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March 26, 2021 10 min read
We all love the gym. It’s a bastion of strength, and it allows us to pursue our goals with people that are just as motivated as we are. It’s a great place to build community and spend time with your friends. But that can all come crashing down if someone’s in there showing their ass.
You don’t want to be that guy, and nobody wants to run into that guy, so if you’re looking for a place to brush up on your gym etiquette and make sure it’s a great place for everyone to spend their time, yourself included, then take some notes, and welcome to Gym Etiquette 101.
Every gym is going to have their rules clearly posted somewhere. If you’re trying to be the best gym-goer you can be, then the quickest path to success is to make a beeline for those rules, read them all, and internalize them. Every gym is going to be slightly different, and you’re going to get under people’s skin very quickly if you ignore them because “the other gym does things like this.” It doesn’t matter, once you’re under a new roof, you’re going to have to follow their rules.
These rules are generally going to be the same, everybody is trying to keep their gyms clean, safe, and comfortable. You’re going to find the same stuff everywhere, they’re just asking people to keep walkways clear so nobody trips, they want their equipment to last so your gym fees don’t go up, and they want everyone to have an opportunity to use the equipment they paid for. If you follow the rules, you’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of others, and you’ll be on the fast track to everyone’s list of favorites.
The staff is there to keep things up and running. If you’re going to the gym, it’s probably because you don’t have the space, time, money, or desire to run a fully loaded home gym. These people are there to give you a space to improve yourself, and it’s their jobs, and you’re already paying a lot of money to be there. You don’t like getting hassled at work, and they don’t either, if you’re going to spend your time there, you might as well get along with everyone, and that includes the staff.
It’s probably already in the rules of your gym, which you should know by heart, but this one needs to be repeated. Those spay bottles and paper towels aren’t just for decoration, and it’s not “someone else’s job.” If you used it, you should clean it, you might not have gotten sweat all over it, but you did get your body on it, you don’t know what’s on someone else’s hands, and they don’t know what’s on yours.
It takes ten seconds, and if everyone sticks to this then nobody has to worry about getting sick or sitting in a puddle of sweat.
This doesn’t mean that you’re never allowed to talk to someone you might share interests with, or compliment someone to keep their spirits up, but it does mean you should pick up on some social cues and put yourself in their shoes.
Is that person wearing headphones, watching a show, and totally engrossed in their workout while facing away from the rest of the gym? Probably don’t talk to them. Are their replies getting short? Are they clearly in the middle of a rep? Leave them alone.
It’s hard to keep a workout going when someone interrupts their rhythm, and everyone is different. It’s important to remember that. You may be there to make friends or meet someone new, but not everyone is interested in friendships or romance. Be polite and take a hint. We often hear “it can’t hurt to ask,” but if you’re forcing someone to constantly shoot you down then you’re probably making them uncomfortable.
This is different from wiping things down, but it should be your second step once you’ve cleaned the surfaces your skin has touched. Put your equipment away, and make sure you’ve done it in a way that makes sense.
Think about how you found your weights. Were they thrown haphazardly on the floor in a pile? Was it annoying to pick through them to find the plates you were looking for? Cleaning up after yourself isn’t just a matter of putting them back the way you found them, you should be proactive and put them back in some semblance of order. Keep the heavier plates together, don’t trap lighter plates underneath and make the next person go on a scavenger hunt.
If your gym is suffering from this all the time, then maybe they need someone to lead by example.
You don’t know anybody’s struggle. If you see someone struggling in the gym, don’t give them a hard time. Everyone is there to improve themselves, and if they’re new they’re probably particularly vulnerable to criticism. Nobody’s path to health is going to be the same, so give people their space and allow them to make their way forward.
If you see someone’s about to injure themselves or their form is going to give the trouble in the future, then offer a kind word, not everyone comes equipped with the same knowledge. Find a reasonable opening and be polite, and you might even find a friend.
Just remember that everyone is there for the same reason, and you were probably just like them one day. The gym is all about improving yourself, that should include your spirit just as much as your body.
Of course, it’s okay to step away and grab a drink of water or to take a rest in between your sets, but if you’ve got a particularly long routine that involves a single piece of limited equipment, then you should be mindful enough to let someone know the truth when they ask. Better yet, you should be willing to figure out a solution that works for both of you.
No gym is going to be able to accommodate every single need of every single person at every single moment. This means it’s on the gym-goers to act like adults and work towards a solution when equipment is tied up, and it’s up to you to be big enough to understand that the gym doesn't revolve around you.
Even if you’re wiping equipment down, you want to give people the peace of mind to come in behind you. If you’re jamming your fingers in your nose and sticking your hands down your buttcrack, nobody’s going to trust that you actually did a good job, and nobody wants to step up behind that dude. Think about how you’re presenting yourself, you’re in public and you’re going to see these people often if you’re sticking to a routine. You don’t want to be the dude that everyone thinks they have to clean up after.
Be mindful of how you’re presenting yourself, nobody wants to catch your cold, and nobody wants pinkeye. Make sure you’re washing your hands when you go to the bathroom and don’t track snot on anything. Think of something you wouldn’t want to see someone do to the weights ten seconds before you grab them, and then don’t do it.
A new member could join the gym with a routine similar to yours at any given moment. There are billions of people in the world, and any one of them could wake up one day and decide that they’re going to your gym. Anybody in the gym could read up on something new the same way you are right now, and decide that they want to switch up their routine for any number of reasons.
That means that you have to be flexible. The best way to keep up with your fitness is to have a routine, but if you can’t be flexible when it’s disrupted, then you’re going to going to fail pretty quickly. If you come with a plan that means you’re coming with a backup plan. If you’re planning on bench pressing but someone’s on the barbell during your limited window, then consider exercises that work out those same muscle groups and find some other equipment that can do something similar.
That rack of dumbbells is for storage, so people are going to need to walk up to the racks all day long. When you grab your dumbbells you should do your exercise away from the rack.
This is going to give you way more room to do your workout, it’s going to give everyone in the gym the same opportunity you have to get their exercise in. There’s nothing more annoying than watching someone do curls right in front of the weights you need to round out your session, or seeing someone block the spot you’re looking for when it’s time to put your weights away.
Your workout probably needs more space than you think it does, and that goes the same for your neighbors. It’d be pretty embarrassing to get injured because you’re standing too close to somebody lifting their weights.
It’s also just nice to give people their breathing room. When you’re working out you don’t want somebody breathing down your next the entire time, so be sure to leave some space between yourself and the people around you when you have the chance. If the entire gym is empty and you pick the spot right next to somebody else to get your workout done you’re going to look more than a little weird, so if you can help it, give folks some room.
A towel is going to be way more useful than you think. If you’re a sweater, there’s obviously no shame in that, but a towel will make wiping equipment down much easier. A towel will also be helpful in dabbing sweat away from your forehead so you’re not dripping all over the place, and it’s just good to keep sweat away, generally for the health of your skin.
A towel can also be a useful signifier. If you need to pop away to the restroom for a second, or you’ve left something on the other side of the gym, you can use your towel to let people know that you’re going to be right back. This is great for preventing staff from cleaning up after you before you’re actually gone, it’ll stave off awkward conversations if someone thinks you’re done with the equipment and swoops in right after you’ve stepped off.
Don’t abuse this, of course, but if you just need a minute and you want to let folks know what’s up, then a towel will send a helpful message to everyone without you having to stick around.
If you plan your workout ahead of time you’re going to be more effective in the gym. Period.
Having a plan is going to allow you to plan a reasonable circuit around the gym, so you’re not zigzagging all over the place and tripping people up, you’ll have an answer prepared for people when they ask how much longer you’re going to be on a piece of equipment, allowing you to share much more easily or work out agreements without having to bicker with strangers.
This will also help with your flexibility. Having a plan doesn’t mean that you’re tying yourself down to a minute-by-minute schedule, you’re just plotting things out so you have something to fall back on when your memory fails you or when you need to redirect because someone is using the equipment you were looking for.
Taking a short break in between your sets is key to getting to the end of your workout. It’s important to rest so you can keep up your form and get the most out of each f your exercises. If nobody else is waiting to get on the equipment you’re using or your breaks are short and sweet, then take a seat right where you are, you’re probably not hurting anything.
But if you’re just hanging out on the bench and chatting away with your buddies, you might be causing a traffic jam. Some people may be trying to get in and out of the gym, and if you’ve set up camp on top of one of their stops, then you’re sowing chaos. Take your conversations to the side, if you’re trying to catch your breath, there’s probably space for you that isn’t directly on top of the dumbbells.
Take a short walk around the facility, find a corner, do anything other than hold up everybody else when you’re hitting the downtime in your routine.
You know that feeling when you’re hearing half of a phone conversation and it totally shuts down your ability to think? You’re trying your best to focus and someone is just blabbing away on the phone and all you can do is pray the phone call ends soon? Turns out, there’s a reason that’s so annoying. It’s incredibly difficult for people to focus when they’re only hearing half of a conversation.
So, scientifically, you’re getting on everyone’s nerves when you take a lengthy phone call in the middle of the gym. Watch your volume or take a second to step off to the side and wrap it up quickly, so you’re not disturbing everyone else around you.
A lot of apps are also designed to be addictive, so when you pull out your phone in between sets, be sure you’re not blocking anybody because it’s possible you might unwittingly get pulled into the infinite scroll black hole. It’s not really your fault, but you should take care to avoid becoming an obstacle if it happens.
There are a million other ways your phone can be a distraction to the people around you. Make sure you’re not blasting music out of the speakers unless you have everyone else on board, don’t want anything you wouldn’t want your mother catching you with, and make sure it’s secure if you’re going to have it on you when you’re making your way around the gym. You don’t want to create a projectile, and you certainly don’t want anybody accidentally crushing it.
We’re always told to treat others the way we want to be treated, but that doesn’t go far enough. The spirit of the rule is a little bit different. People are all different, so you can’t just treat them exactly the way you’d want to be treated. You can, however, take the time to treat everyone and your surroundings with respect. It’s not hard to succeed in gym etiquette, just don’t make anybody’s day difficult and approach conversations with goodwill and respect.