The Beginner’s Guide to Gym Etiquette

Every gym has its own hierarchy of sorts. The more time you spend at the gym, learn the proper etiquette and protocols, and develop your own respectable technique, the higher you’ll find yourself in the unwritten rankings.

Gym etiquette doesn’t require all that much from you. It includes rules like not slamming the weights, reracking your weights once you’re done with them, and not overcrowding people at the gym. You should also be wiping your equipment down and using equipment as it was meant to be used.

Since you might not have a ton of gym experience under your belt just yet, we’re going to go over some rules you should try to stick to in order to earn a little respect.

The Basis for the Rules

The rules we’re about to review have nothing to do with how much weight you can bench press or how fast you can run a mile on the treadmill.

They have nothing to do with your gym performance and everything to do with being a conscientious and respectable gym-goer.

For most of the rules, you’ll probably think to yourself, “Well, that one’s obvious.” As much as it should be obvious for those with even a sliver of commonsense, you’ll still find people doing (or not doing) each of these things at the gym.

So, what if you notice that you actually do some of these things?

You didn’t know better before, but you do now. It’s never too late to change your actions and behaviors and be a better person, right? Your fellow gym-goers will appreciate it.

The Unspoken Rules of the Gym

Before we get to the rules, remember that you won’t find a majority of these rules physically displayed anywhere in the gym.

Though, you might begin to notice the menacing eyes and deep sighs whenever a more experienced gym-goer sees these rules being broken.

Wipe Your Equipment Down

Picture this. You’re patiently waiting for the leg press machine to open up as the human version of the Hulk is dripping sweat onto the seat and handles with every rep he pumps out. He powers through one final rep, gets off of the machine, gives you a slight head nod, and then walks away.

Now it’s just you and the sweaty leg press and a big decision to make.

Though you’ll hopefully get your own wipe to wipe the machine down, it shouldn’t be your responsibility to do that!

As soon as you’re done with any piece of equipment at the gym, you should wipe it down completely to be ready for the next person to use. Nobody else should ever have to be responsible for cleaning up after you, especially when it involves bodily fluids.

If you’re the type of person that isn’t exactly “grossed out” by sweat, let’s go over how much bacteria is found in some of the major pieces of gym equipment, according to Fit Rated.

  • Free weights have about 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
  • Treadmills have about 74 times more bacteria than a public sink.
  • Exercise bikes have about 39 times more bacteria than a reusable cafeteria tray.

By simply making contact with another person’s sweat on gym equipment, you’re putting yourself at risk for skin infections like athlete’s foot, MRSA, and impetigo.

So, if that doesn’t convince you to clean up after yourself when you use gym equipment, we don’t know what will.

Make Sure the Equipment is REALLY Open

You’ve been awkwardly walking on the treadmill waiting for the bench press to open up. The guy that’s been using it for the last 15 minutes walks away and doesn’t appear to be coming back anytime soon.

So, you head over to the bench press and begin removing his plates and loading on your own plates.

Then, he starts making a beeline back toward the bench press that you’ve now successfully occupied.

Though it may have looked like he was done with the equipment, you should’ve made it a point to ask him directly whether he was done with it. It’s always possible that a person’s making a quick run to the bathroom or refilling their water bottle at the water fountain.

If you’re relatively new to the gym and afraid to talk to some of the more experienced gym-goers, there are a few signs that you can look out for to see if they’re really done with the equipment.

Here’s what to keep an eye out for.

  • They take the plates off and/or put the barbell/dumbbells back on the rack.
  • They remove their towel and start loading up another piece of equipment.
  • They actually leave the gym and hop into their car.

You can also just scope out the equipment a little longer to see if the person is coming back or anybody else is making a move on it.

Though, somebody else might hop on when you’re waiting it out.

Stop Taking Selfies in the Mirror

One quick Google search on “mirror selfies at the gym” will display over 15,000,000 results.

Unfortunately, there are also plenty of magazine articles out there that’ll walk you through the process of taking the perfect mirror selfie at the gym.

As much as you go to the gym to improve your physique and health, the gym is not the right place to be vain. The mirrors in the gym are actually installed so you can keep a close eye on your form from an outside perspective, not to take pictures of yourself.

Plus, there’s no need to post a picture of yourself at the gym to Instagram to prove that you actually work out.

Just get your workout in and leave – Skip the selfies! 

One Piece of Equipment at a Time

Walking into the gym for the first time, you’re going to be overwhelmed by the vast amount of equipment options.

There are dumbbells, barbells, treadmills, ellipticals, and even pieces of equipment that you’ve never seen before.

While you might feel like a kid in a candy store, remember that this isn’t your personal equipment. You’re also asked to share this equipment with everybody else that pays their monthly membership fees.

So, limit yourself to using one piece of equipment at a time (i.e. Don’t hoard equipment and “claim” it as your own).

Unless the gym is absolutely empty, there are no logical reasons for you to need a barbell, Smith machine, and a leg press all at once.

But, what about supersets?

If you really need to get your supersets in that badly, then try to choose equipment that’s pretty close together and go to the gym on off hours when it’s not as crowded and there are fewer people.

Return Your Equipment to Where You Got It

There’s nothing more annoying than going to the dumbbell rack where the 20s are usually located to see them completely missing or replaced with the 45s. That’s because another gym-goer either left them lying around or put them back in the wrong slots.

Make sure you’re putting the dumbbells back exactly where you got them, preferably in weight order. Also, make sure you’re never just leaving equipment on the floor and walking away, as somebody else might trip over them.

When you’re taking weights off of the bar, put in the time to re-rack them with weights of a similar size.

That means the 45s should be with the 45s, the 10s should be with the 10s, and so on. If there’s no room left on the rack you were going to use, it’s okay to put the 10s on the same rack as the 5s.

Just make sure the lighter weights are closer to the outside and not forcing another person to get the heavier weights out of the way to get what they’re looking for.

It all comes down to being considerate and understanding that this isn’t your own house.

So, always clean up after yourself just like you’d want others to do.

Find Your Own Space

Most gyms are pretty big. Big enough, in fact, where each person that’s at the gym can get some space to themselves as they exercise.

Here’s what we’re talking about.

  • You hate it in the parking lot. You know that feeling when you go out to the parking lot to head back to the car and see another car parked in the spot next to you even though the entire parking lot is empty? It’s annoying at the gym, too. If the gym is pretty empty, leave at least one treadmill, bike, or elliptical between you and the person next to you (if possible).
  • Get the weights you’re looking to use and then find your own space. Don’t just stand in front of the dumbbell rack and crank out some bicep curls as everyone else waits for you to move so they can put their dumbbells back (or get some new ones). Grab them and go!
  • Keep your distance if you’re waiting for equipment. Now, you shouldn’t be standing all the way across the gym eyeballing the squat rack, but you also shouldn’t be two feet away from the person currently using it and giving them the stink eye. Keep a reasonable distance from other gym-goers so you don’t come off as intimidating (or creepy).

Everyone likes their own personal space, especially when it comes to being surrounded by people they don’t exactly know.

Just remember that you’re sharing the gym with other people and it’s your job to be respectful of other people’s space.

Don’t Drop the Weights

It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional Olympic weightlifter or just a casual athlete. Dropping or slamming the weights at the gym is the quickest way to get dirty looks and aggravate the other gym-goers (plus, you’ll get kicked out if you go to Planet Fitness).

Let’s get one thing straight: It absolutely does not make you look “cool” or like you’re a pro.

It actually tends to make you look like you either don’t know what you’re doing or that you chose a weight that’s far too heavy for you.

And, then consider the fact that not all plates are built to be slammed or dropped. Dropping pure metal plates can crack or damage the floor, weight plates, or even the mirrors (depending on how intensely you drop them).

So, just stick to doing regular powerlifting and weightlifting exercise that don’t require you to drop or slam weights in the process.

Just gently bring them down like the rest of us.

Use the Equipment Properly

You can find any exercise known to man on the Internet.

So, there’s absolutely no need for you to “create” your own exercises, especially when you’re at the gym. 

We’re talking about using the equipment as it was meant to be used.

That also means not just sitting on machines and benches as a place to hang out when your workout is done and you’re waiting for your friend to finish up.

There’s no denying it: Some pieces of equipment can be properly used for several types of exercises.

But, if the gym is crowded and your gym only has 3 Smith machines, it would be a little silly to hog one of them as you pump out some wrist curls.

So, it’s really important that you consider how many pieces of this equipment are available and how crowded the gym currently is. Really, there’s no need to use the Smith machine as a wrist curl when you can easily use a barbell or dumbbells.

Here are a few obvious yet not-so-obvious rules of using gym equipment that even grown adults do as well.

  • Don’t just hang from machines. Don’t max out the weight on the lat pulldown or cable machine just to swing from the bar. You’re not even doing an exercise and it makes you look ridiculous.
  • Don’t add human resistance. This means exactly what you think it means. Don’t have a friend hang on the machine or put pressure on the bar to add some extra resistance during your exercise. The machines aren’t built for this kind of pressure. If you want more weight, add more plates.
  • If the weights are flying up or slamming down, you need to go heavier. You might feel like an absolutely beast when you’re so powerful on the pec fly that the weights fly up and then quickly drop down. But, you’re basically just using pure momentum to get them up. Reps should be done slowly and, if the weights are spastic like this, you need to increase the resistance.

It’s not just about looking like you know what you’re doing. Improperly using equipment can cause severe injury and break the machines (which won’t really make your fellow gym-goers all that happy).

For your own entertainment, here’s a video that shows you exactly what not to do when you’re using gym equipment.

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing that says that you have to be the strongest or the fastest at the gym.

But, your fellow gym-goers would really appreciate it if you acted respectfully toward them and used the equipment properly.

So, take a little time to learn the “basic” rules that we went over above and start applying them the next time you make it back to the gym.