The gym can be an intimidating place. It’s filled with big strong people that all seem to know each other and it’s easy to find yourself thinking negative thoughts. “What happens if I do something wrong?” or “I don’t want to make someone mad by doing something I shouldn’t do!” Letting these negative thoughts get the better of you will only keep you out of the gym and further away from reaching your health and fitness goals. So I’m here to help. I’m going to give you a little lesson on the rules of gym etiquette. Some of them you may already know, whereas others may be a little more subtle. The key takeaway is this: following these 11 rules will help you combat any “gymtimidation” that may be keeping you from feeling comfortable in the gym. Let’s get down to business.
1. No curls in the squat rack
This rule may be the butt of many jokes, but sure enough, every so often I see folks curling away in the squat rack. Why is this a bad thing? Well, what if I want to squat?! You should always assume that someone wants to use the very piece of equipment that you’re using. Therefore, being respectful of other people and only using equipment in the manner it was intended, is gym etiquette 101. Although I should note that in today’s world, it’s somewhat rare to even see someone using the squat rack in the first place! And that’s a shame because squats are a great lower body exercise and can be done very safely when performed with correct form and the appropriate weight.
2. Respect the weights
Let’s face it, weights are just hunks of iron. Sometimes the dumbbells may be coated with rubber, but that doesn’t change the fact that whenever you go to the gym and pick up a dumbbell, you’re renting someone’s property. And yes, all weights do wear down over time, even the large metal barbells that seem indestructible. Just as you were taught to respect other kids’ toys in school, so it goes in the gym.
3. Mind your business
The gym can be an intimidating place all on its own, so the very last thing a novice lifter needs is a seasoned veteran providing unsolicited and questionable advice. Only trainers should be dishing out any sort of fitness advice in the weight room. However, there is one exception – when someone is about to injure themselves or injure another person. For example, if a novice lifter is about to attempt a PR on the deadlift and they are rounding their back like they are still working on their computer. In a case like this, bruising their ego sure beats the possible alternative – a herniated disc.
4. Don’t drop the weights
When you drop a pair of dumbbells in the gym after your set, those of us on the far end of the gym are thinking one of two things. Either that you don’t respect the weights (see rule #2) or that you aren’t strong enough to set down a weight that you just lifted! But don’t get me wrong, there are times when it’s perfectly OK to drop a weight. In Olympic weightlifting – with the rubber “bumper plates” – it’s perfectly OK to drop the weights on the ground. After all, when you lift something very heavy over your noggin the safest way to get said weight down is by dropping it. But even then, good etiquette demands that you only let the bar bounce once. Another notable exception is when you’re using a barbell to deadlift. During the eccentric part of the exercise – when you’re setting the weight back down – during the last phase of the movement you are putting your lumbar spine under a whole lot of stress. Therefore, it’s better to let the bar just “fall” a little bit versus trying to control it. Both of the above exceptions, however, are a far cry from dropping those dumbbells and letting them roll over your neighbor’s foot while they are trying to focus on their own exercise.
5. Lay down your yoga mat with care
Have you ever been lying on your yoga mat just minding your own business when out of nowhere someone walks up and throws out their yoga mat like it’s a bed sheet right next to you? If you have, then you’re well aware of the hurricane of floor debris that’s heading your way. Taking a little extra care when setting down your mat will help keep your smiling yoga neighbors, well, smiling.
6. Re-rack the weights
If you’re strong enough to lift the weight in the first place then you’re strong enough to set it back down where you found it. Always re-rack the weights for the next person, and keep the gym organized.
7. It’s not polite to stare
OK fellas, yes, there are good looking women in the gym. Let’s all do them a favor and not stare at them while they’re exercising. And as I have been witness to, most women in the gym are working out harder and more effectively than most men. So if anything, guys need to do a little less gawking and a little more training.
8. Don’t interrupt during a set
I would be very happy to tell you that I have 2 sets left on the squat rack, but not when I’m in the middle of a set! Interrupting someone who is in the middle of an exercise is not only rude, but dangerous. Distracting someone during a technical lift could cause an injury, and even worse, make them lose count!
9. Wipe off the bench
This one should be obvious. Yes, we all sweat in the gym, but that doesn’t mean I need to lie down on a nice sweat-coated bench after you walked away without wiping it down. You may not rid the surface of any and all viruses, but it’s still good practice. It’s just like brushing your teeth and buckling your seat belt – it should be such a habit that you don’t even need to remember to do it.
10. Keep your phone in your locker
Unless you’re using your phone to listen to music, ditch it! You have plenty of time to talk on the phone during the day and if anything, the gym should be your daily escape from the world. Social media and email can wait.
11. Leave your ego at the door!
This rule is the most important of them all. We all come from different backgrounds. You may be Ironman competitors, powerlifters, treadmill walkers or yogis. You may be very fit or not so fit. Maybe you’re a little overweight and you mustered up the courage to walk into the gym and try turning your life around. Regardless, when we pass through the doors of a gym, we are all the same. We really are. Because we’re all trying to better ourselves and be healthy and happy individuals. So, here’s a little homework for you. Next time you go to the gym, say something motivational to another person. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re doing, just say something nice. A simple “nice work” can go a long ways to inspire someone to come back to the gym tomorrow. Happy lifting everyone.
BY RYAN WAGNER