s big oversized bag and other things lying around on the floor. If you want to have a messy house, that’s fine. Just don’t make others have to trip over your items to simply move around. If nothing else, it’s a safety issue. Being neat and keeping your things organized around you ensures that you can leave the area quickly when necessary and that others won’t be tripping or breaking your stuff.
13: Spotting 101
Asking for assistance is necessary at times in the gym depending on what exercise you are doing and if you need a spotter for safety reasons. Giving a spot is something a person may ask of you. Let’s find out what’s acceptable and what’s not when it comes to spotting.
Asking for a spot should be done infrequently and only in circumstances when you know you need the assistance to keep good form and for safety. If you are working out alone, you don’t want to ask for a spot every set as it infringes on the workouts of others. So keep the asking to a minimum and when you feel it’s absolutely necessary to ensure safety. If you need frequent spots, try and pick different people so you don’t monopolize a single person’s time.
And the most important rule? Know and trust the ability of the spotter.
I recall one time when I was desperate for assistance in my squat routine. I looked around the gym. It was late and I didn’t know a soul. I picked out somebody who looked like they would be good and they agreed for my request for assistance.
On about the 6 rep, I required a little bit of help in the lower end of my squats.
My spotter grabbed the bar and pulled back!
Needless to say, I followed the bar and fell backwards. Lucky for me, the squat cage was equipped with safety bars and I had them in place. I simply fell back and the weight landed on the bar. It was loud! But nobody was hurt.
After that, I only choose people that were knowledgeable (I’d seen them spot or do the exercise before) or that I trusted because they were a close personal friend. When I didn’t have a spotter, I simply modified my routine rather than asking a person whose ability I didn’t know.
Giving a spot is much simpler. You should be comfortable doing it based on your knowledge of the exercise and your physical abilities. If you are not, then simply tell the person you aren’t comfortable giving a spot. Remember your job is to ‘spot’ them and give assistance, not do the repetitions for them. If you end up doing most of the work, be polite but honest. You could end up injured if the person under the bar is relying on you to do most of the work.
14: Personal Hygiene
As adults, you should know that it’s a social responsibility to be somewhat hygienic when you workout. Please use deodorant (natural alternatives are available) and wear clean gym clothes. If I can smell you from 15 feet away or more, that’s a problem.
We all know the gym isn’t a fashion show but you should be clean and you can do your part to ensure you are following some basic rules of hygiene. Sweating is acceptable of course but wearing stale gym clothes or musty smelling attitude is gross.
15: Water Fountains
Use them but be aware of people around you. There’s no need to blow your nose in a place where people will be drinking water. If you are filling a water bottle and the person behind you just got out of a spin class, let them take a quick drink and then continue to refill your bottle.
And then he blew his nose right on the treadmill!
You think I am joking but here are just a few nasty incidents I’ve witnessed in the gym.
Using the treadmill behind a person who actually blew their nose right off the side of the treadmill in front of me. One nostril and then the next. I’m sure they felt relieved but I was dodging boogers!
After a short set of squats, there was a guttural build up and then splorch!
He spit right under the Smith machine squat area before heading off. Needless to say, I felt it necessary to find another area to workout in as I just couldn’t do squats standing in somebody’s bodily fluid.
Finally, spitting anywhere in the gym, even in a corner, is just rude. People place their gym bags in out of the way locations and they lie down to do abdominal work. Spitting on the floor is just inappropriate behavior is unhygienic and can be a real deterrent to those working out around you.
It takes 2 minutes to use the bathroom to take care of business.
17: This Isn’t Your Living Room
I’m not sure what possesses people but when they get into crowds, they forget that we all need to work together in society. They flip television channels, they leave garbage in the workout area, they fart loudly, belch and everything else.
This might be NASCAR activity on the weekend with the boys and that’s fine in your OWN house but in a gym with other people, please have some minimal respect for those around you. It doesn’t matter if you care or not, it’s basic common courtesy to behavior in a socially acceptable manner.
Not everybody finds farting to be wildly amusing and funny.
It’s even worse when you are about to do a 20 rep set of breathing squats and somebody has fouled up the area with their methane explosion.
You know who I’m taking about right?
Proper breathing is an absolutely necessity for your workouts. Loud, over exaggerated breathing is not. It’s another form of attention and while it might be old school and it’s better than not breathing, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that the louder you inhale and exhale has any performance enhancing abilities on your workout.
There’s at least one person in my gym that breathes so loud that I can actually count the number of repetitions he does in any given workout without looking at him and he’s across the gym.
19: Keep It Moving
Resting after a set is one thing but playing your Nintendo DS during sets, talking on the phone, roaming around chatting is not considered rest in bodybuilding world. Many times people need to use the equipment and your beating a high score at a video game is not appropriate gym behavior.
Organizing your entire iPod collection, chatting up the guy or gal next to you for 15 minutes is more rest than a power lifter would need.
There’s no need to rush through your sets but just be aware that others need to use the equipment. If possible, let them work in with you if you know you’ll be lollygagging for a bit. But hogging the equipment, taking extra long breaks just slows it down for everybody.
Faster workouts lead to less crowded gyms too!
20: Replace the Weights
If you can’t put them back, then you shouldn’t be lifting them.
Many people don’t care. They figure it’s the attendant’s jobs to re-rack the weights. Well it’s rude and interferes with other people’s workouts.
There was a time when one person left over 600 pounds on the horizontal leg press. This poor lady who wanted to use the machine had to hunt around the gym (wasting her time) to find me for assistance and ask if I would help. I obliged and unloaded the machine (wasting my time).
One person’s inconsiderate behavior derailed my workout and wasted time.
Although it does happen, just make sure it’s not a habit. You want to un-rack the weights because you don’t know the abilities of the person who will use the equipment next.
If unsolicited commercial e-mail is a federal offense, then giving out unsolicited advice in the gym is an offense as well. Many people welcome the conversation and the tips when they are seeking advice. A radio psychologist doesn’t cold call people, the people call them asking for help and advice.
If you see somebody who’s using the equipment inappropriately or is in danger of hurting themselves, notify a staff member. Let a trainer or manager make that determination and approach the person. It might lead to a personal training opportunity or for the individual to better educate themselves on the proper use of gym equipment.
Approaching people to offer your two cents is tough business.
If you feel you must or you are obligated to say something, then start off by asking the person if you can make a comment or give them a tip. . Some truly appreciate the help. Many do not. Ask them if they want a tip or a trick and see if they are receptive to the idea before you interrupt their workout to give them a mini-physical fitness seminar. If they decline, respect that and move on or if it’s the situation above that is a safety issue, that’s the time to notify a staff member.
Many times people are busy and unreceptive to advice that is offered up when they didn’t specifically ask for it. Don’t’ SPAM gym members
To sum up these gym rules, it just makes living in a society much easier without having to give up anything about yourself or your hardcore workouts. You can do all 21 of these common gym behaviors and you won’t be on the Top 10 list of the foulest members.
It won’t slow up your workout but it might make it faster. You’ll keep your gym functional and neat so the next time you arrive, the equipment is ready to go, the weights are unloaded and the dumbbells are in the right location for your supersets.
If you can’t abide by these rules and you find they are just too controlling or stupid, you might consider a home gym where you have nobody to answer to but yourself. However, these behaviors will make working out for everybody easier and allow them focus on the real goal.
That’s getting fit, losing fat and building muscle.
Not cleaning up your mess or dealing with picking up after somebody else.