Each year, sometime around December 29th or 30th, I start to see my Twitter and Facebook timelines gravitate towards a common theme – one that really pisses me off. Quips, like …”they better not touch my treadmill”, “get ready for curls in the squat rack”, and “just give it two weeks, it’ll all be back to normal” pollute my timeline, forcing me to read through a truly disgusting display of negativity and selfish insecurity. It’s hard getting started in the gym, really hard. I remember the unnerving anxiety and perpetual fear of judgment – not knowing what exactly I should do to placate these intense, maniacal animals lifting metal and pounding on rubber around me. And instead of encouragement, some treat the men and women making a genuine effort to change their lives like pariahs for not knowing exactly what to do.
I’m not sure how it happened, but it seems to have become fashionable to denigrate people who have committed their New Year’s Resolution to getting in the gym, getting in shape, and getting their lives together. Is it that by degrading the status of a beginner for their lack of know-how, one implicitly proclaims their own superiority and domain over the gym and fitness? Because then my question is …why does such a person need to prove their gym tenure to anyone in the first place, let alone by attacking another’s inexperience? Or maybe it’s not even that – maybe it’s just the “inconvenience” of having to deal with someone unfamiliar with how your gym works. Well, now my question becomes, why not help the situation by doing something constructive about it, instead of being destructive by doing nothing about it except projecting negativity and a saboteur’s ill will?
I want to ask these hate-mongering, self-proclaimed experts (usually those who have no room to talk), why do you think beginners don’t know the standards and colloquial norms of your gym? Perhaps it’s because instead of being taught those unwritten rules, they’re met with a cold shoulder and colder stare? Perhaps it is because they fear to ask those who may know better, because those who may know better are the same ones rooting for the beginners to drop out in the first place, and they’re not making it a secret. Attacking those with the resolution to change their lives for the better is sick, insecure, and pathetic…but unfortunately I get it; I understand where it stems from – because I’ve felt it too. As much as can be blamed on those who choose to ostracize and root against New Year’s Resolvers (hereafter “NYRs”), some can be blamed on the NYRs for failing to do their homework. Some unwritten rules must be imparted over time, but others can be learned before even stepping foot into the gym.
This is my attempt to actually do something about it. I’ve put together a list of good practices I feel would be good for anyone to adhere to (whether a NYR or veterans of the gym, because honestly, some of the most grizzled [and vocal] gym rats have miraculously escaped picking some of this stuff up themselves). I did not write it with the intention of making anyone feel anxious by reading it – if you don’t adhere to each and every one of these principles, I promise you won’t be ostracized. Learning a new culture takes time, and I hope this list serves simply as an easy introduction guide to doing so.
Keep in mind, this list has nothing to do with the technical advice and principles one should study or be taught before setting off to achieving their goals or resolutions. Before all, proper technique is of the utmost importance to helping you stay safe, healthy, and consistent on the path to success. Consult a trainer (or take to YouTube) and start light and slow when starting out.
And with that, I give you:
THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF GYM ETIQUETTE
- If You’re Using Free-Weights, Re-rack your Damn Weight
This is your job. This is not the job of the person using the equipment after. This is not the gym staff’s job (unless you go to a gym significantly softer than any I’ve ever seen). This is your job, and a part of your workout. The weight you choose to use is not the benchmark weight for the rest of the gym, so don’t insist on making it so. Clear it, and let people determine for themselves where to begin. The person that comes after you may be incapable of unloading your weight, let alone repping it. They could be significantly weaker than you, shorter than you (think of how high the bar needs to be for 6-foot plus folks on the squat racks), or injured. Your inability to clean up after yourself should, in no circumstance, inconvenience or delay the workout of another member of your club. It is your house, and you share it with others, so clean up your mess like you (hopefully) learned to do when you were a child – because people will notice, and people will care. Even if you don’t.
- Wipe Off Your Sweat
Let’s keep this one short. If you sweat on equipment or anything someone may use after you, just wipe it off. Your gym should have antibacterial wipes scattered around the place. Moving on…
Look, there’s nothing wrong with pushing yourself in the gym. Sometimes when we push to our limits – either unconsciously, or in an effort to channel our remaining strength – we let escape primal noises (we are still animals at our foundation, after all). But as self-aware animals, there’s a fine line between channeling the last vestiges of your strength and breath into one or two final, audible pushes to wrap up a set or circuit …and in turning into a fucking human-gorilla that bellows throughout their entire workout in an effort to make it known to the entire gym that you are doing some seriously hard work, and that everyone should know it. I don’t care how hard the set is, it’s not hard enough to make me question whether there’s a mortally wounded deer / Emily Rose in the corner of the gym screaming so loud that I have a hard time concentrating on my set. When your exertions start to inhibit other people’s workouts, it’s time to chill out or train smarter, because it should not be that difficult. If it truly is that hard, you’re likely pushing too hard and on a path to injury anyways. But more than likely, you’re just trying to show off, and it isn’t working.
- Be Mindful, Don’t Hop on Someone’s Equipment
Realize that some people take water breaks and circuit train or superset between two or more different exercises, using different pieces of gym equipment in the process (this is common practice, and is in no circumstances rude if done properly). Just because someone isn’t currently standing in front of a piece of equipment, does not mean they won’t be returning shortly to finish a set. Now, it’s these people’s job to make known they’re still on that equipment, and usually they do so by leaving their towel, clothes, or a water bottle on the equipment or the ground in front. Before hopping on new equipment, check for signs that someone may still be using it, instead of assuming that it’s free to use because you don’t see a person. Now there are undoubtedly limits as to how long one should hold equipment before coming across rude and self-serving. And with that:
- Don’t Monopolize Equipment
It’s absolutely fine to step away from a piece of equipment for a moment and (as long as you’ve clearly marked you’re still using it) expect to return without someone else having hopped on. It’s even fine to superset by claiming two (or more) devices. A universal rule is that the gym is first come first serve, so you shouldn’t feel rushed or pressured to get off equipment you got to first …within reason and as long as you’re actively using it. The length of time you hold a piece of equipment is entirely relative to your gym – how many pieces of that same equipment your gym has, and how long exercises using that equipment typically take (someone deadlifting or squatting in a power rack is pretty damn likely to need more time than someone using the seated calve press). That being said, don’t expect to hold a power rack for half an hour if your gym only has two of them and someone is clearly waiting to jump in. Now, if you’re taking a lot of rest time between sets or if you’re supersetting and leaving a fair amount of time open at each piece of equipment, offer anyone that may be waiting to use the equipment to work in with you between your sets (just tell them how long you expect to be between those sets so they don’t interrupt your rhythm). Be polite and reasonable, don’t feel entitled, but know your rights and don’t get pushed around.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
If you want to use a piece of equipment and it’s taken – either wait, or politely ask how much longer the person has. My go-to line is: “do you mind if I ask you how many sets you have left?” If someone asks me, I tell them how many sets I have left, how long I expect them to take, and, if at all possible, I invite them to work in with me (unless they’ve violated any other rules on this list and are being a douchebag). If you feel comfortable asking, feel free to see if they’re cool with you working in between their sets. Now, be careful here, make absolutely sure that you:
- Don’t Interrupt Someone’s Set or Cardio
Don’t you dare interrupt someone’s set to ask them a question. Not only is this incredibly rude, but you run the risk of breaking that person’s concentration, which could not only ruin their set and shift their mentality, but you could easily be setting that person up for injury. Weightlifting and cardio can be dangerous, and you leave people alone when they are in the middle of doing it. I’ve wanted to rip more heads off than I can count because of this. The same goes for re-racking your weight on a piece of equipment that’s someone is currently using. Don’t put your weight back on a squat rack that someone is in the middle of doing a set on, it’s extremely distractive and unacceptable.
- Wear What you Want, but Realize It’s Noticed
I’m of the belief that you can and should wear whatever you feel most comfortable in to the gym. You’re going to be working hard and getting dirty, and if there’s something you can wear to help alleviate that, wear it. That being said, realize that the gym is still a public space, and there are still societal norms to adhere to. Breaking those norms and forcing people to see things they shouldn’t have to see (even though some probably want to) could cause some to form an opinion (whether good or bad). Guys, if you decide to wear a cutoff t-shirt that doesn’t even cover your nipples, you may come off like an inconsiderate asshole. Girls, pretty much the same thing when the bottom 4/5th of your ass is fighting for its life to keep from falling out of your shorts. That being said, your call; wear what will help you tear it up, but realize people notice and it may be distracting.
- Respect the House, Pay it Forward, and Don’t Quit
I’m of the belief that the gym is a club – you are a member, along with everyone you see around you, and you are not entitled to more than what you put in. Some of us put in a lot and have made the gym a second home – a place with friends, stories, and memories – so we respect it and care for it as such. An open membership does not excuse anyone, beginner or no, from respecting the unwritten and veteran rules established by people who care for and about their home. I remember getting started. But, I also remember the kind people that guided my hand along the way. It is those people that inspire me to do the same, because without support, this is a god damn hard thing to conquer. As you continue to improve and progress, pay it forward and teach the lessons you were taught. Please be supportive, and please don’t be afraid to ask for support. You’ll find the gym is filled with people who would love to help. But whatever you do, just don’t quit.