Joining a gym for the first time can be a scary and intimidating experience. Not only are you confronted by new exercises and unfamiliar equipment, you are also joining a unique community with all its unwritten rules...
Especially starting out without a experienced gym partner to show you the ropes and all the do's and don'ts can be enough to put you off completely. You can rest assured that you are not alone, not by a long shot. Almost everyone who walked through the doors of a gym for the first time and experienced everything associated with it, felt like a fish out of water at the very least.
The whole reason for this article is to familiarize you with the "gym culture" and its unwritten "rules". It will help to make you feel a lot more comfortable and confident in your new environment.
There is also good gym etiquette that generally applies to both men and women. There are however, quite a few differences in the approach and expectations between the different sexes. I will address each one separately after discussing gym etiquette in general.
Right then, time to have a look at the Rules of the Gym.
The 11 Rules Of The Gym
Before continuing, just keep the following in mind. As is the case with almost everything else, not all gyms are created equal. The "normal gym" that will be used as a reference point throughout this article, is your average gym consisting of male and female members. It has one or more studios for a variety of aerobic related classes, cardio equipment (treadmills, stationary cycles etc.), one or more training circuits, a stretching area and a free weight area.
(What I am NOT referring to are specialist gyms like dedicated weightlifting gyms (where weightlifting and power-lifting are the main focus), crossfit or boxing/MMA focused gyms. Nor is it "boutique" gyms where exorbitant fees are charged, the members are pampered with all kinds of luxuries, and the make-up and jewelry weigh more than the actual weights do.)
And let us refer to guidelines rather than rules. Rules sounds like something related to something way too rigid and authoritarian. In no particular order, the guidelines will be broken down in do's and don'ts.
Always be aware of your surroundings and fellow gym goers. The first reason for this is that people are very focused on their training while performing exercises. Accidentally bumping into someone or walking into the space they need to perform their exercise, can cause real irritation and frustration on their part, not helping you win any popularity contest.
Secondly you are moving among people lifting heavy free weights. Balancing these weights is extremely important and a very delicate operation which can very easily be upset by the slightest touch. Pushing or touching the weights while they are being exercised can completely knock the heavy weight off balance, which can result in serious injury.
Please don't be afraid or paranoid of moving around in the gym. Just be careful and aware of your surroundings, and this will become second nature in no time at all.
Always carry a towel with you. This is both a hygienic and considerate habit. After your workout, always use the towel to properly wipe down the equipment and weights you were using.
Imagine moving on to your next exercise and the bench and weights are drenched in sweat. You know exactly how infuriated you will feel. On top of that it's off-putting and can really ruin one's workout. So please leave your workout area the way you would like to find it when starting your exercise.
Always put your weights away. And no, don't use the excuse that "you found it this way". Even if the person before you left a few weights behind, just take the time to quickly put it away in its place. Its both considerate and just good gym practice.
The weight area at the dumbbell rack in front of the wall-to-wall mirror, can get cluttered very quickly when weights are left lying around. This not only makes moving around difficult and irritating, it can also cause an accident when someone carrying a set of weights trips and fall over weights lying on the floor.
Here the same principle applies as in the previous point. Leave your workout area the way you would like to find it when starting your exercise.
Be willing to share or take turns. When using a piece of equipment, you may occupy it for quite some time when performing multiple sets of an exercise. When the gym is busy and there are only one or two pieces of this equipment available, there is probably one or more person waiting for you to finish up.
This is always a tricky and difficult situation. You were there first and have the "right of access" to the equipment and it can be frustrating and disruptive to have another gym member standing nearby making no secret that they are waiting for you.
On the flip-side, if you are doing 5 sets and resting up to 3 minutes in between, you can imagine the frustration of the person in the middle of specific workout routine and now having to wait 15 minutes while their muscles are cooling down and they are wasting valuable time.
The best thing to do is to quickly resolve the situation before it escalates. If you haven't already been approached by the person waiting, be willing and ask them if they want to share and let them train while you rest. If you are doing a short routine of 3 sets with just 30 seconds in between, just inform them that you will be quick and you will be surprised how accepting and respectful of your space they will become.
I know it's a tricky situation and can be a bit inconvenient, but showing just a little bit of consideration goes some way in creation a healthy relationship and pleasant atmosphere in the gym.
Watch out for the OCCUPIED sign. Walking up to a piece of equipment and start using it simply because no one is using is not always acceptable. If a towel, water bottle or gym belt is laying beside or on top of it, this the universal sign that the piece of equipment is in use.
It's user may have quickly gotten up to go fetch a dumbbell, have a drink at the water fountain or go for quick bathroom break. Rather wait for a few minutes and ask members in the area if somebody is using the equipment. You obviously don't have to wait forever, but always assume a spot is taken when you see these telltale sign of "occupation".
Don't drop your weights or shout to "motivate" yourself. This a common practice in serious weightlifting gyms. Dropping the weight from a few feet up and shouting at yourself in the mirror to get yourself worked up may be acceptable in such a gym.
In a normal gym where a mix of people of different ages and gender are focusing on their own workouts, this is normally hugely distracting and not acceptable. Just simply refrain from doing it.
Don't talk to someone in the middle of their workout. This is one sure way of really getting on the wrong side of someone and becoming unpopular very quickly. Most experienced trainers are concentrating and focusing very hard on the exercise they are performing and hardly have time to properly breath, never-mind start a conversation.
Rather wait till they have finished their exercise if you want to ask them how long they are still going to be or if they are still using some weights lying around them.
Don't stare. It is as impolite in gym as it is in public, and can be very uncomfortable for the person being stared at. It can be very tempting to admire someone with an exceptionally pleasing physique, or even watch someone training to try and learn how an exercise should be performed. This is completely understandable, but don't make it obvious and prolonged. This is a big NO.
Don't stand on top of someone training. We all observe and respect personal space in public, whether we stand in line at the checkout till of a supermarket or gathering in a crowd. In the gym, that piece of personal space is actually a bit bigger. When waiting for or training next to someone else, in general leave enough space that both of you can stretch your arms out without touching each other.
This not a set rule but just good practice and an effective way of avoiding clashes between fellow members when training. If you are unsure, take some time to observe the distance experienced gym goers keep between each other while working out.
Don't cross the line by "correcting" someone. You may think or actually know how an exercise is supposed to be performed. However, don't fall into the trap of trying to correct someone else's form of training. It's none of your business, even if you have the best of intentions.
You really are begging for a potentially big confrontation when interfering with someone else's training. That person may be well aware of the correct form of an exercise, but perform it in a certain way to get the maximum out of their training, or have some other valid reason for training the way they do. Just DON'T interfere and stick to your own workout.
Never train right in front of the dumbbell rack. I still fail to understand why some people feel the need to stand almost right on top of the dumbbell rack when exercising, or sometimes even resting on it. It is not just inconsiderate but very disruptive.
The dumbbell rack is a very busy place where gym members are constantly either fetching or putting back dumbbells. As with any other high volume traffic area, space should always be left between the dumbbell rack and the nearest exercise. One should consider at least 3 feet or more as the bare minimum.
Use the correct footwear. Nothing is more cringeworthy than seeing someone walking around in their flipflops on the gym floor, or even worse, training in them. Doing heavy leg presses with your favorite pair of flipflops doesn't just look silly, but is downright dangerous
There is something to be said for wearing the appropriate gym attire, especially footwear. It may not be set in stone or written into the rules, but wearing something that is so inappropriate doesn't just make you look silly, but also shows a level of disrespect and ignorance for the gym environment.
Hand dryers are for hands. There is a reason why the hand dryers in the locker room are placed next to wash basins and not the showers. It is meant for drying your hands and only your hands.
Some people seem to think hand dryers are perfectly acceptable to be used to dry every part of their body. I have seen some men drying pieces of their anatomy I would rather choose to forget. From what I hear from female gym members, the same practice often takes place in the ladies locker room.
I am sorry, but this is just not acceptable. No-one needs to see you perform all kinds of acrobatics attempting to dry yourself and put yourself on display in such a manner that is embarrassing and awkward for everyone else in the locker room.
That is what a towel is for. Before leaving the shower area, at least dry yourself off to the extend that you don't need the dryer. As an added bonus, you won't leave puddles of water all over the floor, which are hazardous and easy for someone to slip on. It also creates potential unhygienic conditions where many members are forced to put their gym bags on the benches to avoid getting it wet in what they hope is just water.
Don't hassle experienced lifters for advice. Asking someone you think is an expert for unsolicited advice in the middle of their workout, is considered rude and very unwelcome. Most dedicated weight-trainers are working through a set workout program with specific sets and rest periods in between.
You are disrupting their routine and focus by stopping them to ask a barrage of questions. Most serious trainers want to work through their routine as quickly and effectively as possible and get on with the rest of their life. They are not in the gym to answer questions or train people. Please respect their space and privacy.
If you need advice or have no idea what to do, that is what your gym's instructors and personal trainers are for. (If your gym didn't have some qualified instructor take you through the basic exercises and help you get started when you joined, it shows a serious lack of duty and professionalism on their side. They also should have given some advice and guidance as to where to go for more dedicated and personal training.)
The gym is not a social gathering spot. This not an attempt to blame a specific group, but you usually find some of the younger gym members gathering in small groups chatting and laughing away, oblivious of their surroundings. They not only take up space and gather around a piece of equipment they are not using, the whole situation is very irritating to people trying to seriously work out and create a tense and potentially confrontational atmosphere.
No matter what your age, if you fall in this category, please be considerate towards other gym members and refrain from having group conversations in the middle of the gym. There is more than enough time before and after gym in the food court or waiting area of the gym to get together.
Cell Phones in the gym are NOT for having conversations. It is perfectly acceptable and also convenient to use your cell phone in the gym. You can use it to listen to motivational music, keep record of your workouts and even use it as timer.
What your cell phone is not meant for is sitting on a bench or standing in a walkway, deep in conversation while people around you are trying to train. It is distracting and really inconsiderate towards everyone around you. As with socializing in the gym, there is more than enough time before and after gym to have long leisurely conversations with friends or family members.
Don't abuse the water fountain. It's main purpose is for gym members to come and have few sips of water between sets. You can even use it to fill up your water bottle. Filling up your bottle can take some time though. If someone is waiting for you while filling your bottle, stand back and let them have a quick drink before resuming filling up.
One thing the water fountain is not for, is for mixing your supplement drinks. It takes up time and can get very messy. No one appreciates drinking from a water fountain covered with hardened pieces of supplement powder smelling of every possible flavor.
If you need to mix your supplements, you can do it at home, at work if possible, or even in the locker room before you start training. Just please keep it off the gym floor.
If you are sick, stay away from the gym. I applaud your dedication to be willing to train when you are not feeling well. But imagine trying to exercise while someone next to you is sniffling, sneezing or coughing.
This is not just plain disgusting but completely off-putting for everyone else in the gym. No-one is going to give you medal for your "bravery", especially if you run the risk of passing on your cold or flu to them.
Rather stay home, get well, regain your strength and get back to the gym refreshed and ready. It's really not worth putting yourself and everybody else in the gym through an already bad experience.
Make sure your gym attire is acceptable and practical. Mostly it is just plain common sense, but unfortunately not everyone seems to have an abundance of this attribute. In my article about "What To Wear And Take To Gym", I described what most members gym trainers wear to gym.
In general, if you wear actual sports wear that is comfortable for you, you should be fine. There are instances where some people may take offense however. There nothing wrong with showing some skin, especially, if you have the body for it (and worked so hard for). There are instances though where it is taken a bit too far though where it can be seen as offending or attract the wrong kind of attention.
For men, wearing very loose fitting shorts, may not always be such a good idea. Doing exercises like leg-presses and flat bench-presses puts you in a compromising and potentially very revealing position. Onlookers really don't want to see certain parts of your anatomy on display.
Let's be honest, some tank tops can just make you look back bad, period. Wearing a proper fitting tank top with proper shoulders straps is more than acceptable and looks good on most men. If you wear one of those tops that the straps are as thin as a piece of rope, and runs all the way down to your bellybutton, especially if you are carrying some excess belly fat, it is NOT a good look and you are not doing yourself any favors, trust me.
Ladies can also transgress and cause some offense. You may have the perfect mid-section with very well shaped and appealing glutes, but wearing just a thong with very little or nothing else, are very offensive to the majority of other women and will definitely attract some unwanted attention from the opposite sex. Rather save it for the beach where you can proudly show off the results of your hard work.
The same goes for women's (crop) tank tops. In general, very comfortable and practical, it is ideal for any workout. You do however, get some crop tops that are really struggling to cover the bare necessities. Especially if it's also not very supportive and are constantly threatening to slip off, it's really just poor etiquette and can cause an embarrassing situation for you and those training near you.
Just quick disclaimer. As some of you who read my articles and know my story will know, I am a man (male). As a result, I don't consider myself in any way qualified to provide advice as to what most women consider to be good acceptable gym etiquette (for women). What I gathered is a summary based on countless discussions with female colleagues, asking many questions and doing hours of research.
Apart from the general etiquette already mentioned, the following list are considered by the vast majority of women of different ages, to be absolutely essential to good gym etiquette:
Avoid strong perfumes. We all like smelling good and a nice scent is always appealing and welcomed. However, if your perfume is so strong that the girl four treadmills down the line starts sneezing, you have overdone it a bit. Some people are actually allergic to certain perfumes and and may experience breathing problems training near someone wearing a strong fragrance. Rather use an effective deodorant / antiperspirant for gym, and reserve your perfume for work or special occasions.
Stick to the time limits on the cardio machines. Even though most women find this an issue, this applies universally to both men and women. As most regular gym members know, cardio machines are in high demand, especially during peak hours.
Almost all gyms have set limits on the maximum amount of time spend on a machine. These set times may also vary throughout the day to compensate for the high demand during peak hours. (Many gyms limit you to 20 minutes during peak time versus 40 minutes for the rest of the day.) Please take note of these times and stick to them. I can almost guarantee you, if the gym is busy, there is probably someone standing behind you waiting.
Don't walk around nude. Just like men, especially as you grow older, many women have much less of a problem strutting around nude in the gym. Please realize that although you may not have any problem with it, especially if you are in great shape and proud of your body, most women are still a bit uncomfortable when confronted by this sight.
It is a bit of a conundrum, as locker rooms are made for exactly that, taking your clothes off. The problem most other women have, is not the fact that you undressing in front of your locker. It is stripping off everything and strolling all the way to the shower and back without even wrapping a towel around you. Some ladies go as far as proceeding to blow-dry their hair and put make-up on, still without wearing as much as a towel.
The general guideline to follow, according the majority of women, is to at least wear a towel when you walk to and from a shower. When blow-drying your hair and putting make-up on, wearing at least your underwear, is the bare minimum (excuse the pun). Follow these guidelines and you will avoid many potentially uncomfortable situations, and help create a much less heated atmosphere in the locker room.
Be considered with your shower time. As with cardio machines, during peak hours, waiting for an open shower becomes a challenge. It is simple really. Be aware of how busy the gym and locker room is and be as quickly as you can underneath the shower to make space for anyone waiting.
Which side to face in front of your locker. This really seams trivial, but for many women (and men) this is a bit of a problem. When you take off and put on clothes, do you face towards or away from your locker?
Using this analogy will help clear it up for you (which I picked up in some article online) . Normally when you arrive late at a cinema when the movie already started, you have to squeeze past a few people to get to your seat. And which way do you face? Normally towards them, as you don't want to loose your balance and push your butt into someone's face. Well, for the exact same reason it is best if you face away from the locker, avoiding having to bend down and your naked behind gets shoved into someone else. Definitely the best way to avoid an embarrassing situation.
Don't waste time in front of the mirror and counter. The same rule applies as with shower time. Especially when the locker room is very busy, be as quick as possible when putting on your make-up or blow-drying your hair in front of the mirror. Just keep in mind that you don't have the luxury of time as you do when you are in the privacy of your own home.
Don't hog the locker room changing bench. The benches in the locker room are very convenient with plenty of space and enough hanging room for your clothes. Unfortunately many guys use the full bench to lay out their whole wardrobe, and sometimes even their supplements as well, taking up the space that normally would have been more than sufficient for 4 or more people.
Please be considered when using the bench and if space are limited. It is very inconvenient and unpractical to have to put your bag on the floor and packing everything on top of it simply because one person has taken up all the space on the bench. Use just one hanger and the space on the bench below it. You can always lay out your clothes on top of your gym bag instead of spreading everything out on the bench. Obviously if the locker room is empty, it is a different story.
Fresh clothes and (relatively) clean body please. When you walk onto the gym floor, you would like people to see you first, not smell you first. It's a bit of a sensitive subject but some men are guilty of it.
Some men shove their sweaty gym clothes into their bags and leave it there only to take it out and put on for their next workout. You really don't need to be a brain surgeon to know that this is one way of guaranteeing that you are going to carry an unwelcome odor around. Just make the effort and always pack clean clothes for new gym session.
I know this can be difficult, but after a hard day's work, especially when it was a hot day or you did a lot of manual labor, changes are pretty good that your deodorant has already worn off. Remember, if you can smell yourself, others will definitely be able to smell you. Some men make the effort to take a quick shower before gym, but if that is too much of an inconvenience, at least have some deodorant at hand to try and mask the smell a bit.
Watch you language. It is very normal to let out a few grunts and mumble a few "choice words" while battling to get the last few repetitions of a heavy weight out. However, shouting and cursing to work yourself up or get yourself through the last few reps of an exercise is not welcomed at all.
Remember, it's a mixed gym with young and old members of both genders. Constantly cursing out loudly is a sure way of seriously offending quite a few people. It may be hard sometimes, but try and constrain yourself.
DO NOT start a conversation with someone in the locker while in the nude. We as men, especially as we grow older, have much less of a problem strutting around nude in the gym. Please realize that although you may not have any problem with it, most men are still a bit uncomfortable when confronted by this sight.
It can still be tolerated, but under now circumstances should you walk up to someone, especially a stranger, and start having a conversation without a shred of clothes on. This is downright awkward and unacceptable. I applaud you for being so comfortable with your own body, but trust me, most other men in the locker room are not that comfortable at all.
If you made it this far, you are probably a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rules and etiquette associated with gym life. Don't worry, you will get used to it very quickly.
Also remember, these are not rules set in stone. It is merely strong recommendations on how to behave and what is acceptable in the everyday gym. Hopefully this article will help you to better understand what is normally acceptable and what is not when going for your workout.
As always, feel free to leave me a comment or suggestion, and remember to join my mailing list to get informed whenever a new article or recommendation is released, as well as helpful hints & tips and news on new developments.
Until next time, take care and let me know if there is a specific new topic you would like me to discuss.