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Top 4 Behaviors to Avoid at the Gym

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Steve is a health and fitness enthusiast who has been actively weight training in gyms for over 15 years.


With the new year upon us, there are bound to be a lot of new faces at any gym, pursuing their resolutions to get into shape. But whether you're a beginner or a gym veteran, here are some of the top behaviors you should avoid at the gym.

1. Not Returning Weights After Use

Not Returning Dumbbells

There are a few negative ramifications when people don’t return their dumbbells. First, someone who is looking for those particular weights will not be able to find them where they should be. Secondly, when weights are left next to a bench where they were previously being used, anyone who comes around looking for a bench may think that one of the many people within the weights area may be using that bench, or the weights left next to it, or both. This effectively ties up two gym resources unnecessarily.

Even worse, some people bring dumbbells to the opposite end of the gym, while doing lunges for example, then leave them there after they’re done. This causes the next person who needs those weights to go on a gym-wide goose hunt to locate them.

Make sure to always return dumbbells when done with them.

Not Returning Barbell Plates

Finding that someone completed and walked away from their barbell set without unloading the plates from the barbell is another discourteous act you may come across at the gym. Leaving the barbell loaded not only wastes the next barbell user’s time but also burdens them with unnecessary effort and potential difficulty to unload the plates.

Make sure to always unload and return barbell plates.

2. Returning Weights Incorrectly

We've all been there. You push out a set with some dumbbells, and when you go to return them to the correct spot on the rack, you can't, since someone else put their dumbbells back in the wrong spot, and it's the dedicated spot you need for the weights you're holding.

We can all be thankful when people at the gym actually return their dumbbells to the rack and unload their barbells. However, as intelligent gym-goers may already know, the return of weights is only half the battle. The next half is educating people to return weights correctly.


Not Putting Dumbbells Back in the Proper Spot

If someone incorrectly returned their weights close to where they should have been returned, I'll usually move them over a spot or two into the correct spot, so that I can put my weights back correctly. However, sometimes, you may find that someone placed the 65 pound dumbbells on the opposite end of the rack in the 10 pound spots.

In this event, you may be tempted to simply return your weights “close to” where they belong, by placing them "near" where they should go but in the wrong spot. You might try and justify that anyone looking for that weight will be able to spot them in the same relative area, after all.

However, this just cascades the problem further, indefinitely. When dumbbell racks are labeled with weight numbers, the rack will generally have the exact amount of room for every single dumbbell in the gym. By returning dumbbells into the wrong spots, the next person who's using the dumbbells that should go in the spots you just used incorrectly will face the same problem, and so on.

In the event that someone incorrectly returned their dumbbells, I recommend returning your dumbbells in front of the rack, on the floor, in-line with where they are supposed to go. This may sound controversial, but by doing so, the next person looking for those specific dumbbells will be able to find them in the area where they belong, and plus, you won’t be preventing someone else from correctly returning their weights.

In the meantime, someone else may use the previously mentioned incorrectly returned weights, and yet another person may end up using the weights which were put on the floor. From there, both sets of weights stand a greater chance that they'll be able to be returned correctly.

Straight bars and curl bars can be seen in the bottom right of this photo.

Straight bars and curl bars can be seen in the bottom right of this photo.

Putting Heavy Curl Bars High on the Rack

A lot of gyms have a dedicated rack for static, non-adjustable barbells known as “straight bars” or “curl bars” (pictured above). These weights, as their names imply, either have a straight bar, or a wavy “W” shape, and the entire rack usually has no more than one bar of any given weight. Unfortunately, these racks aren’t typically labeled to indicate which weights go where. Ideally, when the rack is full, you should be able to find the lightest barbells on the highest point of the rack, and the heaviest ones on the lowest part of the rack. The heavier bars should not be placed high on the rack, since it can be difficult and awkward to get these down.

Think like a pyramid: big on the bottom, small on top.

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"Burying" Barbell Plates

People generally go to the gym to perform exercises for specific body parts, and ideally, all of the energy brought into the gym is focused on those body parts. When it comes to barbell exercises, in an ideal situation, one would load the barbell with the desired amount of plates, perform their set, and put the plates back when done.

With this in mind, we can envision the process of loading and unloading the barbell as wasted energy, which isn’t directed toward the chosen targeted body parts. This means we want to minimize this part of the load/unload process.

Unfortunately, if the previous barbell user happens to have returned their plates with no regard for the next person, the following scenario may be encountered when a 45 plate is needed:

This isn't a loaded barbell. These are weights that have been "put away". Unfortunately, the 45 is "buried" behind the 10 and the 5.

This isn't a loaded barbell. These are weights that have been "put away". Unfortunately, the 45 is "buried" behind the 10 and the 5.

This is what I refer to as “burying” weights: returning a weight by placing it in front of a different weight. In other words, if you ever need to move a weight in any way to get to a different weight that is behind or under it, the second weight has been "buried".

In the above picture, one would need to move the 5 and the 10 in order to get the 45 which they need. Though unfortunate, thankfully moving those light plates is fairly effortless. But this scenario can be much worse, when the 10 you need is buried behind two or three 45’s…

Make sure to always avoid burying any weights.

3. Hoarding Resources

Hoarding Multiple Sets of Dumbbells or Curl Bars

Drop sets can certainly be a beneficial tool in any bodybuilder’s arsenal. But during peak hours when the gym is packed, hoarding multiple sets of dumbbells and/or curl bars can be considered as quite ill-mannered. It's hard enough to come across a free bench during peak hours, but you may have an even harder time getting your hands on the dumbbells or curl bar you need. This is due to the fact that people don't necessarily need a bench to use dumbbells or curl bars, since they can be used while standing.

Save your drop sets for non-peak hours, when there's plenty of room to breathe in the gym.

If you do come across someone who is hoarding three or more sets of dumbbells, for example, I recommend watching that person, and in a moment when they're between sets, or clearly not using the weights you need in that instant, ask them if you can use them for a "quick set". You can also assure them that they'll still be able to use them as needed between their sets. Don't ask if they're done with the weight you need, and if you can take them, since if they say they're not done, you'll be stuck waiting for an unknown amount of time until they finish with everything they're using.

Claiming Two Separate Pieces of Equipment at Once

Here’s a scenario that has happened to me numerous times:

I find a seemingly unused bench press bench, with a barbell that hasn’t been unloaded. I don’t see a water bottle on the ground, and after looking around for 15 to 30 seconds, nobody seems to have claim on the bench. I then start unloading the barbell, and when I finish unloading one side of the bar, someone walks over and says “Sorry, I’m using that”. I think to myself that perhaps they needed a drink from the water fountain, or took a bathroom break, so I let them have it. But then, I realize what they’re doing is going back and forth, between the triceps extension machine and the bench press.

It’s important to remember that the gym is a shared environment, and you should limit your equipment usage to one at a time in the interest of fairness.


4. Sharing Equipment Between Sets

During peak hours, when the gym is packed and there isn’t an unused bench or machine in sight, in the interest of time, you may sometimes want to ask someone if you can jump in on what they’re using so that you can take turns performing sets. However, before doing so, keep the following in mind.

Are You Soaked With Sweat?

Nobody wants to lay or sit on a bench that has been freshly moistened with sweat. Before you ask anyone to share any equipment, make sure you’re either dry, or have a towel to spread over the bench when it’s your turn.

Very Different Weights

If you’re sweat-free and looking to share a weight machine, this shouldn't be an issue at all, since increasing or decreasing the resistance simply includes moving a single pin and takes about 1 second. However, when looking to share a bench press or squat rack, make sure to first compare the amount of weight the other person is pushing, and only ask to jump in between sets if the weight they’re pushing is at least reasonably-comparable to what you’re looking to push. A lot of additional time and effort will be spent loading and unloading the bar every 30 seconds if, for example, one person is squatting 65 pounds, and the other squatting 225.


Making sure to avoid the above behaviors at the gym will help make the gym a more efficient and enjoyable place for everyone.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Steve B


RoadMonkey on December 22, 2019:

Very useful reminders thanks. I used to belong to a small works gym and loved using the single running machine. If it was in use, I did the various weight options. There was one occasional user would come in and use the weights machine and the running machine in short bursts alternately, so tying up both.

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