Gym Manners – What They Are and How to Have Them

The gym can be intimidating.  This goes for everyone but especially for the deconditioned and new gym-goers.  Knowing the proper etiquette helps foster confidence and good relations with your fellow gym-mates. Start by taking a few days to observe the culture at your gym. Every fitness facility has a different personality. Soaking that in and mirroring it back shows respect.

Here we look at five universal, easy to implement, and sometimes unspoken gym rules that will hopefully help you feel more comfortable and welcome at your facility.

Work in With Others – Gyms get crowded, especially at peak times.  It is frustrating to put your workout on hold because you’re waiting for a piece of equipment and then subsequently see that someone is fiddling around where you want to get your work done. 

Be willing to work in with others and don’t be afraid to ask if you can work in with them if it makes sense.  I usually ask one of two questions, typically padded with warm vibes, if someone is using something that I need.  Either some version of, “May I work in with you?” or, “How many sets do you have left?”  If I go with the first one, it’s because I’ve already assessed that it will likely not be disruptive if we switch off.  If I go with the second one, it’s usually because it’s going to be a lot of work for one or both us to share a space.  This latter scenario happens with something like a squat rack if two people are squatting dramatically different weights.  In that case, it’s almost a workout in itself to continuously switch the plates out to accommodate each lifter.  If I’m waiting on a bench for a dumbbell exercise, I’m more likely to ask if I can work on the bench in since weights are not racked on a bench. 

The latter question about sets also serves to inform the person using the equipment that someone is waiting.  If they have gym manners too, they won’t dilly dally and will respect that someone is waiting.  If I sense that they are rushed and I have other exercises to complete, I may add a comment like, “no rush” to let them know I don’t want to interfere with their timing or plan.

Wipe off Your Equipment – We go to the gym and we sweat!  That is part of the territory but you don’t want to use a bench drenched in someone else’s sweat they don’t want to be exposed to your sweat either.  I am writing this in Covid age, so this should be a no-brainer. It doesn’t hurt, though, to reinforce that it’s both hygienic and supports human health to wipe off the surfaces of the equipment we are using after we are done.  Bringing a towel and using the available cleaning solutions should be sufficient.  You don’t want to workout on a sweaty bench as much as you don’t want to eat off a dirty table and they are just about equally unsafe.

Re-Rack Your Weights Some part of me is tempted to make this point stand out because it may be my number one pet-peeve, but alas, it is no more or less important than the other four points.  Put your weights away.  Lifting INCLUDES getting your weights out AND putting them away when you’re done.  This is part of the process of lifting.  If you have a trainer or coach who includes re-racking as part of their service to you, please realize that if you are lifting on your own, that is now your job.  A trainer or coach who wants to prepare you for a comfortable lifetime at the gym will teach you the ins and outs of racking dumbbells and loading/unloading a bar properly and politely.  Good trainers set good examples for their client by keeping things tidy after exercises.  For example, it’s best to use the least number of weights rather than tons of little weights.  Specifically, you’d use one 45lb plate on a barbell rather than four 10lb weights and a 5lb.  Using up a bunch the 10’s is inconsiderate.  Someone may need them, especially if the gym is crowded. 

Smell Fresh – Again, we go to the gym and we sweat and sometimes we kind of smell too.  That’s normal!  However, since we know we may increase our body odor by working out, it is polite to use some odor-neutralizing product prior to working out.  A strong odor travels several feet and can potentially distract, disrupt, and upset the lifters around you.  You don’t need to come in smelling like a fresh picked bouquet or drown yourself in perfume/strong scents, but a little mindfulness goes a long way.

I’ve also found if I sweat heavily during a cardio session, taking time to properly clean my clothes immediately after the workout not only preserves my gym clothes longer, it helps them stay smelling fresh when I re-sweat in them.

Respect DifferencesEveryone starts somewhere and not everyone always knows the best, most efficient, correct form for every exercise and that is 100% okay.  Being at the gym, especially when you’re not a regular, is a great feat!  For some people, simply moving more and getting out of the sedentary category is all they want from their fitness experience.  You may see people doing things or exercises that look unsafe to you, make no sense, reveal that someone is a newbie, or are the exact opposite of what you think is “right.”  Let it be.  Don’t take a video, keep your judgements to yourself, and try to take the perspective that they are doing their best and they are probably benefitting from it. 

For example, I don’t particularly like seeing people do quarter squats.  I don’t understand why someone would do them, I think they are a waste of time, and I’ve never done them myself – however, I am aware that there may be some reason for it even if I don’t like or agree with the reason.  There also may be a reason that I didn’t think of.  We have no idea what’s going on physically or mentally with others.  I worked closely with individuals with limited knee mobility due to a condition they were born with or mild cerebral palsy.  You wouldn’t even know about the limitation at a simple glance.  When you try a new activity, you want supportive people around you; this is also true at the gym.

Not everyone is going to know, agree with, or follow all these suggestions.  Some people are simply rude, self-absorbed, or stuck in their ways.  Be someone who sets a good example at your gym.   If you do, you will find that your efforts are reciprocated, you may find a gym buddy, and you can rest assured that you’re the one actually doing right.