Strengthen Your Body & Your Character: Embracing Gym Etiquette

We like to think of ourselves as inhabiting a civilized world, living in a time and place where extending such courtesies to those around us would be a natural course of action. However, as any of us who have ventured past our own front steps can attest, such behaviors are sorely lacking in many realms, including, sadly, the gym.

According to the Merriam – Webster Dictionary, “etiquette” is defined as “the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life”. Emily Post, long considered an expert on such matters, goes a bit further, explaining “etiquette” as “a code of behavior based on thoughtfulness”.

While the gym tends to be the one venue where we feel safe in letting down our professional guard for a period of time, a place where we can train, unwind, and focus on our own well-being instead of the harried pressures of our fast-paced careers, the fact remains that there are still common courtesies that should be extended to our fellow gym users. Having researched the most common pet peeves of typical gym members, we now offer up some easy-to-follow rules for displaying appropriate gym etiquette while also getting a fabulous workout!

Although this should not even merit mentioning, one of the top sources of irritation among gym goers is the member who refuses to dress properly for his/her workouts. While many recreational athletes may use the gym as their favorite venue for picking up a date for the weekend, this is not the place for “dressing to impress”. Serious athletes do not want to take in a deep breath before attempting a 1-rep max and inhale a whopping dose of Chanel #5! Leave the perfume for after hours. Similarly, wardrobe malfunctions have been sighted at many a hardcore gym. Thongs went out of style in the 1980s; their sole purpose is to create a distraction, something the serious lifter cannot afford to have happen, especially if he is spotting someone trying to push a significant amount of weight! Also of note on this topic is the appropriate choice of footwear: sandals, flip-flops, and anything except fitness footwear is best left in the locker room. One simply cannot safely engage in a quality workout of any kind without stable, solid shoes.

Although the majority of members in a fitness center are there to simply stay in shape, get in better shape, or train for an upcoming event, each one of us takes our workouts very seriously. As such, good gym etiquette dictates that one should try to respect his fellow fitness fanatics by not engaging them in conversation while they are in the middle of a set.

Taking your own workout seriously will not only benefit your body, but it will force you to maintain a proper level of social etiquette for the betterment of those around you. Limiting conversation and congregating around often-used pieces of equipment will allow for easier transitions on and around machines. It also enables others to have the freedom and personal space needed to perform exercises safely. Refraining from excessive grunting, foul language, and dropping weights upon completion of a set makes for a much more peaceful and enjoyable atmosphere for all.

Speaking of safety, this should always be the #1 consideration as soon as you set foot into the gym. Choose weights that you can safely control during both the concentric and eccentric phases of each lift, to avoid hurting yourself as well as those around you. If you find it necessary to ask for a spot, find someone who is not currently engaged in a heavy lift, and who has proper knowledge of how to spot the particular lift you are attempting. Similarly, if you observe a new member needing a spot, be courteous enough to offer assistance if you feel able to do so, rather than allow the individual to risk injury.

Even though the designers of gym facilities try their best to accommodate as many athletes as possible, there will come a time when two people desire the same machine at the same time. Good gym etiquette dictates that each party allows the other to “work in”; while you are enjoying your 60-second rest interval, your fellow patron has ample time to execute his or her set. When waiting for a machine that is in use, refrain from being overly impatient; and always ask if someone is done using the weight/machine before you step in and begin your set. By extending this courtesy, you may even meet a nice prospective workout partner!

Even though you might look around you and observe that just about everyone in the gym seems to be at least as strong as you, rest assured that this is most likely not the case! When you have completed your set, be sure to remove all the plates you had piled on that bar, and return them to their rightful place in the gym. Unloading your bar is one of the most thoughtful acts you can perform in the gym; it is also humbling, reminding you of a time when you weren’t quite as strong as you are today! Similarly, if you have chosen to engage in a super-set, and have moved dumbbells around to a more convenient place to execute these moves, be sure to return them so that the next person can find them.

Music – the great workout motivator – is a very individual thing! Some athletes get their heart rate kicked up by banging it out to heavy metal, while for others, old-fashioned rock and roll does the trick. Do not assume that the rest of the facility wants to jam to your personal acoustic tastes. If you train wearing headphones or ear buds, take the time to adjust the volume so that you are the only one hearing your tunes!

Certainly we all come to the gym to work, and work hard. As such, quite a bit of sweat is going to be generated in a fitness facility! Be courteous and wipe off your machine or bench when you are ready to move on to the next activity. Sharing sweat is best saved for activities engaged in outside of the gym! On a similar note, if you are truly interested in making the gym your pick-up joint of choice, it will be to your advantage to apply some deodorant prior to starting your training. Nothing turns a future encounter off faster than unwanted odors emanating from that perfectly chiseled physique!

For many gym goers, business deals never cease, even during times of recreation. We all recognize the importance of earning a living, and sometimes that does mean being on-call. However, most facilities have a “no cell phone use” policy, especially while using the cardio equipment. This is a matter of safety first and foremost. Secondly, similarly to others not wanting to necessarily be forced to listen to your choice of music, most also don’t want to be privy to your phone conversations, personal, business-related or otherwise. Leave the cell phone locked up in your car or in the locker room. If you determine that you are in fact indispensable, perhaps you might consider working out at home.

Speaking of the locker room, this is one area that has garnered a great deal of attention from disgruntled patrons. Contrary to popular belief, your mother does not work here, and this is not your personal bathroom! Towels are to be picked up off the floor and benches and placed in appropriate receptacles. In addition, as fabulous as your trophy-winning physique may be, there is a chance that not everyone in the locker room would like to be privy to a show-and-tell as you walk from the showers to your locker. Grab an extra towel and at least make an attempt to cover up. It really is the polite thing to do. Similarly, try to limit your shower usage to an appropriate length of time, especially during peak volume times.

If all of these suggestions seem painfully obvious to you, then congratulations are definitely in order! You have already embraced “gym etiquette” and are well on your way to living a civilized life! If any of these ideas seem foreign to you, however, please take the time to think about correcting such behaviors prior to your next foray into the gym. Not only will you have a more pleasant experience, but you will be extending that same courtesy to others around you. It will feel so good to have a strong character on the inside to match your physical strength on the outside!

About the Author

Cathleen Kronemer is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for 22 years.

She welcomes your feedback and your comments!


These resources are for the purpose of personal trainer growth and development through Continuing Education which advances the knowledge of fitness professionals. This article is written for NFPT Certified Personal Trainers to receive Continuing Education Credit (CEC). Please contact NFPT at 800.729.6378 or [email protected] with questions or for more information.
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