Workout Etiquette

The word “etiquette” probably conjures images of  people in formal clothes, eating with napkins perfectly placed in their laps and generally following all the polite  rules for dining. Well,  “etiquette” translates simply into observing the proper behavior in a given situation — workout environments included.

 Proper behavior means doing things that are considerate of others and the facility itself. Safety rules is yet another set of behaviors. What I will mention here concerns politeness. Let’s look at some of the obvious ones and some that are not so obvious.

Weightlifting: The Obvious Etiquette Breakers

Some people in the gym I go to, and I am sure the one you use seem to believe that being rude, obtuse, and inconsiderate is somehow being cool or macho and that they should be more respected as a result. These folks usually slam weights onto the barbells, onto the storage pegs — if you are so lucky, and definitely to the ground or apparatus. Perhaps it is a subconscious behavior: “Here I am, I am so strong I must slam weights.”

Funny how many of the strongest and biggest people in the gym are the nicest and most courteous.

Another major faux pas is leaving perspiration all over equipment after one is finished using it. I sweat as much as the next person, but I try to wipe off any moisture I leave behind. Some gyms provide towels to help this action take place.

Similarly, one of the most common violations of workout etiquette is leaving weights on barbells and leg presses, dumb bells off their racks, and stray plates off their storage pegs. It only takes a couple of messy weight lifters a couple of sets to trash a entire lifting room. Many women are not strong enough to pull off 45-lb. plates and are too embarrassed or intimidated to ask a male in the area. I have seen many women simply leave a room or walk away from an apparatus simply due to large plates being left on machines.

Weightlifting: The More Subtle No-No’s

Working in with someone is one of the trickier subjects since it is the choice of the first one on the equipment. Lets start off with a clear-cut case of rudeness. If someone is using a machine and they rest a couple of minutes or even a single minute between sets they should let someone work in. In fact, they should ask if the person standing next to the machine and looking at them wants to work in. Another obvious one is if someone is “bouncing” between machines, he or she should clearly let someone else use the machine he or she is not using. If someone chooses to bounce between machines, he or she has relinquished the “claim” on either one. Asking someone if he or she is finished with a machine can clear up any confusion. It’s also respectful.

Politeness in Pairs
A tougher issue is when two people use a machine as partners. It is their choice to let someone else in on their rotation. Another tough one is letting partners work in with you — a single person. If you are someone who doesn’t like to rest much you may ask to work in between each partner doing their set.

The bottom line is that if there is only one machine of its kind in a gym and you are working out alone, you should let someone work in with you. The person who is working in can be a hero by first saying ‘thank you’ both before starting their sets and after each set. They can really earn points by adjusting the weight back to what that person had it at and adjusting any handle or seating position changes after you have finished. Obviously you don’t have to memorize every setting someone had, but one of them would be nice. Also, if someone is waiting to use your machine, being ready to do your set, not doing several “burnout” sets, and leaving promptly after finishing your set is the appropriate thing to do.

Are You Up in My Space?
Some other acts of politeness fall into “personal space” issues. Some of these scenarios are not so obvious, either. I work out in a gym with a lot of space limitations and learning to respect people’s lifting space is important. A good rule of thumb is to leave about a foot between the outermost region of a lift and where you happen to be. You should expand that distance when performing wide arcing motions and shorten it for fixed motion machines. Saying ‘pardon me’ or ‘excuse me’ when going between someone and their mirror space or in front of them to retrieve or replace a weight is polite. Walking by someone when they are resting should be expected, but if another path is available, it should be taken. As a general rule, try to be respectful of others and communicate anytime you are going to go into someone’s space.

Spotting a Sporting Spotter
Most everyone can identify the person in the gym who loves to spot everyone he or she sees. Spotting can be a tricky business: You can actually ruin or degrade someone’s workout or even injure them with a poor spot. Many of the people who arbitrarily spot me tend to over-assist the lift. I am a personal trainer and have been working out for decades, so I am aware that the person is only trying to be nice and often are very helpful. It is actually a good way to meet people and build camaraderie. Generally, if someone says, ‘I’ve got it’ back off no matter how hurting they look. The time to spot someone is when you see them actually pause or dramatically slow down.

If someone is on a Selectorize machine, they probably don’t need a spot and if someone has a partner you generally should let that partner do the spotting. If someone asks for a spot, identify the parameters by asking if he or she wants a lift off, how many they expect to do, and how much spot they want. 
Cardio People Are Not Exempt
The unspoken rules for cardiovascular equipment are fewer but no less important. The main points are to wipe the equipment down after using it, and not to use a piece of equipment more than 20 minutes when there is a line for that type of equipment. Treadmills and elliptical trainers are usually the ones people want and the ones some people hog for an hour or so.

There are probably a number of rules of etiquette I did not cover and you may want to submit some to the editors, and many of these ‘unspoken’ and ‘unwritten’ rules will become written. I encourage you as trainers to pass these points of etiquette on to your clients and others.


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.