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Starting a fitness journey can be exciting and daunting, especially when stepping into the gym for the first time. The image of smelly meatheads grunting and dropping weights is not too inviting. That's true even if you are one. Fortunately, gyms have a set of unwritten rules that most members adhere to. We call this gym etiquette.
In this guide, we'll explore the nine fundamental rules of gym etiquette, from wiping down equipment to sharing spaces gracefully. Keep in mind that this is not just for beginners. Many gym veterans could benefit from brushing up on a few of these. Without further ado, let's dive in.
The 9 Gym Etiquette Rules
Follow these rules, and your fellow gym goers will appreciate it.
When I was a kid, my mom had a rule to only play with one toy at a time. If I wanted to play with something new, I had to take care of what I already got out. Of course, I didn't love this setup as a kid, but I recognize the utility as an adult with three kids myself.
Gyms are like big toy rooms. Clean up after yourself. When you use a piece of equipment, put it back before grabbing something else. We will talk about how to handle superset later on, but for the most part, limit yourself to one piece of equipment at a time.
Before we move on, we need to talk about unloading weight plates. As someone who has worked in the fitness industry for fifteen years, I find this the most frequently broken rule. When you use weight plates (45s, 25s, 10s, 5s, 2.5s) for bench presses, squats, deadlifts, leg presses, and other machines, put them back on the weight tree you got them from. No one should have to unload your weight to use the equipment. Also, don't leave plates lying all over the gym floor. That's not where they go.
One of the most clever weight room signs I've seen reads something like this, "If you are too weak to re-rack your weights, please ask one of the front desk girls to assist you." It works because guys are typically the biggest offenders. Don't be lazy and re-rack your weights. Other gym goers will appreciate it.
I have to admit. Pre 2020 and COVID, I could have done better at this one. Before you judge, I trained in a lot of old-school warehouse-style gyms. Cleanliness and sanitation are not the first, second, or third priority at these places. I am talking about the types of gyms where you question if you need a penicillin shot on your way out just to be safe.
One of the things that you will notice throughout this article is that gym culture is specific to each type of gym. Some gyms are cleaner than others. Still, it's not an excuse. Wipe things down after you use them. It's common courtesy. Plus, if nothing else, we are much more aware of germs after the past few years. These days, even grungy gyms make it convenient with wipes or cleaning stations throughout the gym. Use them.
Proximity to amenities, schools, transportation, and employment opportunities greatly influences real estate value. It's why the saying "location, location, location" is repeated so often. Well, in the gym, some of the most valuable real estate is in front of the dumbbell rack.
The rack has two things every gymgoer wants: weights and access to a mirror. By standing right in front of the dumbbells, you prevent everyone else from being able to access the weights and block their view of the mirror. Luckily, this is an easy fix. Take a few steps back when you grab your dumbbells. It's a bit extra work, but everyone will appreciate it.
There are two main types of gyms. One gym style follows an open concept. Think of functional facilities with ample room and open space. These gyms typically have turf, high ceilings, and minimal equipment. On the other hand, you have gyms with as much equipment as the square footage allows. These gyms are more common. Both have their advantages.
However, when training in the second type of gym, you must pay extra attention to personal space. Be aware of your surroundings. Try not to get too close to others. Keeping your distance is both for respect and safety. No one wants you right up in their business, but you also don't want to get hit with a weight accidentally. When performing an exercise, you should be far enough away to never be in danger of hitting someone or getting hit yourself.
Even with the best intentions, nobody wants someone they don't know to come up to them and tell them what they're doing wrong. Plus, there are many "correct" ways to do things. It's hard to tell if someone's actions are wrong without knowing their goals.
Of course, if you see someone who is in imminent danger of injuring themselves, it's a different story. Use your best judgment.
Equipment is currency in crowded gyms. It's especially true for limited-supply things like squat racks, bench presses, and deadlift platforms. If you're using a piece of equipment someone is waiting to use, don't waste time talking or getting the perfect selfie. Buckle down and finish your sets, or offer to let them work with you.
On the other end of the deal, be flexible about your routine if the gym is crowded. If a piece of equipment you need is in use, do something else first and return to it later. It's okay to ask how many sets a person has left, but don't stand 2 inches away waiting for them to finish up.
So, what about supersets? Supersets are when you perform two exercises back to back. An example is a dumbbell bench press and a seated cable row. In terms of muscle building, they can be highly effective. The trouble is, you need to tie up two pieces of fitness equipment to do them. If the gym is relatively empty, go for it. Or, if you can set it up to use less equipment, say a cable row super and pushups, that can work. However, during busy gym times, limit supersets.
It should go without saying, but you don't want to be known as the smelly person at the gym. The goal is to be a little sweaty and stinky when you leave, not when you walk in the door.
Wash your gym clothes and wear deodorant. But not too much deodorant. I don't know what's worse, smelling bad or trying to cover it up with a can of Axe Body Spray.
I started working out at an Upstate New York YMCA when I was thirteen years old. I had a cell phone but kept it in the locker room. It wasn't a smartphone, so all it was good for was texting, calling, or taking a picture. And I'm being liberal with calling it a "picture." My point is that filming your workouts with a phone was well beyond the scope of reality. And even if you did record a set of bench presses, what would you do with it? Make a home VHS tape? Sorry, I'm old.
Fast forward a few years, and I stumbled upon a website called YouTube. I hear it's still around. The year was 2010, and I was already writing fitness articles. With an entrepreneurial mindset, I saw YouTube as a way to send traffic to my blog. With that in mind, I grabbed a flip camera and went to the gym. For many, this was the first time they saw anyone bring a camera to the gym. People didn't like it. I even got kicked out of a few gyms.
Fast forward to today, and everyone is recording their workouts. It's awesome. Few things have had a more significant impact on fitness than social media. I'm all for it. However, it's important to be mindful of your filming setups. Remember, getting the perfect angle for TikTok is not so critical that you can negatively impact the people around you. Stay out of people's way, and keep the camera on you.
Most of us live busy lives and are on a tight schedule at the gym. Nothing is worse than having a 45-minute spot to work out and the guy by the squat rack trying to talk your head off. It's alright to be social, but respect people's time.
Here is a tip: headphones are the universal "do not disturb" sign. When someone has headphones in, they probably don't want to be bothered. If someone wants to talk to you, you will know.
You may be wondering about asking for a spot. Yes, asking someone for a spot is generally okay. But only ask someone to spot you for one or two sets. You may need a training partner if you require help for multiple sets of an exercise.
Here are a few more questions and answers on proper gym etiquette.
Breaking any gym rules in the article exemplifies poor gym etiquette. However, the two most common are not putting your weights away and being stinky.
The first rule of the gym is to put equipment away after you use it.
Every gym will have a unique code of conduct. For example, some gyms allow you to drop weights, and some do not. That said, most gyms abide by a similar set of rules.
Asking someone to work with them at the gym is perfectly acceptable. However, make sure it's a good fit for both you and the other person. For example, ensure you are about the same strength and size so it's easy to change weights and settings after each person goes.
There you have it—the top nine gym etiquette rules to follow. It's not an exhaustive list of rules, but if you follow these nine, you will be in the top 1% of gym goers. I admit most of these are common sense. But sense isn't that common. If this reads more like something you learned in grade school, good. Gym etiquette is not much different than how you should act in kindergarten. Put away your things, give people space, and don't be the smelly one. All that's left is to put it to use. Good luck out there!
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