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Gym Etiquette: Simple Dos and Don'ts

Not All Exercisers Are Created Equal

I’m sure that most of us have seen theinfamous Planet Fitness commercial which lampoons a gym culture of sweating, grunting Iron Men.

While I disagree with the basic premise that lifting weights or being super dedicated to fitness is somehow bad or wrong - I do have to admit:

They kind of have a point.

We’ve all met them. The gym goers who stare, or leer, or spray sweat like a human sprinkler, or brag about their lifts when you’d really rather just concentrate on yours, or grunt so loudly that you might be forgiven for thinking that someone had accidentally let a gorilla into the weight room.

But don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to resort to poorly-equipped gyms or stay home to avoid these people. Just point them to this handy guide. If they don’t want to look, that’s okay. Print it out and give it to them anyway, preferably with medical-grade rubber gloves and some kind of extension tool.

And if you suspect that you may be one of these people, don’t worry. Help is on the way.

First: The Don'ts

Because the easiest way to avoid making a mistake is by learning from other people's.

Rule 1: Don't Be a Tarzan

Hark! What is that sound I hear? That grunting? That howling? Could it be…

Yes! Yes, it is!

It’s the mating call of a silverback gorilla!

Or is it?

Okay. Listen up, Mr. Goodall. I think we’re going to have to set a couple of things straight.

You aren’t the king of the jungle. You aren’t even in the jungle. You're in a gym, and unless you just dislocated an elbow, you probably shouldn’t be screaming like that.

Nobody likes a Tarzan. They're noisy and upsetting and nobody can ever figure out whether to turn up the volume in their headphones or call an ambulance.

So try not to be a Tarzan.

That leads us to:

Rule 2: Stop: Don't Drop

Photo courtesy of chrisroll

Photo courtesy of chrisroll

Unless a marauding horde of Visigoths just appeared and demanded that either you give them a lifetime supply of protein powder or they'll burn your gym down, chances are that your dumbbell is never going to have to double as a projectile weapon.

So why did you just throw it halfway across the room and give all of the rest of us a heart attack with the sonic boom? It’s loud, disruptive, and unless you manage to make it ricochet off of the wall and hit you in the groin, thus entertaining us all with your screaming, it’s almost always annoying.

Here’s a pointer: If the weight you’re lifting is too heavy for you to place nicely on the rack or down on the ground, it’s too heavy for you. Period. Either lift a weight which you can handle or, if you can handle this one, admit that you can put it down like everybody else: quietly.

Rule 3: Don't Be a P.A.S.

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Let me tell you about Passive Aggressive Sally. (P.A.S. for short.)

When Passive Aggressive Sally sees you using a piece of equipment she would like to use, she doesn't step up and ask if she might be able to work in with you. She doesn't ask how many sets you have left. She doesn't say anything at all.

This isn't because P.A.S. is shy. It's because she's passive aggressive, and probably a little insane.

You know when you've got a P.A. Sally when you see her lurking somewhere between five to fifteen feet away and giving you the hairy eyeball. Chances are that she'll keep doing it until you've finished doing whatever it is that’s getting in the way of whatever it is she’d like to be doing. If you sense her hostility and ask her if she might, by any chance, like to use the equipment you’re using, she may even put on a long-suffering air and say, " No. You go ahead. I don't need it.” Then she'll try to put smoking holes in the back of your head with her laser beam eyes, because P.A. Sally has Issues.

Don't be a P.A.S. Most people will be more than willing to take turns with you or skip a set if you just speak up, but they can't read your mind or be inclined to make nice with you if you're burning holes in the back of their head like that.

Rule 4: Don't Sweat and Jet

Or, alternatively, "Don't Leave & Skeeve"

Most, if not all, gyms will have stations throughout the facility with paper towels and spray bottles of disinfectant. These stations are there for a reason. They are there so that you can mop up the putrescent puddle of perspiration you just left pooling on that weight bench over there.

So, please, give the equipment a quick spray and wipe down when you're done with it. It'll take ten seconds of your time and make somebody else very happy, or at least considerably less grossed-out, and isn’t that the essence of civilized society?

And that leads us straight into:

Rule 5: Don't Slack: Rack

Photo courtesy of Phiseksit

Photo courtesy of Phiseksit

While it's true that most health clubs aren't crowded enough to look like the set of, "Where's Waldo: The Movie", you wouldn't know it if you ever had to track down a missing set of weights.

Any regular exerciser will know what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about finding the last twenty-five-pound weight plate propping up one leg of a wobbly table near the smoothie bar, because apparently all of the folded-up pieces of cardboard that you usually use to prop up wobbly tables had been turned into protein bars.

I’m talking about having to unload half a dozen forty-five pounders off of a chest press machine because the last person who used it was apparently so exhausted from his superhuman feats of strength that he could only remove the first six hundred pounds before they had to carry him away in a stretcher.

Please. If you had to unrack it in the first place, re-rack it when you're done with it. None of us enjoy being in the gym so much that we want to spend an extra ten minutes trying to track down the equipment only to find out that someone, somewhere, thought it was a good idea to use the E.Z. curl bar to toast marshmallows in the sauna.

The Do's

Do: Offer to “Work In”

When you ask or offer to "work in" with another gym-goer, you're asking to take turns on a piece of equipment that you both want to use by performing alternating sets. In other words, each person performs their set while the other rests.

Most people, if they're not jerks, will be willing to do this. However, there are a few basic courtesies you should observe when working in with someone.

  • Leave No Trace

    Seriously. You should always wipe down the equipment after use whether or not someone is actually waiting to use it, but this goes doubly for when you're working in with someone else. This person is already being nice by agreeing to share the equipment with you, thus exposing him or herself to whatever unknown germs you may be incubating, your company, and that stun-an-ox aroma you’ve been cultivating for the past hour. Don't reward their courtesy by leaving them to perform their set while steeping their shoulder blades in your bodily emissions.
  • Observe and Reset

    Everybody's different, and chances are that you will not find yourself working in with someone who's lifting the exact same weight as you. Be considerate, note what weight they were using, and return the machine to that weight after you've finished your set.

Do: Dress Appropriately

You’re not going to the opera, but you are in public, and when we’re in public we should try not to be too much of an aesthetic disruption.

That means keep your shirt on, make sure your pants don’t have holes in them, make sure your shorts aren’t so short that they’ll make your deadlifts an unlooked-for lesson in human anatomy for anybody standing behind you, and for god’s sake, wash your socks every once in a while. It smells like you’re aging some muenster in there.

Do: Clean Up After Yourself

There are racks for the dumbbells, trees for the weight plates, and the benches are placed where they are for a reason. They’re there so that everyone else knows where to find the equipment they need when they need it. Chances are that we're all short on time and we want to use our limited gym time to get in a good workout, not to hunt for equipment that's not where it should be.

Do everyone a favor and, if you take anything off of its rack or move it from where you found it, make sure to put it back before you go. Nobody but the occasional obsessive really wants to be here in the first place, and having to track down the equipment will just ratchet their enthusiasm down to, “I’d rather be getting a root canal,” levels.

Do: Practice Good Hygiene

This includes not only wiping down the equipment, but making sure to carry a towel to dab away excess sweat, because nobody likes to be dripped on.

And do try to take care that you’re not already carrying a certain level of funk before you’ve begun your workout. If your last shower took place after yesterday’s workout, reduce your smell factor with a quick dunk’n’deodorize before you come to the gym. It may feel like a nuisance, since you’re only going to get all sweaty and have to take another shower afterwards anyway, but trust me: your fellow exercisers will thank you.

Do: Use Common Sense - And Common Courtesy

In a way, this final rule encompasses all of the above.

This goes not only for the basics of obstacle avoidance (because nobody wants to get a dumbbell in the face just because you weren't paying attention), but for the basics of human interaction:

If you find a chatty person and you're both cool with taking time out to show each other pictures of your kids, fine. As long as you're both happy, we're all happy.

But if someone is avoiding eye contact, wearing headphones, replying in monosyllables, and otherwise acting in ways which would indicate that they'd really rather be left alone to get through their workout, leave them alone.

I know that you're a friendly person and just want to chat. I know that you think you might be able to help by offering some pointers on form, and that you're so eager to help that you may not be stopping to think whether you should, or whether you're really qualified to help.

But, for many people, the gym is not a social club, and unless they're about to do themselves serious harm, they won't appreciate your correction. It will only fluster them, frustrate them, and make their time at the gym that much more unpleasant.

Be courteous. Be kind. And if your fellow gym-goers want space, or quiet, or a clean bench, or an orderly weight rack, or the opportunity to use a machine in a timely manner, give it to them, because we're all in this together and every little bit of consideration makes the gym a safer, more pleasant environment which we'll keep returning to again and again.


DATALOAD from Michigan on July 27, 2013:

I'm always surprised when someone doesn't wipe their sweat off the equipment. It's pretty gross.

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