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Gym etiquette

Darko Botic

Or, how to respect the gym floor

Disclaimer before continuing: If you haven’t popped your gym cherry yet, don’t fret – here’s a guide – well, sort of – on how to behave properly once you enter the colosseum of iron, sweat, and occasional tears – of biceps. Hey-O!

Do not take this article too seriously. Seriously. And especially not as a set of strict rules that you need to follow. During the next 5-7 minutes, I’ll explain the reasoning behind the subject of this article, and list the Top 20 examples of behavior that makes most of the gym veterans cringe hard. So, if anything, consider this as the list of my personal gym pet peeves.

A guy walks into a…

A guy walks into a gym where I train at least six days a week, and I usually do it at that particular time. I’ve never seen the guy before, and I know more or less every single person training there at that time of day. Then I have a dilemma: he’s either someone that usually exercise here in the morning, or he’s a newcomer. He then picks a deadlift bar, approaches a squat rack, and starts doing bent-over rows and curls. Obviously, I thought, this is his first day here.

Now, my gym has only two squat racks, and the other one is occupied by two girls and a personal trainer who’s more focused on checking his triceps in the mirror than on actual coaching. The situation is making me anxious and frustrated because I need the squat rack, I’m on a limited time, highly motivated to set a new PR, but this scenario forced me to adjust my workout plan.

This is definitely not a first-world problem, but the main point here is that doing biceps curls, with a deadlift bar, in a squat rack, is something that a lot of veteran trainees would consider a crime. Later I found out that the “new guy” wasn’t really a newbie, but someone with two years of gym experience behind him, and he never even contemplated the idea that he could do those exercises in literally any place in the gym, thus allowing somebody else to properly use a squat rack – ideally for barbell squats. The source of this problem is – nobody taught him how to behave in a gym when he initially started.

This is just one example from one perspective. What I’m going to focus on from here on now is your possible experience as a newcomer. Often times, being the gym noob is a very uncomfortable feeling, and you’ll strive more towards not making an ass of yourself than on the actual workout.

If you are new to training, try not to make a cringe genocide by equipping yourself with a ton of professional equipment that your favorite athlete is wearing, only to make yourself look cool.

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Top 20 cringe-worthy scenarios you can easily avoid

Although I approached this article as a sort of tongue-in-cheek rant, I honestly hope that the following list could help you get familiar with certain non-written rules of proper behavior in basically every single gym. And approaching that etiquette in a respectful manner will make your lack of experience less obvious, which could automatically make your first workouts incomparably more productive and the entire experience more enjoyable and stress-free. This by itself could make you have way more fun initially, and motivate you to feel pumped to get back.

Even though this list is made in no particular order, I will start with the single most important advice, and say:


  1. Please, for the love of everything that’s holy to you, take care of your basic hygiene! Shower even before going to the gym if you have to; put on deodorant, but under all circumstances resist the urge to terrorize everyone else by soaking your t-shirt with an Axe spray or a potent perfume.

  2. Wear clean clothes. Working out and sweating in a wardrobe that was previously soaked in sweat, but not washed and only dried, will make you the single most effective human-repellent in the known history of mankind. Also, I would recommend having an extra pair of clean socks. Wearing dirty ones will not make you directly hazardous, but wearing clean and dry socks always feel great.

  3. If you are new to training, try not to make a cringe genocide by equipping yourself with a ton of professional equipment that your favorite athlete is wearing, only to make yourself look cool. 

  4. Mind your surroundings. At first, everything is new to you and you might feel a bit disoriented, but don’t stress about it. Just try to make an effort in looking around you. Emulate what others are doing and how they move in-between exercises, ask the nearest person is he already using the weights or the machine that you plan on using, and try not to deconcentrate anybody by standing and fidgeting directly in front them.

  5. Be sure if someone who just used the certain equipment or machine is done with it. Some trainees like to walk around the gym while resting in-between sets for a minute or two. Jumping in the middle of someone’s working sets or maybe an interval cardio session, can be very annoying and distracting, and sometimes leads to an unpleasant dialog.

  6. On a similar note, whatever you use for a certain exercise, be that a machine, dumbbells, a barbell, cardio machines – use it and be done with it. Always be conscious of other gym members and try not to sit on your ass for 5 minutes, talk with someone or constantly use your phone while simultaneously taking the space and equipment.

  7. Be a team player. Even when you’re working out alone. If you are lifting weights or occupying a machine, allowing someone to jump in during your prolonged rest periods between sets or intervals, shows a true collegial virtue, that usually everyone respects.

  8. “Hey bro, are you gonna finish this soon?” Do not interrupt people in the middle of their exercise to ask them when are they done using the particular machine or a piece of equipment. This usually goes two ways: either person with low self-esteem will leave out of politeness, or you’ll make an unnecessary pressure on someone. In both cases the result is the same: you will break their concentration, or even ruin that exercise for them.  

  9. Don’t be a creep. This is essentially exclusive to guys, and almost self-explanatory, but it needs to be said. Women are there for the same reason as you are – to better themselves. Even if a particular girl or woman wants the attention, you’ll creep the hell out of her by staring.

  10. And girls, at least try not to put more effort into matching clothes and make-up than into workout itself. Also, consider not wearing loud and tacky outfits just for the sake of attention. However, if the purpose of looking good is to give you even a tiny bit of an edge in intensity – ignore this advice. Although, an intense workout at its end usually nullifies the “prettiness” effect.

  11. Mirrors in the gym have a purpose. You wouldn’t believe, but those mirrors are not there so you can stand in front of them and shoot seven hundred selfies for Instagram on your first week of working out. This echoes with “obvious noob” vibe that’s very distracting and uncomfortable for people next to you.

  12. To be completely frank with you, I would suggest not using your phone at all in a commercial gym. Not only that people generally hate being a part of someone else’s photo or a video album, it makes you look sketchy, and some gyms managers frown upon (or have strict rules about) taking photos and videos of their members in their facilities.

  13. Stack the weights! Always put the equipment back in its place. After you finish with a certain exercise, and you’re about to move to another spot, return the equipment to its proper racking place. Don’t make somebody else do the cleaning after you. If you had the energy and strength to use it, returning it back is not going to burn your central nervous system.

  14. Have a towel with you. When you’re done using any kind of machines or benches where your sweaty body makes contact with it, please be sure to wipe it clean afterward. Maybe you don’t mind it, but have a consideration for other people who are about to either swim in the pool of sweat you left behind, or have to clean it on their own.

  15. Don’t talk to strangers, kids. Well, at least try not to force a conversation in a gym with somebody wearing headphones. For a lot of us, the gym is like an exhaust system, or that moment of “me time”, where we just want to go into meditation-like focus, vent, and do our thing. If you need to know anything in regards to gym environment, or you’re uncertain about a given exercise, firstly look for somebody who actually works there.

  16. Keep your Arnold or Ronnie impersonations down to a minimum. Making grunting and screaming noises while lifting weights or sprinting on a treadmill is usually reserved behavior for attention craving gym-goer. And nobody likes to be around those.

  17. The Same rule applies for intentionally dropping weights on the floor. If your gym doesn’t mind aggressively lowering the weights during heavy barbell lifts (e.g. deadlifts, Olympic lifts), I actually encourage you to do so it if it will bring extra motivation to the next repetition. But unnecessarily dropping the weights just to get attention is something you should always avoid. Because believe it or not, no one cares how “intense” you feel that you are.

  18. Use towels for drying after showering, not air. This one applies to anyone, but especially older gentlemen. Sirs, for the love of gods, dry yourselves with a towel, and put your junk back to its usual habitat – under the cover.

  19. Asking for help is OK. If these are your first months in a gym, and if there’s no official staff to help you, but you would like to test your strength limits in, for example, bench press, ask somebody to ‘spot’ you.

  20. Avoid doing ‘gigasets’ in commercial gyms. ‘Supersets’ or ‘gigasets’ are essentially sets of exercises made into one cluster set. This can be an extremely effective way to increase the working volume, while simultaneously decreasing (saving) time of the workout. But using 4 different machines, or 5 dumbbell sets, as part of one exercise during a crowded gym, is a very bad idea. And if you force it, you’ll either end up being a jerk, or that inconsiderate person that bitches about other trainees using “their” equipment.

  21. (BONUS) This is almost strictly reserved for powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting gyms: respect the bar! This basically means don’t walk over bars that someone is using, don’t push them with your feet, don’t drop them just anywhere, and also, in environments that gyms such as these are providing, skill of mastering the movement with a bar, before stacking the weight, is crucial.  Leave your ego out before entering.

Once again, I would like to repeat – do not think of this list as a strict guide on how to behave in a gym, but rather as a checklist of poor behavioral decisions you should consider not making. Take-home note here is most certainly not that you should be bothered what others in the gym think of you. Only to be aware of possible unacceptable, careless or simply godawful scenarios that, as a newbie, you should, if you can, attempt avoiding for the sake of your own reputation and motivation to return the next day. And I’ll be satisfied if this article could make you at least reflect on your own behaviour, which could contribute in making a more respectable and less frustrating experience at the gym. 


Guiding you by care, accountability, and personal communication

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