Gym Etiquette Guide
Following the rules of gym etiquette can ensure that both you and other gym patrons have a positive experience. After much field research, multiple surveys, and interviews, I have compiled an official gym etiquette guide to help you feel confident as you navigate your way around the gym!
1. EVERYONE IS WELCOME
Every gym has a group of regulars. These are the people that treat working out like a second job. Going to a new gym you may find that this may be your most intimidating group. They know each crack and crevice of the gym, they walk around it with the comfort of a person navigating their very own home. If you are new they WILL notice you. They are also rooting for you to stick with it. There’s nothing a gym regular enjoys more than seeing someone hobble in off the streets and find the same passion and obsession that they have with weight lifting. They aren’t judging you if you catch them looking it’s more likely they are checking your form and debating whether it’s ok to give you tips. The ever-elusive regular is on your side and if you do have a bad interaction with a regular, you can be guaranteed that all the other regulars probably hate that guy too, so feel free to tell the gym staff about any bad experiences. Remember, at the end of the day you are a paying member and everyone has equal right to be there. Own your space *sassy finger snaps*.
2. NOBODY CARES HOW MUCH YOU LIFT
Starting out weightlifting can be a bit of a mental challenge. You see people around you lifting heavy weights, you want to stack plates on because it looks cool, you feel strong, you justify it by saying your muscles will grow more quickly. 100% of the time, adding too much weight for vanity leads to muscle imbalances and injury. If you really look around you’ll notice that the most dedicated and buff people lift all kinds of weight, light, moderate, and heavy. The most badass thing you can do to show off is to show up and work. Work doesn’t mean stacking on too much weight. It’s dangerous and if anyone is watching they are often concerned for you. Never focus on how much you are lifting compared to others. Take that focus internally and challenge yourself. Be honest with your limits and push yourself without sacrificing good form. This will ensure that you stay healthy and are able to keep making gains and getting stronger. Remember that the strongest person at your gym started somewhere, we have all had humble beginnings, and the more advanced you get the more you realize that whatever weight you’re using for a bicep curl has absolutely nothing to do with your level of fitness. Good form is always your most important flex.
3. RE-RACK YOUR WEIGHT
Part of every workout includes putting weights on the bar and putting them back when you are finished. It is one of the most deadliest sins in a gym to complete our exercise and not return your weights where you got them. Ensure to put them back in the appropriate place. Keeping the gym clean and organized is a part of your DUTY as a gym member and ensures other people have a good experience too. If you are too lazy to put your weights or equipment back, you are simply too lazy to even be at the gym. Go home.
4. SHARING EQUIPMENT
Sometimes the piece of equipment you need is taken. In some cases, it may be possible to share the equipment with the person using it, but in many instances, it’s easiest just to wait until they are done. Either way, you have to communicate with the person. If you need a squat rack and they are all taken, eye the situation for a minute, and approach someone during their rest period (never talk to someone during a working set) to ask when they’ll be done, “do you have many sets left?” is a good question. They’ll let you know if it’s gonna be a while, they may also offer to let you work in. It’s up to you if you’d like to do that, sometimes it’s a fun way to make new friends and get feedback on your form. Seasoned lifters love to help new lifters. It’s one of our favorite things. In some cases, everyone might be there a while and you can simply ask one of them to let you know when they are done. This is code for “save this equipment for me”. In the meantime, you can use that time to start another portion of your workout in the area of the squat rack. You may also encounter times when people ask you when you’ll be finished or if they can work in. Never be intimidated or feel like you need to cut your workout short. Sharing equipment is pretty easy and if you simply can’t then tell them you can’t share but you’ll grab them when you are done. If a person is being mean or pushy about you sharing be sure to stand your ground and feel free to report them to gym staff. We all report jerks from time to time. Overall, while sharing isn’t always ideal, it’s sometimes a part of the game and it’s good sportsmanship to share when it makes sense.
5. THE SQUAT RACK
The squat rack is the holy grail of fitness equipment. Hardly any gyms have enough and when things are busy they are usually full. It is therefore essential that you do not misuse the squat rack. People who are performing barbell squats always have priority on the squat rack. Many exercises that can be completed outside the squat rack should NEVER be done in a squat rack when there’s a chance people want to squat. Hogging the squat rack unnecessarily is a carnal sin. Therefore, benching, deadlifting, rowing, and overhead presses are all exercises that should be taken outside the squat rack when things are busy and/or someone wants to use the rack to squat. Never, ever, under any circumstances, use the squat rack to do bicep curls. By honouring the sanctity of the squat rack you will help retain order and balance inside the gym.
6. DUMBBELL RACK
Most gyms have a dumbbell rack usually situated in front of a large mirror and backed by a series of benches. Never, under any circumstances, lean on the rack or stand directly in front of the weights while doing your sets. Simply take your weights, move enough distance back so that people can access the weights, and do your exercises. It is frustrating as heck to have people block the dumbbells and a pet peeve for many lifters.
7. USING MULTIPLE PIECES OF EQUIPMENT
Sometimes a routine will demand you do supersets or giant sets that ideally require several pieces of equipment. Unless you are working out at home or your gym is very quiet, it may be necessary for you to modify your workout in these instances and use less equipment. Not having flexibility with your routine will always be a problem as equipment availability will always be questionable and hogging multiple pieces of equipment is indeed a deadly sin at the gym. So, be flexible, share equipment, and save elaborate supersets that *need* multiple pieces of equipment for when the gym is empty.
8. TAKING PICTURES
Taking pictures of yourself at the gym is a god-given right. Taking pictures of other people requires permission, this is especially true when it comes to taking pictures of women. It may be tempting when you see someone with great form or pulling big weights to want to memorialize that moment on your cell phone but it is a huge violation of privacy. In particular, women regularly deal with harassment and don’t believe for a second you have any right to cross boundaries and objectify a person in the gym. Don’t be a creep. Taking pictures of yourself in the change room may be another thing you do. It’s nice to track progress. This is usually just fine but be sure you don’t include anyone else in these photos and if you do, don’t ever post that person to your social media without their permission. In general, just don’t take pictures of anyone but yourself.
9. GIVING TIPS
Once you get confident in an exercise and you see someone doing it, you may feel an urge to give the person a tip. This is especially tempting when you see someone with bad form. It’s never a straightforward thing and it’s best to err on the side of caution, but unless the person is in imminent danger of harming themselves it’s usually best to stay out of it. If you do feel absolutely compelled to approach them don’t say anything alarming, merely say something along the lines of “hey I love doing (exercise) too, would you like to see an alternate way to perform it?”. This gives the person a chance to tell you they aren’t interested in the interaction and also won’t make them feel defensive or alarmed. If you are a male watching a female perform an exercise and want to give tips, I’m sorry but many men before you have ruined this opportunity for you and unless you are 1000000% sure you aren’t going to come across as creepy, just don’t. This is especially true for deadlifts, squats, dumbbell rows, and hip thrusts, exercises where women may already feel a little self-aware. In general, keep your tips tucked in your pants.
Some people take gym fashion seriously. Personally, I found that the more fun I had with gym fashion the more excited I was to show up. However, this is not the case for everyone and ultimately, you are the only one who cares what you wear. The important thing is to dress comfortably for your activity. Don’t ever go barefoot, nobody wants your foot skin on the weights or anywhere they have to exist. If you sweat a lot, dress appropriately for that and make sure you also carry a towel with you. Don’t wear dirty shoes in the gym, it’s rude and negatively affects all other patrons. Don’t stare at other people’s outfits. If someone is wearing something low cut or short shorts, they aren’t wearing it for you, they are wearing it because it’s what they want to work out in. Overall, have fun with your clothing, don’t stare at other people’s outfits, and keep your shoes clean.
11. PERSONAL SPACE
Sometimes gyms get crammed but it’s important to always respect the personal space of other gym patrons. This means not standing directly in front of someone or in their line of motion for the work they are doing. Be respectful and pay attention to the space people need to work.
Don’t show up to the gym stinky. If you are someone who gets body odor when you work out, be sure to prepare appropriately with deodorant. Never, under any circumstances, wear perfume or body spray in the gym. Many people have sensitivities and you could not only ruin their workouts but even ruin their week. Even people without a sensitivity do not want to breathe in your perfumes and body sprays while working out. Save any application of perfumed things for outside the gym. If you leave sweat on equipment be sure to wipe it up. Most gyms have wet wipes or towels and spray in order to do this. If you sweat a lot you may also want to carry a towel with you that you can lay it underneath you on equipment in order to minimize the amount of sweat you leave places. When showering, always wear flip flops. Athletes foot and plantar warts are a terrible thing and not something we should be sharing, so protect yourself and others.
Going to the gym is intimidating for almost anyone. Staring at someone increases this discomfort and may cause already self-conscious people to want to give up. Always resist the temptation to stare, never ever mock people at the gym, and simply mind your own business and do your workout. Everyone has an equal right to be there and nobody deserves to feel self-conscious about trying to better themselves. Don’t be a jerk.
Noise at the gym comes in many forms, grunting, dropping weights, music, chatting, etc. In general, gyms are a bit noisy and you can expect to experience a moderate amount of noise whenever you go. Unless your gym has a policy against it, dropping weights is a necessary evil for some routines. It’s loud and annoying, and if you are extremely bothered you can ask an employee if they can bring the person lifting pads or something of the sort. Otherwise, most times you may have to simply ignore it and go about your business. It’s nice to have headphones available in these instances as you can simply turn up your music and go about your workout. You may also encounter grunters. Some people are extremely loud while doing their sets. I don’t have any particular advice other than try and get an internal laugh out of it. Other than extra noise pollution grunting doesn’t do anyone any harm and is really a strong part of some people’s brands for some reason. Once again, use headphones if you are bothered or try and just find the entertainment in it if you can’t block it out. On a personal note, I would advise against making excessive grunting sounds if you can control yourself. It doesn’t impress anyone. Other than avoiding grunting, don’t ever play your music out loud, don’t talk on speakerphone, and try your best to keep all of your noise pollution within respectable ranges.
15. SLAMMING WEIGHTS
Unless you are doing heavy deadlifts or certain compound barbell exercises, there’s no need to slam weights. Even with these exercises, some gyms acoustics/size are such that slamming weights is too loud and needs to be avoided. Never under any circumstances should you slam weight on machines. If you cannot return the machine weight in a controlled manner, you need to lower your weight. Also, don’t throw dumbbells. Throwing dumbbells is not a part of any routine and is both dangerous and rude.
You may make friends at the gym or run into people you know. Always be sure to have a time cap on convos as most times people have a deadline for how long they can work out and aren’t pumped about socializing for too long. If someone is holding you up you can absolutely continue your workout while listening, nothing comes between you and your gains. You can also easily escape a convo by saying “I gotta finish up my workout now, it was good chatting”. Also, don’t ever talk to anyone mid-set. If someone is doing reps, allow them to finish before engaging in conversation. The set is always more important than your conversation. The gym is primarily for making gains, socializing will always be secondary.
17. HITTING ON PEOPLE
In general, the rule for hitting on people at the gym is don’t ever hit on anyone at the gym. People go to the gym for the freedom to work on themselves and become a sweaty mess. It’s a beautiful thing. Hitting on someone at the gym makes their experience complicated. They don’t want to worry about running into you, they don’t want to rebuild a routine to avoid interactions, they don’t want to worry about being stared at, or hurting feelings, or anything of the sort. Hitting on someone complicates the very essence of the freedom that comes with being a gym-goer. It’s a selfish thing to do and the gym is one of the most inappropriate places to make your move. Sure, gym crushes develop, but absolutely save anything beyond a smile and head nod for outside the gym. If the gym crush is reciprocated you can merely find one another on the internet like anyone else. If you are a man, don’t ask a woman you like to spot you. Don’t offer to spot unless asked. Don’t offer form tips. Don’t ask people where they work. Don’t talk to someone wearing headphones. Just don’t hit on people at the gym. Don’t do it. Making friends is fun but when you move outside the friend zone it compromises the very core of what makes the gym an awesome place. So, check yourself, focus on the weights, and save your mating rituals for outside the gym.
18. SAVING YOUR SPOT
If you are doing sets and need to leave your area for any reason it’s perfectly fine to save your spot. Simply leaving your weights racked isn’t usually enough, as someone may come in your absence, assume you are done and begin their own workout. In order to save your spot, the proper etiquette is to put something there to signal you’re still working. A water bottle, a shirt or towel or lifting belt draped over the bar, heck, leave your shoes if you have to! Just treat it like a bus seat and let people know you aren’t finished. Do not save your spot if you are going to be gone for longer than 10 minutes, taking a break longer than that is greedy and you have forfeited your place at the gym.
If you are resting between sets don’t do it on other equipment. Don’t lay across the floor, don’t hog benches, just take a walk or keep to your area where you are doing your sets. If you are resting beyond 5-10 minutes in between sets maybe consider taking your ass to a powerlifting gym instead.
20. ABUSING MIRRORS
The mirrors aren’t there primarily for you to flex in. Sure we all like to look at ourselves but don’t hog mirror space when people around you are working. Hogging mirror space to pop zits or stare at your teeth means the person behind you can’t watch their own form. It’s rude. If you need some mirror time, find an area that’s empty and have at it.
Most gyms have designated areas for stretching and this is where you should do your stretching. It can be dangerous to stretch elsewhere and you’ll more often than not be getting in the way of people lifting weights.
From time to time you may be asked to spot someone. Spotting is a skill that takes practice to develop so don’t be shy to ask the person for tips. In general, you exist primarily as a safety rack when you spot. You are available to catch the weight if the person fails but under no circumstances should you assist them with the lift. The only time your muscles are used while spotting is if the person is failing or clearly struggling to get it back on the rack. Don’t touch the weight unless your help is needed, you can place your hands in the path of the bar underneath to be read, but you don’t need to touch. Also, be a good spotter. Don’t be distracted, don’t distract the person from their workout, know exactly how many reps the person wants to do, and don’t be afraid to cheer them on when they are pushing hard on those final reps. Spotting is an art form and it’s normal to make mistakes as you figure out how to do it! Don’t try to spot beyond your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to ask for a spotter when you are lifting in a range outside of your own comfort zone.