I didn’t enjoy training at my previous gym.
It had all the equipment I needed. It was clean. It was close to my house.
But the people there didn’t understand basic gym etiquette. Stinky members, an untidy gym floor, and generally stupid behaviour was the norm.
Now I’m lucky enough to work at a gym full of intelligent members who seem to instinctively understand gym etiquette.
And I don’t even mind if the newbies break the rules because, hey, everyone has to start somewhere. They always figure it out eventually anyway.
But apart from general human decency, are there any other reasons to follow gym etiquette? Here’s a huge reason: if they see you following etiquette, your gym’s personal trainers are far more likely to offer you good advice and go out of their way to help you succeed, even if you don’t buy personal training.
So if you’ve just joined a gym and want to maximise your chances of achieving your fitness goals, follow these rules of gym etiquette.
GYM ETIQUETTE: 23 RULES FOR SUCCESS
1. Wipe down machines and benches with a towel
Your primary tool at the gym should be your towel. Wipe your sweat off the bench or machine you just used.
Why? Imagine you’re about to perform a dumbbell bench press. You lie back on the bench … and you realise it’s soaking wet with a stranger’s sweat. Not fun.
2. Put dumbbells and kettlebells away
The quickest and easiest way to make the gym unpleasant to look at is to leave your crap all over the place instead of tidying up after yourself. I know you’re in a rush, but please put dumbbells and kettlebells back where they came from.
3. Unrack the plates
Just finished a heavy set of bench press, squats or deadlifts? Now’s the time to put all those heavy plates away. Yes, it’s tiring, but don’t make someone else do it.
4. Let people work in
If someone asks if they can work in (share the equipment you’re using) the only answer you should give is “yes”. We’ve all got to fit in a workout, so let people use the equipment during your rest time.
The sole exception to this is if you’re literally about to do your last set; then you can say “I just have one more set, so it’s all yours in 30 seconds.”
5. Wear clean clothes
It doesn’t matter what brand you wear, or how much you paid for your gym attire, just make sure your clothes are clean and don’t stink.
That means you get to wear your outfit once before you need to throw it in the laundry basket.
6. Wear deodorant
Seriously, don’t become known as the stinky member. You probably smell bad when you sweat.
Also, don’t become known as the member who wears too much deodorant or perfume. That’s almost as bad as having BO.
7. Don’t talk to people mid-set
If you see someone working hard, now isn’t the time to ask them a question or make a comment. Give them 30 seconds to finish their set and put the weights down. Then you can talk to them.
8. Don’t take phone calls
I always have my phone during my workout. I use Google Sheets to plan and record my training.
But there’s no way I’ll ever take a phone call on the gym floor. Even if the caller ID tells me I have to speak to the person calling, I’ll always step off the gym floor and go somewhere appropriate to talk.
Why? Because it’s distracting to other members who are trying to work out. It can also be dangerous: taking a call will distract you from your surroundings and stop you from seeing the person coming toward you carrying heavy dumbbells.
And if you want me to forever dismiss you as a human being, please go ahead and take a phone call on your AirPods while you’re doing bicep curls.
9. Don’t walk and text
During peak gym hours, it can get crowded. People are swinging kettlebells, picking up heavy barbells, and performing farmer’s walks with giant dumbbells.
You really have to be aware of your surroundings when it’s busy.
Which is why it drives me crazy when I see people wandering around the gym with their heads down, staring at their phone.
I’ve seen a couple of people almost take a kettlebell to the face because they thought it would be a good idea to walk and text. Don’t be those people.
10. The squat rack is for squats
It’s been a running joke in the fitness community for years: don’t do bicep curls in the squat rack.
Why do people do this? It’s basically laziness and not wanting to bend all the way down to the floor and pick up the weight.
Some gyms have power racks instead of squat racks, which means you can do rack pulls and pull ups as well as squats. But if you’re using it for pull-ups, make sure you let people work in if they want to squat.
11. Step away from the dumbbell rack
I bet you’ve seen this before: someone walks up the dumbbell rack and picks up a pair of dumbbells. They immediately start performing shrugs or side lateral raises right in front of the dumbbell rack, blocking access to the dumbbells you need.
Here’s what you should actually do: pick up the dumbbells, look behind you, take a couple of steps backwards, and then perform the exercise.
12. Don’t block the view of the mirror
If someone’s staring in the mirror during their set, they’re probably using it to make sure their form is good. Don’t block their view.
Don’t worry if someone’s doing something that doesn’t really need a form check, like a bicep curl. But in all other situations, take a different route.
13. Ask before you take
If you want to use a piece of equipment that appears available but there are people standing nearby, just ask if anyone’s using it.
And you can also try my simple way of asking someone if the equipment is free: make eye contact with the person you’re asking, point at the equipment, and raise your eyebrows. No words necessary.
14. Don’t hog equipment
It’s 6 pm and the gym’s super busy. There are lines for machines and benches, and half the equipment people want is being used.
Don’t be the person who spends half an hour on the same bench with 6 dumbbells and all the platforms for doing step ups. You want to do a complex workout? Come at a quiet time. If you can only come to the gym during peak hours, do a more simple workout that doesn’t require so much equipment.
15. Keep the grunting to a minimum
Everyone strains and grunts when they’re training, but if I can hear you from the other side of the gym, you’re being too loud.
And while we’re on the subject of human sounds, please don’t perform a heavy set if you’re feeling gassy. Although it’s hilarious when someone farts mid-set, especially if it’s unintentional, the smell isn’t worth the laugh.
16. Set weights down under control
Lifting weights is hard work, but that doesn’t mean you can just drop them on the ground with a huge crashing sound.
I’ve seen people at other gyms perform a set of bicep curls, and then just hurl the dumbbells toward the ground.
Seriously, don’t do the fitness equivalent of a mic-drop just because you’ve successfully completed a set. You don’t look cool. You look like a douche.
17. Ignore 90% of advice (unless it’s coming from a qualified, experienced trainer)
Creatine destroys your kidneys.
Deadlifts are dangerous.
You don’t need to train your legs if you go jogging.
All advice that I’ve heard being given on more than one occasion, and all 100% bullshit. Politely nod your head, and keep doing what you’re doing.
18. Don’t give unsolicited advice
This is a universal rule. Even I, a qualified and experienced trainer, will only step in and advise someone without being asked if I can see they’re about to injure themselves. Otherwise, I just keep my mouth shut.
19. Wear indoor shoes
Enjoy trail running or hiking? That’s great, but don’t wear those muddy shoes in the gym.
Especially not in the stretching area, where people are going to be lying down in the filth you brought in.
Buy a pair of shoes specifically for training in the gym: Chuck T’s are my favourite kind of affordable training shoe. You can probably find an appropriate pair for as little as $20-30.
20. Don’t jump rope in the free weights area
For those guys going full Rocky, keep the jump rope out of the free weights area. It takes up too much space and it makes people nervous that you’re going to get too close and hit them with that rope. Seriously, it feels like you’ve been whipped.
Find an empty studio or go to the cardio area. Or, even better, leave the rope at home (along with your Rocky fantasies).
21. Don’t be creepy
This one’s simple. Don’t stare at other people. Even if you’re just watching how to perform an exercise, please be discreet.
I won’t go into using the gym as a pickup spot, but I’ll just say that I’ve only ever used gyms for training.
22. Be aware of the space
If you’re about to set up a for a circuit, first ask yourself: are you blocking people’s way? Will exercising in that spot prevent access to equipment?
It’s common sense, but something to keep in mind.
23. Two people max
Working out with a training buddy is great. You can spot each other, encourage each other, and you’ll probably get a better workout because you probably don’t want to look bad in front of your friend.
But turning up to train with two training buddies? Nope. Three’s a crowd, especially during peak hours.
Now, if you’re training at 10 am, when the gym’s empty and everyone’s at work, then three people training together can work.
Otherwise, leave the third wheel behind.
I think this is a pretty exhaustive list of gym etiquette. But do you think I missed any? Leave a comment below.