The lost art of gym etiquette

Social norms exist in all situations, and the gym is one place these norms seem to be fading. “Etiquette” refers to a code of behaviour specific to a situation or location. Think of it as the unwritten rules we all follow, or should follow, to be respectful and “proper”.  Unfortunately, gym etiquette seems to be dying.

Don't be a gym-douche.

Don’t be a gym-douche.

Who is to blame for this? You can’t really put the blame solely on one source, but I truly do think personal trainers and other gym employees need to shoulder a HUGE portion of this responsibility. Trainers – if you’re with a client, you should most definitely use proper etiquette. Even if you don’t explicitly explain to them what or why you’re doing something, they’ll be more inclined to follow suit when they’re working out on their own. Just because you’re in a session with someone doesn’t give you the right to break all the “rules” of the gym – think of the impression you’re giving your client for the future.

I’m not sure if other gyms have this same problem, but where we train seems to be missing a key feature of staff monitoring the training floor. We have plenty of sales staff downstairs at the desk, but once you hit the floor, there’s no one to be seen. Thus, equipment is left all over the floor, and members are doing things incorrectly and dangerously. Sometimes a trainer will work with a client in the main training area, but often they stick to their own PT zone. Regardless, the floor is an unmonitored zone of chaos most days.

Beyond theses two sources, how do people learn gym etiquette? Mostly through watching others (which is obviously a failing plan as less and less people use it), or by learning about it through media such as magazines, websites, or blogs – provided they even care enough to read these pieces.

Regardless of the fact that the biggest culprits likely aren’t reading much of anything, here are my top five etiquette pet peeves / tips:

  1. Put your weights back when you’re done. It always amazes me how often we get to the gym and the weight rack is half empty – dumbbells strewn all over the floor, spreading all the way back to the outer corners. You’re super setting some exercises and need to take a set of weights away with you? Cool. Just BRING THEM BACK when you’re done. Even if you use a set of dumbbells on a bench right in front of the rack – simply lift them up ONE more time and replace them so people know you’re done. It’s not just you using the equipment.
  2. Dress the part. This drives me WILD! I don’t know when it became acceptable or allowed for people to be on the training floor in flip flops, jeans, dress clothes, etc. Ok, the jeans and dress clothes are just plain strange and seemingly uncomfortable so that’s your personal choice, but proper footwear should be mandatory! As a fitness instructor, I won’t allow anyone to do my class without the proper shoes, why should it be any different in the weight room? And no, wearing socks with your sandals doesn’t make them closer to shoes.
  3. Focus on your workout, not your social life. If your rest is lasting four times as long as your set – get off the equipment and let other people work in. The other night Kyle and I wanted to use a piece of equipment and a man (IN JEANS no less) had it loaded up with about 8 plates. He proceeded to sit on it, and write possibly the longest email known to man on his phone. Then, he screamed through a whopping 3 reps before settling back in with his email novel. I politely asked how many sets he had left, to which he said one. Then went right back to his phone for another 5 minutes!  If someone is actually waiting for you, don’t be a douche. Train and move on.
  4. There’s a flow of traffic to follow, just like driving. If someone is carrying their weights to put them back on the rack (thank you!) – they have the right of way. If you’re walking through without weight, yield to these people, ESPECIALLY if it’s a heavy set of weights. Common courtesy, put yourself in their position and think of how long you’d like to stand there holding that weight while someone saunters in front. Just pay attention.
  5. Use proper weight and technique. You might think you look like a hero when you walk up to the weights and grab those 65s to do some side laterals… but when you resemble an injured seagull who is going to blow their rotator cuff, you’re only gaining negative attention. Also, if your spotter is sweating harder than you – you’re doing it wrong. Finally, it’s one thing to get creative with a piece of equipment to target a muscle group safely, but if you opt to perform an inherently dangerous exercise outside the proper machine, you’re only asking for trouble.
I love Pauly D!

I love Pauly D!

There are a lot of other issues we see at the gym, but these are definitely the top five that I wanted to highlight. The gym is no different from school or your place of employment, there are rules to follow.  The tricky part is that most of them are unwritten and not being “taught” or demonstrated regularly enough for new people to learn. Do your part and role model good behaviour, even if no one else around you is doing it.

Question for avid gym-goers: If you see someone doing something with terrible technique, do you approach them and offer advice? We often debate this, and usually let our gut dictate our response. If the person seems friendly and open to advice, we’ll offer it. If they seem arrogant and rude, we stay away. Thoughts??

About Ashleigh

I'm passionate about health and fitness. I work as a Health Promotion Specialist, a group fitness instructor, and also a coach for physique competitors / weight loss clients. I grew up as a competitive athlete, and have continued with this passion as a Women's Physique competitor. Research and writing is another interest of mine, which I use to share my knowledge with the general public.
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