Absolute Beginners: Gym Etiquette 101

After the first installment of Absolute Beginners was posted, I got a few really awesome suggestions for future posts. This one is from reader Cedra, who brought up the point that a lot of total fitness newbies are intimidated by the gym because they simply don’t know exactly how they’re supposed to act there. So what is good gym etiquette?

I have lots and lots to say about this, because Cedra is right: Gym etiquette is pretty foundational for fitness, because knowing how to act in the gym takes away all sorts of anxiety that gets in the way of actually using the equipment. So without further ado, here are 10 rules for good gym etiquette:

1. Put away your weights. Or kettlebells, resistance bands, foam rollers, plates, bars, whatever you happen to be using. This is the most basic courtesy you can extend to your fellow gymgoers. Everyone (well, almost everyone) wants to get in and out in a timely fashion, and having to re-rack your weights for you or hunt down equipment you left in the wrong place is a pain in the ass. Furthermore, if you do heavy barbell lifting, consider the possibility that other gymgoers may not even be able to lift the plates off of your bar – that happened to me when I was totally new at barbell lifting and struggled to get someone else’s 45’s off of the bar so that I could adjust it. You’re responsible for your workout start-to-finish.

2. Do lend your fellow gymgoers a hand if they’re struggling with something… Here’s an example: I go to a gym that has four squat racks, and I go right when it opens so that I can grab one of the racks easily. Still, sometimes I don’t get one that makes it easy to load a bar for deadlifts, and I have to load a bar on the floor. There’s a guy who works out at the same time as me who saw me struggling to load the bar on the floor, so he grabbed an equivalent plate, held up the bar so that I could load my end, and then loaded the other end for me. It took about 30 seconds of his time and made my workout way better, if only because I appreciated his consideration. Be that guy! If you see someone who needs help, give it or at least offer it.

3. …But don’t give them unsolicited advice. Everyone has a reason for the things they do during their workout, and everyone works out differently. If you see someone working out differently than you, but they don’t appear to be unduly struggling, don’t tell them how they should do things. This is particularly a problem for women who lift – dudes think we have no idea what we’re doing. But look, I read the entirety of Starting Strength and checked out form videos before I ever put a bar on my back, and despite the fact that I had the bar positioned correctly, my form was pretty good, I was conscientious about keeping the bar in line with the arches of my feet, and I wasn’t struggling, a guy still felt the need to tell me I should be looking at the ceiling instead of looking ahead. I had to correct him on that, tell him that Mark Rippetoe advises against looking up, and that I had to protect my neck following a work injury. Don’t be that guy. Or gal! It’s pretty easy to tell when people need help and when you’re just butting into someone else’s routine to make yourself feel smart.

4. Ask for advice when you need it. It’s super-embarrassing to ask how to mount an incline squat bench, but it’s way better to ask either friendly gymgoers or gym staff than to use equipment incorrectly and put yourself at risk or potentially break the equipment. Veteran gymgoers were once newbies and know that a lot of newbies need help, so by and large they’re happy to show you how to do something.

5. Don’t hog equipment. Share! This includes hogging a squat rack when there’s a queue forming, taking three different sets of dumbbells over to a bench and just setting them there for yourself as you work through your circuit over the course of an hour, and chatting with your friends but not working out while sitting on a bench. Be cool, man. If someone asks to work in with your bench, rack, or equipment – that means using it to do their sets while you’re resting between yours – be gracious and let them.

6. There’s no such thing as dibs at the gym. There’s one really great treadmill at my gym that makes interval training super-easy, and once a week there’s a patron who’ll swoop in on it right before the end of my set to walk for 45 minutes. It’s aggravating, but it would be a jerk move if I were to set my water bottle on it for fifteen minutes in an attempt to claim it as mine. If it’s cardio equipment, just take what you can get once you’re actually ready to start your cardio, and if you want a certain piece of strength equipment, either work in or wait for the other patron to finish their set.

7. Use the right equipment for the job. As in, don’t use the squat rack to do bicep curls. Don’t do whatever the fuck this guy is doing. Learn the equipment before you get there, or observe other gymgoers, or ask what equipment is right for what you need to do, and just use it for that.

8. Wipe down your equipment when you’re done. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this one sometimes – but look, gyms are super-gross, and while the gym staff is responsible for keeping an eye on things, they’re not our maids. Just the same way you’re responsible for your own workout in terms of re-racking your weights, you’re responsible for your own workouts in terms of cleaning up your sweat and B.O., too.

9. Have a plan or a routine before you step foot in the gym. Do your research first so that you don’t end up just showing up, sampling a bunch of equipment (which is its own way of space-hogging), and getting an ineffective workout while simultaneously making it difficult for other gymgoers to tell when it is exactly that they’ll be able to use equipment. A degree of predictability is appreciated by other gymgoers, and it’ll make your own workout work better for you.

10. Don’t be weird to your fellow patrons, either on the floor or in the locker room. Like, be nice. Don’t talk about inappropriate stuff. Don’t use slurs. Gyms have a sort of macho vibe a lot of the time, but that’s no excuse to treat it as a place to spew out macho bullshit in front of people you don’t know, and make them feel uncomfortable in a place where they have paid to be. In the locker room, I know a lot of people are weird about nudity, but my rule is sort of live-and-let-live – if someone’s comfortable naked and you’re not, don’t give them shit for it or make it weird, just look the other way. If someone is uncomfortable being naked and you’re not, grant them their privacy. It’s pretty easy.

If there’s anything I missed, make sure to include it in the comments!

[Image via Shutterstock]

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