Let’s face it, the gym can be a scary place.
There’s grimacing, grunting, weights dropping, people flinging themselves CrossFit style in a bid to achieve a pullup and the hardcore watt bike lovers determined to break the Tour de France record, all from the comfort of a highly padded seat.
Then there’s the instagrammers and online coached people with their cameras and their tripods – no hate, I personally fall into this camp as my coach lives 70 miles away – but it’s no wonder people are often left scratching their heads wondering just how on earth do you conduct yourself at the gym.
Are there no rules? No Gym for Dummies manual detailing the dos and don’ts?
Well, there is, but it’s a secret - a Code of the
Pirate Gym Brethren, if you will – one that is unwritten and entirely alien to all gym newbies about what to do, what not to do, and generally how to behave in a manner befitting of the sacred gym environment.
That said, I’ve seen my fair share of old-hats committing a gym-sin both knowingly and unknowingly.
So, whether you’re a greenhorn, veteran or a Saturday-morning-is-enough-for-me-ktkx person, here are 10 rules to keep you on the right side of proper gym etiquette.
Before you go
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail…
1. Read the gym rules
No, not the ones written here, but feel free to tell your mates about this fantastic post… Check out the rules of the gym you’re planning to train at.
You’ll find them posted about the gym floor, the changing rooms or online, and if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask a member of staff for a bit of guidance.
If you’re a veteran you may be thinking “HA, what’s the point in that, I know what to do…” but the fact is, what’s OK at your regular facility, may not be OK at a different one.
· Chalk – OK, or not? Some places don’t let you use chalk in any form (it can be very messy!) whereas others are like SNOWDAY with it.
· Shoes – can you lift in just the soles of your feet for things like deadlifts or do you need to be always wearing shoes? Some gyms prefer you to wear shoes for safety or legal reasons.
· Filming – if you’re coached online, are you OK to set up a tripod and film your sets? If yes, do you need to get permission from those around you in case you accidentally catch them in shot?
This list could go on for an eternity but basically, every gym has house rules you should respect and heed whilst there – even if you believe them to be nonsense.
2. Keep it clean
Think you can get away with wearing the same gym outfit you wore two days ago that’s been festering at the bottom of your gym bag since?
You can’t – well you can – but you really, really shouldn’t. No-one deserves to be subjected to smelling you before they see you.
There’s simply nothing worse than standing next to someone in the weights area as they do their lat raises to be slapped around the nose with a hefty dose of body odour.
It’s a matter of personal hygiene and respect for your fellow patrons. So grab a clean shirt, hop into a quick shower before you train and keep it fresh.
Side note – ladies, I know you love that body spray and expensive perfume that smells divine, but a spritz is more than enough, choking someone out after having doused yourself in it is not OK.
3. Take a towel
If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the pandemic, it’s that more people are readily wiping down equipment before and after use – cleanliness is next to godliness after all.
But there are still a good few who don’t, leaving puddles of sweat on benches, chalk hands on barbells and general grime all over the joint. Don’t be that person.
Take a towel and wipe up after yourself. No-one wants to sit on a bench drenched in your body’s tears from a hard session. Better yet, grab the disinfectant and kill those germs before you lift and after too, you might just save yourself a hit of norovirus* in the process.
*Written from experience…
What to do when you’re at the gym
4. Put it away
For this one, I’m going to tell you a story… In January 2023 I visited a gym in Nottingham, and what I saw was the absolute best example of the most horrendous gym etiquette I’ve ever experienced.
Not one person put their equipment away. One lass left a barbell loaded with 140kg for hip thrusts just lying on the platform with pad and bench…
Dumbbells were strewn about like confetti, and heaven forbid you try and get to matching weight plates if you needed to squat because they certainly were not on the weight tree.
Rather they were lying from one end of the gym floor to the other like castaways adrift in a sea of gym chaos.
It was utter carnage with people arguing over dumbbells, barbells, and other equipment. Now, I don’t know about you, but personally I don’t gym to get into fights over weights…
So, this rule is simple – put it back where it belongs. It’s just basic decency for other gym users. It’s not somebody else’s job to clear up after you, so have a little courtesy.
And you see the DB rack? If you’re strong enough to lift them off it, you’re strong enough to put them back – not doing so is just lazy.
5. Don’t drop the dumbbells
Look, we get it, you’re lifting heavy weights and you want the entire world to know it – but dropping the DBs and letting out a load roar just makes you look like an ego-lifter who can’t handle the weight. And frankly, nobody cares.
But this isn’t just a dig at the grunters, some weighted equipment simply should not be dropped whereas other bits are OK to let go. DBs fall into the category of “no.”
Structurally, they’re not built to withstand a drop, yes even those hexagonal ones the CrossFitters love, and I can guarantee you wouldn’t like one of those heads to snap off and smack you in the ankle, now, would you?
Some weight plates known as bumper plates are OK to drop with care – these are often the ones you see weightlifters use for snatch and clean and jerk. You also tend to see people use these plates for deadlifts because they bounce.
However, under no circumstances should steel plates hit the floor with force – you buckle those and you’re costing that gym mega bucks.
And if you damage the equipment – you might be the one that pays for it…
6. Learn how to set up your kit
I’ve seen it time and time again, some headstrong individual sets up their squat, relegating the safety bars to the floor and loading the bar with kilo after kilo WITHOUT clips. Down they go, but they don’t have the strength to get back up – BANG goes the barbell, CRASH goes the plates, WALLOP goes the pride…
Knowing how to set up a squat, bench and deadlift can save your pride and the kit. Plus, it’ll make you way stronger and help you train more efficiently too!
Here Strength and Conditioning Coach Marc Keys from Cast Iron Strength in Edinburgh explains how to do just that…
And for the love of all that is good, use the clips to secure the plates. You don’t want those bad boys sliding off the end of the BB during a rep – that’s death waiting to happen…
7. Get on with it
Resting between sets is vital to a good training session. Depending on the workout, some people could be resting for up to 5 minutes between sets – and that’s perfectly acceptable.
What isn’t acceptable is someone doing a set, walking to the other side of the gym then spending 10 minutes chitchatting only to get hacked off when they return to their equipment to find someone else using it.
If you’re there to train – train, if you’re there for a chat, don’t hog the equipment while you set the world to rights.
8. Don’t creep
Even if someone is lifting a might impressive weight, it’s a little weird (and creepy) to stand and stare at them – especially if you’re in their line of sight.
It’s happened to me… a lot… I was deadlifting a PB and had a group of guys crowd around the platform to watch like I was a movie star. I knew not one of them. It really put me off and I bucked the lift – to their satisfaction and my utter frustration. Not cool guys, not cool at all.
And PSA to every gym goer – if you stare at someone’s reflection in the mirror, they know. If you see them, they see you – it’s not flattering or clever, it’s gross.
9. Get out of the squat rack
Squat racks and platforms are for squats and deadlifts. They can also be used for bench things and incline barbell work if the gym doesn’t have dedicated areas for these, and Olympic lifting (if that’s your thing).
The rack and platforms are NOT for curling, DB work or literally anything that could realistically be done elsewhere in the gym – even if the rack has a lovely clean mirror to look into.
This goes for hip thrusts too – you do not need to make eye contact with yourself thrusting…
Doing so might just instigate a gym-bro uprising.
10. Giving advice
Don’t. Just don’t.
Unless someone is doing something that will put themselves or others in danger – leave them to it. It’s none of your business, even if your “I must impart my knowledge” tick is itchy and you believe they’re doing something daft – they could be doing exactly what they need to.
And let’s face it, you don’t know their goals. You don’t know if their PT or coach has told them to do it that way because of current or previous injury. You don’t know if they’re building confidence in a movement and your know-it-all attitude could put them off gyming altogether.
If you spent more time concentrating on your own workout, you might just get stronger after all…
To sum up
This is just a snapshot of the unwritten rules. There are loads more but if I were to write them all down, I’d probably land myself a book deal.
At the end of the day, the gym is a place where people from all walks of life come together for one purpose – to train – so:
• Be courteous
• Treat the kit with respect (unless you want to fork out £1000 for a busted barbell)
• Don’t be a douchebag
• Have fun
What’s the most bonkers thing you’ve ever seen someone do in the gym? Let us know on our socials!