Proper gym etiquette is harder to come by than one might think.
Everyone has their own idea of what is appropriate and what isn’t, and they follow that. Usually, gyms have their own ideal gym etiquette written out as part of one of the forms you agreed to when you signed up. These lists are not completely standardized though and will vary from gym to gym.
The following is a list of the 15 gym etiquette requirements. So, if you think you are the ideal gym goer, read below and see!
1. Don’t slam weights
There are of course exceptions to this rule, however most big box gyms have signs posted regulating the dropping of weights. A good exception would be if you are deadlifting on an approved platform. The platform is there to absorb the weight when it drops. If you are training purely for concentric strength or powerlifting or Olympic lifting, letting the weight down softly is not a requirement. So, you are free to let this weight down with some speed, but an equal amount of control.
In a gym I used to work in there was a member who dropped all his weights, even cables. This is not only distracting for people trying to enjoy their workouts, but also hazardous for the equipment itself. He had to be approached and told he was going to wreck something if he continued to recklessly drop everything. There is no need to drop a cable weight, you pay the monthly fees to go to the gym, take care of the equipment there so it will last.
2. Don’t talk to young girls
This should not have to be said. I have seen trainers and members both fall short on this account. If you are a man in the gym, there is specific parameters that need to be followed regarding approaching a woman and talking with her. It isn’t always wrong. However, if you are in your 40’s or 50’s which is usually the age of men I see doing this, there is absolutely ZERO reason for you to go up to a girl in her 20’s and inform her about proper technique or ANYTHING ELSE AT ALL. You say she is going to hurt herself if she keeps doing it that way? Find a trainer or gym employee, notify them you think she is putting herself in danger and you do not feel comfortable going up to her, because you shouldn’t!
I had an interview to be a bouncer at a bar once, when I asked what my specific goal should be to accomplish every night the manager told me this. “Make it a safe place for girls.” We should have the same view at the gym. No girl should feel like she is going to be ‘watched’ or harassed by the middle-aged men at her gym.
3. Use the equipment for its intended purpose
People are innovative, it’s the way we are made. This causes even regular people to create some of the wildest workouts using completely wrong equipment. For the most part I say go for it if you are not in anyone’s way and you’re not going to hurt yourself. This nicety really only applies during slow hours at the gym though. If the gym is busy (6am-9am and again from 5pm-7pm), this is not the time to try out your new weird and wacky movement on a piece of equipment someone has planned to use for its intended purpose.
The strangest thing I have ever personally witnessed was someone using the leg curl machine as a neck builder. He was on his hands and knees, forehead on the part of the machine meant to hook your ankles on and was doing head bobs. This frustrated me because I was doing legs and needed the machine for its predetermined functional use! It didn’t bother me he was doing head bobs; professional boxers use this exercise all the time to strengthen their neck muscles to avoid their head snapping back when getting punched. What bothered me is that the gym had the proper attachment to do this specific exercise on the cable machine.
Next time you find yourself making up some wackadoodle exercise to try and target something differently, think to yourself, “is there a piece of equipment here that already does that? Should I be doing this sub-optimal exercise on this piece of equipment that isn’t meant for it?”
4. Don’t walk in someone’s line of vision
This of course refers to walking directly in front of someone, especially when they are looking in a mirror. If someone is doing dumbbell curls and they are an acceptable 3 feet from the mirror don’t walk in between them and the mirror! Its weird, its distracting and it is inside their personal bubble. You are allowed to walk in front of people, just be conscious of how close you are, are they mid-exercise and are they using the mirror you are going to temporarily block?
5. Don’t superset a bunch of core work/lying down in the DB area
This is a hazard to the lifter rule. Besides the fact that the space isn’t intended for it, it is also dangerous for you as the person lying down, right next to a bunch of flying dumbbells. It is extremely possible that someone will accidentally drop a dumbbell when in the dumbbell area. Let’s stick to benches and stay off the floor, for your own safety.
6. What is an acceptable noise to make?
You will notice I did not put volume of noise. I am referring to the type of noise specifically, not the volume of noise. The noises that are acceptable in the gym include light grunting, breathing heavily, sharp exhalations kept under control. The type of noises not acceptable in the gym are excessively loud grunting, anything that sounds sexual (loud moaning [happens more than you think]), and screaming or yelling.
Some of these noises straight up make everyone else in the gym uncomfortable such as loud moaning. Others such as screaming, or yelling can be taken as a sign of pain or danger. You must understand, when people are working out their fight or flight response is engaged more highly than normal.
So, when you let out an excited scream because you hit your lift, you cause everyone around you to jump in anticipation of something instinctual! Keep your noises to an appropriate type and volume, for the sake of everyone around you.
7. Arms to your sides, please
This rule is mainly for those suffering from ILS (invisible lat syndrome). If you feel like your arms need to hang at a 45-degree angle away from your body it’s not because you have huge lats, it’s because you have tight lats.
Watch most professional bodybuilders walk around, their arms are far from their body because their lats are enormous, but they hang straight down or at only a slight angle because their lats are literally pushing on their triceps.
As far as the gym etiquette goes on this one, it really isn’t affecting anyone else unless you are in a small space/area, in which case it is extremely inconsiderate to walk around like an ape. This rule is primarily to keep those of you who are tempted to push your arms out to give the illusion of having huge lats from looking like fools who everyone inevitably laughs at after you turn your 20inch shoulders sideways through the 33inch exit door.
8. Don’t work out in large groups
Unless of course it is a group class! Haha… but seriously, working out with a partner can be the most beneficial thing you do for yourself. Working out in a threesome is only acceptable during slower hours at the gym.
Working out in a group of four or more is never ok. You will take up too much space and you will be on the same piece of equipment for way to long. People also lose a sense of caution and sensibility when in a group in the gym. This is typically seen in young men who all want to workout with their friends. They get in a large group and either start showing off, or just do dumb stuff.
We’ve all seen it and we’re all responsible to find a gym staff member and say something if we think they are a hazard to themselves, anyone else in the gym or the equipment they are using.
9. Conversations in between sets for a maximum of 3 minutes
This is a fairly gym etiquette specific rule. I used to train at a gym that catered to powerlifters and Olympic lifters. They had well over 10 platforms and often people would share platforms because it was such a tight nit community. In this case it was acceptable and common for people to take 5–10 minute breaks and conversations. This is sport specific and does not apply if you are doing cable rows at 5pm in your commercial gym.
The first thing to think of when you are having a conversation in between sets is, “is the piece of equipment I am using popular? Is the gym busy? Is there anyone doing the same type of exercises as me that might want to use this soon?” if you can confidently answer no to all those questions you are probably safe to enjoy your conversation. This rule is based off common thoughtfulness of those around you.
10. Ask for a spot or offer one
If you are attempting to lift a heavy weight don’t be afraid to ask someone for a spot. Likewise, if you see someone who looks like they might struggle with their next few lifts, offer a spot. This is common gym etiquette that does three things.
Firstly, you help a fellow gym goer, this makes your gym far more appealing to others when they hear about the friendliness of the members. Secondly, you may gain a new friend or even training partner, at least someone to swap workout tips and strategies with. Thirdly, you keep everyone in the gym safe, this is the most important.
Don’t be afraid to offer someone a spot if you think he may be a hazard to himself or someone else.
11. If you’re going to play on your phone set a timer
I’m not going to tell you to leave your phone in your locker or not to bring it out at all on the floor. We all know in the modern world phones are a large part of who we are. You can access everything you need or want; this makes it extremely tempting to pull it out and check social media or do some work in between sets.
This is not rude. But we all know how fast time passes when we are focused on our phones, we lose track of everything else because WE CANNOT MULTITASK. So set a timer to make sure you are taking only the most optimal amount of time for your rest periods and not wasting your whole workout away with 5-minute phone dives between each set.
12. Gym bags?
Lots of gyms allow gym bags to be brought onto the floor and lots don’t. If your gym doesn’t this is self-explanatory. If your gym does, here’s some guidelines for gym bags on the floor.
Keep it tidy. Make sure the contents of your bag aren’t spilling out all over and getting in other people’s way. Don’t bring a giant bag, keep it to a backpack or small-medium duffle and make sure its your space they’re impeding on and not others. Don’t bring a hockey bag into the gym.
13. Don’t workout within 3 feet of someone else
This is a personal bubble thing, more than a gym etiquette rule. Most people come to the gym, put their headphones in, and want to unwind from their stressful day. Part of their unwinding is rarely having someone impede on their personal space.
A general rule is to stay at least 3 feet from someone. Again, this is a general safety rule as well. Working out too close to someone else is a sure-fire way to eventually bump weights and/or get something dropped on you or them. Keep a healthy distance, for everyone’s physical and emotional safety.
14. Wipe down your equipment
It is absolutely disgusting when someone uses a bench, sweats all over it, and doesn’t wipe in down afterwards. These people should be drawn and quartered.
Wiping down the equipment you have used is part of your duty as a member to keep the gym in a clean and stately manner, as well as to protect the physical safety of those around you. Clean your benches and the handles or your dumbbells too.
15. Treat everyone as though you are in the wrong
No matter if it was you who accidentally swiped a piece of equipment someone else wasn’t done with or they swiped a piece of equipment you weren’t done with. Apologize for the misunderstanding either way. Let’s keep gyms Canadian!
It is up to you to make the gym a comfortable place where nobodies worried about getting their head bit off because they sat you leg extension machine while you were getting a drink from the fountain.
So, whether it was you who walked through someone’s line of vision mid set, in front of the mirror, or it was them who’s water bottle fell out of their overflowing gym bag onto your foot, you apologize for whatever part you might have had in the interaction. If you do feel as though the individual in question truly wronged you or is a danger to themselves or anyone else in the gym, notify a staff member immediately. That’s what they are there for.
Keep in mind this is list is only a portion of true gym etiquette. It is not exhaustive and could easily be added to. The goal with this list is to create a more pleasant, safer atmosphere for everyone participating in gym activities. If you keep to the rules outlined above, complaints against you will be slim to none.