Following up on my previous article about shopping for gyms, I want to share some of the unwritten rules of the gym. Not only will this solidify your role in the gym tribe, but it will show other members that you care about them and the space you’re sharing.
One of the essential points of emphasis in a public gym is behavior. That is, how you conduct yourself in a space shared by different types of people. If it were easy, I could end this article here by saying: Be normal. But it’s nuanced. And the fear and anxiety around these unwritten rules may put newcomers off from the gym entirely.
After working as a personal trainer in public gyms for many years, I have collected some rules. Tricks of the trade: if you will. All done by observing others, but certainly by making mistakes myself. Much of which is trial and error, but If I can give you even a slight advantage, it’ll be worth it.
Rule 1: Put Your Equipment Away
That drove me bonkers as a trainer. Since I was responsible for returning your weights to their rightful spot, I routinely had to ask members to clean up their area. Respect the other members by putting the equipment back in its intended position. That way, the gym can operate smoothly, and everyone knows where to look for the equipment. The same goes for removing your weight plates from the machines, barbells, etc. You were strong enough to put the weights on the bar, so I’m sure you are strong enough to remove them and put them back.
Rule 2: Personal Hygiene
Don’t let yourself become the smelly person in the gym. That goes for the underutilization of deodorant and just as much: too much perfume. Trust me, people notice. Shower, wear clean clothes, and brush your teeth. Yikes, I sound like my mother. And for those thinking, “I’m just going to sweat through it,” of course you will. Better to be clean before you sweat, wouldn’t you say?
Rule 3: Use Equipment as Designed
Apart from a select handful of modalities, machines have one intended purpose. I’m excluding free weights and functional trainer machines in this discussion. They are multi-purposeful by nature. When trying a movement ill-suited for that machine, there are far better options at your disposal. A quick Google search should help. Think about your typical member that has 45-1hr to work out. If they see you attempting a donkey kickback on the leg press machine, not only will they throw a conniption, but they might throw you too.
Rule 4: Don’t Stare or Make Unwanted Advances
“Oh, but Craig, plenty of people have met their spouse at the gym.” Sure they have. I don’t doubt that. But be smart about it. The side eyes and glances you make aren’t particularly slick. It’s creepy. And they make people uncomfortable––especially in a space designed to do the opposite. If you want to talk with someone, make an appropriate gesture and see if they reciprocate. If someone is wearing headphones, they’re not interested––end of the story. Catch them on the way out of the gym if you’re that eager.
Rule 5: Pick Others Up
The gym is a positive environment where people are constantly working on themselves. Don’t let it become a place for negativity and bad energy. Lend a quick word of encouragement, help them spot a lift, and share a genuine smile. None of these fall into the aforementioned creepy category. You should never feel guilty about being friendly and helpful.
Rule 6: Share Machines
If you use a machine and have enough rest time to check your Instagram feed between sets, you should allow others to join in. That’s common courtesy. I’ll tell you: I was notorious for doing the complete opposite. Here I was, a big macho man (at least I thought), thinking the world should kneel before me. Nobody is going to steal your workout from you. It’s the right thing to do, especially during peak hours at the gym. There are circumstances that this rule doesn’t apply (squatting or deadlifting). Non-machine lifts like squats and deadlifts are more independent and differ significantly in weight compared to a pin-loaded machine.
Rule 7: Don’t Get Involved in Disputes
The gym does some weird things to people. For better or worse, there is a lot of testosterone flying around. I’m speaking to the men because I’ve never encountered a female-oriented altercation. Whatever it is, let the staff handle it. That’s their territory. You’re not getting paid to deal with that petty tom-foolery. If harassed, then address it. As it persists, shut it down immediately by directing it to the staff. If you play your cards right, you won’t have to see that person again.
Rule 8: Be Mindful of Time
Most people don’t have 2 hours to spend at the gym. They’ll be lucky to have 1. Be respectful of that. You’re not Larry King, and the gym isn’t the set of your talk show. I’m happy you made some friends but keep it to pleasantries. If you struggle with this rule, time your workouts. Odds are you are wasting a good chunk of time in the gym anyways. Members will appreciate it, and you get your workout done faster, win-win.
Rule 9: No Unsolicited Advice
Kind of a do unto others, or however the proverb goes. Do you like unsolicited advice? I didn’t think so. You will see some egregious behaviors in the gym. You’ll want to correct people’s form, wax poetic about your successes with the carnivore diet, or sign them up for your next Herbalife event. Don’t be that person. About potential injuries, only if you are a licensed professional report something that could be dangerous. There was a guy at my gym more flexible than Gumby. He used to do single-leg balance holds on a Bosu ball atop the highest plyo box we had. He could’ve been juggling knives, and I still didn’t say anything.
Rule 10: No Phone Calls
Take it outside! Another guy at my gym used to take work calls while training. He’d do a set, jump on the horn, then step outside to smoke a cigarette. Rinse and repeat. I’m not kidding. This behavior breaks more rules than I care to count. Separate your workout from your personal life–Or train at home and take all the calls you want.