Gym etiquette: What everyone should know

The gym can seem like a daunting place, especially if you find yourself new to the environment altogether. Depending on the gym, it can be loud and full of sweaty, scary people. You want to find an environment that suits you and your needs, but you also want to do your best to adhere to the written and unwritten gym policies and unwritten rules of gym etiquette.

In this article, we will go over ten rules of etiquette to adhere to when you are in the gym. I’ll warn you now that not everyone in the gym follows these rules, which can get a little irritating when it begins to affect your experience. However, if you do your best to follow these rules, you will quickly establish yourself as someone who adds positively to the environment, leading to a reciprocating respect and friendship from the other gym-goers around you.

So, here are 10 rules of gym etiquette to follow.


1. LEAVE  EQUIPMENT READY FOR THE NEXT PERSON TO USE

Please re rack your weights

Take the time to put plates and other equipment back in the right spot.

This rule means putting any weight plates back on their holders and returning the bar or equipment back to its original position. Also, take the time to put plates and other equipment back in the right spot. There is a tendency for people to put forty-five pound weight plates in the place meant to hold the ten-pound plates. This may seem inconsequential, and at the time more convenient for you, but doing this means someone who may not be strong enough to move that forty-five pound plate to get at the ten-pound plate behind it will find themselves in a difficult situation. In short, don’t let someone else’s workout be negatively affected by your laziness or hastiness to get to the next exercise. Take the time to clean up after yourself and everyone will thank you.


2. SPRAY DOWN ANY EQUIPMENT YOU USE AFTERWARD

Wipe down gym equipment after using

When you’re finished an exercise, wipe down the equipment with one of the sanitary spray bottles provided by the gym.

Have you ever gone to use a piece of equipment in the gym only to find a puddle of sweat pooled on the bench cushion waiting for you? No one likes having to clean up after people, especially when it involves bodily functions. It doesn’t matter if you are barely breaking a sweat, it’s the common courtesy extended by all good members of a gym to spray and wipe down the equipment after they use it. This includes all of the cardio equipment and free weights as well. Cleaning up after yourself this way also helps to keep you and the other gym members at a lesser risk of spreading the flu, something for which unclean gyms become have become well known.


3. MAKE YOURSELF AWARE OF OTHERS AND GIVE THEM SPACE

give others in the gym their personal space

Waiting a few extra seconds will have almost no consequence to the quality of your workout whereas invading the person’s space could negatively impact their form and cause them to become irritated.

Most exercises when being performed require only a few square feet of real estate on the gym floor. That being said, it’s good to think of an invisible buffer zone of at least five feet around the other gym members for you not to cross through while they are exercising. If your gym is small, there may be times when a person is using directly in your path as you cross the gym floor. Allow the person to finish their exercise before moving past them rather than awkwardly shimmy around. Waiting a few extra seconds will have almost no consequence to the quality of your workout whereas invading the person’s space could negatively impact their form and cause them to become irritated.


4. TRY TO AVOID GETTING BETWEEN MEMBERS AND THE MIRROR WHEN THEY EXERCISE

Admiring yourself in the mirror

I’ve seen people get downright upset when another member steps between them and their reflection while they are performing an exercise.

This seems like it shouldn’t matter, but it does. It’s no secret that most people look at themselves in the reflection of a mirror while exercising. While I’d like to say this is so, they can keep on top of their form, and in some instances, I’m sure this is the case, a more likely reason is one of vanity. That’s fine. We go to the gym to feel our best about how we appear, so what’s the harm at looking in the mirror for all your hard work? I’ve seen people get downright upset when another member steps between them and their reflection while they are performing an exercise. I can empathize, as I would prefer to look at myself, or even a random spot on the wall, than someone else’s sweaty back a few feet in front of me. Try to pick a place for your workout that is not disrupting the eyeline of another gym member, whether they are looking in the mirror or not.


5. DON’T EXERCISE DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE DUMBBELL RACK, OR ANY OTHER PIECE OF EQUIPMENT

Don't workout in front of the dumbbell rack

When you take a set of dumbbells from the rack, move back at least six feet to allow other members access to the other sets.

I know this is a pet peeve for a lot of gym members. You need to grab the twenty-pound dumbbells from the rack, but someone has picked up the twenty-five pound dumbbells and decided to start doing their lateral raises without stepping back a few feet. All of a sudden the entire rack of dumbbells is inaccessible until this member finishes his workout. Don’t be that guy. When you take a set of dumbbells from the rack, move back at least six feet to allow other members access to the other sets. This doesn’t just apply to the dumbbell rack either. Depending on your gym’s equipment you will need to familiarize yourself with high traffic areas and equipment that needs to remain accessible to other members. Try to avoid exercising in these places.



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6. DON’T DROP YOUR WEIGHTS

Don't drop your weights and yell at the gym

Unless you are training for a powerlifting meet, when performing a deadlift the barbell should be slowly lowered to the floor, barely making a sound when making contact.

Unless you are trying to prevent an injury, dropping your weights is almost never acceptable. The loud noise cuts through the gym like a sharp knife, rattling the eardrums and patience of all the other members in the gym. If you can lift it up, you can place it down. Bent over dumbbell rows and, of course, deadlifts are the two biggest offenders I’ve seen. These two exercises are great for building overall body strength, but for some reason, it seems a lot of people forget the importance of a controlled, eccentric motion in generating that strength.

Unless you are training for a powerlifting meet, when performing a deadlift the barbell should be slowly lowered to the floor, barely making a sound when making contact. If you are training for a powerlifting meet, then the local gym probably isn’t the best fit for you. If you need to drop barbell weights, I would suggest finding an appropriately equipped powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or CrossFit style gym with bumper plates and lifting platforms. You can make all the noise you wish in these gyms as their design is built around to the sport.

I’m guilty of this type of lifting as well. However, I try my best to limit it within the walls of an appropriate gym. Respect the atmosphere of your gym and don’t drop your weights. Also, remember that you end up getting stronger in the long run if you focus on control of the eccentric phase, or lowering down, of an exercise.


7. ALLOW OTHER MEMBERS TO “WORK IN” WITH YOU WHENEVER POSSIBLE.

Allow other members of the gym to work in

The gym’s equipment is paid for by the membership dues of all the members, in effect making it belong to all members equally. Allowing others to work in with you, whenever possible, helps to improve the environment of the gym and can create new friendships among members.

The gym can get busy, especially if you go during peak hours right before and after the 9 to 5 workday. As such, there will be times when another member, or two, would like to use the same piece of equipment you are using at that moment. There is almost no reason why someone else shouldn’t be able to use the equipment with you between your exercise sets. Even if you are doing heavy sets of barbell squats with 400 pounds and the other person will only be able to do a hundred pounds, the amount of time it takes to strip the bar or load it again is so short it would be selfish to consider it a reason not to let them work in. The gym’s equipment is paid for by the membership dues of all the members, in effect making it belong to all members equally. Allowing others to work in with you, whenever possible, helps to improve the environment of the gym and can create new friendships among members.


8. DON’T CIRCUIT TRAIN IN EVERY CORNER OF THE GYM

Don't circuit train all over the gym

Try to pick exercises that you can perform within a relatively small footprint of the gym floor. In other words, don’t be running all over the gym, in between members and equipment, to get to the next exercise of your circuit.

Circuit training is an excellent way to get your heart rate up and get the most exercise done in the shortest amount of time. I love ending workouts with a circuit as it helps burn the last bit of energy I might have before I finish for the day. Try to pick exercises that you can perform within a relatively small footprint of the gym floor. In other words, don’t be running all over the gym, in between members and equipment, to get to the next exercise of your circuit. This will annoy those you narrowly avoid dodging while running past them. It will also make it more likely the equipment you select becomes taken up by another member while you moved to the other side of the gym for the next exercise. You should be able to accomplish a circuit within a relatively small area and with minimal impact on the other members around you.


9. DON’T USE THE EQUIPMENT IMPROPERLY OR COME UP WITH “NEW” WAYS OF USING IT

gym fail

A quick search for “gym fail” on YouTube will demonstrate some of the ways you should not be using the equipment in a gym. A good rule to follow is if you don’t know how to use something, ask a member of the gym staff.

The human body is an incredible machine capable of incredible physical performance. Even still, it is a delicately balanced network of bones and tissue meant to accomplish work through specific ranges of motion and body patterns. The likelihood of injury when performing physical activity is relatively small when the bones and muscles are working under manageable load, and the joints are healthy and mobile.

Conversely, when joints are not healthy and mobile, and when the body is forced to perform exercise in unnatural and jerky movement patterns the risk of serious injury to muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones exponentially go up. This is called “jacking your shit up” in the gym, and I’ve seen it happen on more than one occasion from a member using equipment in clearly the wrong way. A quick search for “gym fail” on YouTube will demonstrate some of the ways you should not be using the equipment in a gym. A good rule to follow is if you don’t know how to use something, ask a member of the gym staff.

Alternatively, many machines have graphics on them showing the proper way to use it. Failing those two options, and if you still don’t quite know the best way to use something, leave it for a time in the future when you can hire a personal trainer to show you. Don’t decide to guess at the best way to use the equipment. Most importantly, do not, under any circumstance, come up with your own unique way to use a machine clearly designed to be operated in one way and one way only.


10. LEARN THE BEST WAY TO SPOT SOMEONE AND ASK FOR A SPOTTER IF YOU NEED ONE

How to correctly spot at the gym

When you spot someone at the gym, ask them how many reps they expect to get as well as if they have done this weight for that amount of reps before.

Go to the gym for a long enough time, and it’s inevitable you will be asked to help another member out by spotting them through an exercise. What is spotting you ask? Why it’s the subtle art of not allowing weight to crush the member to death should they not be strong enough lifting it back up. Those doing it for the first time usually panic and over spot. That is, they help the weight back up more than is necessary. The member who asked you for a spot likely feels confident enough they can get the weight up, yet is cautious enough to know they could run into trouble and a spotter such as yourself is a good insurance policy. When you spot someone, ask them how many reps they expect to get as well as if they have done this weight for that amount of reps before.

Ask them how they prefer to be spotted. For example, during an incline dumbbell press would the person prefer to be helped from the elbows or the wrists? They will not be mad or think you’re incompetent for asking a few questions. In fact, they will likely be happy you are so concerned with helping as best you can. It’s a good rule to have your hands close by, but not touching, the area of the bar or body from which you will be helping. Most people hate it when you touch the bar or place your hands on their elbows before they need actual assistance, as they may feel cheated from a good rep. Have your hands close by, but do not apply any assistance until it’s entirely necessary.


Summary

A few of these rules of etiquette might seem obvious. A few may have never crossed your mind. Just remember that the gym is a communal space where people much like yourself go to work on achieving their goals and creating the healthiest version of themselves. It’s important that you and the other members work to create a space that serves as an enjoyable and uplifting environment by keeping it clean and free of clutter.

If you see someone else disregarding the house rules or not following proper gym etiquette, feel free to enlighten them in an appropriate way and time, if you like. However, don’t become the gym’s police officer. It’s my opinion that leading by example is the best way to help others adopt a similar practice of respect and etiquette and serves to keep you on the good side of others. No one likes to be called out for their actions, so tread lightly and focus on your own good habits and behavior in the gym.

As always, thank you so much for taking your time to read this article. If you got something from it, or  you know someone who would benefit from this article, please feel free to share.

If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles or videos, please leave me a message in the comments or reach out to me on social media!

And remember, with everything in life the secret to success is getting started. So get started!

Other articles you may like:

Why do we exercise?

How to create SPECIFIC goals

What makes a good exercise program?

Free weights, body weight, or machines. Which is best? 

Do these two studies prove once and for all that coffee is good for you?


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About the author

I switched careers from a mechanic to a personal trainer and life coach after seeing the difference one made in the life of my mother. I watched as she transformed herself, changing her path in life to one that allowed for the enjoyment of what she loves most. Our family saw how powerful an impact her trainer had on her health and happiness, and we couldn't have been more grateful. From then on, I knew I wanted to help others take back their lives the same way her trainer had helped her. 

Taylor Patterson

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