Gym Etiquette 101 - Basic Bodybuilding Rules for Men & Women

Gym Etiquette

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I don't know why it's been happening, but lately I have been getting a lot of mail about gym etiquette. Since I've been in the gym trade for so long, it's a topic I rarely think about because it's just ingrained in me. But I sat and thought about it the other day, trying to put myself back 25 years to a time when gyms were new to me and I had to learn all the rules myself. What you take for granted after a while is amazing. By now knowing the ropes is second nature. Still, I had to learn it... same as everyone else.

Then the thought occurred to me that following simple, common-sense etiquette may not be a part of everyone's natural make-up. After all, just about every day in Venice some kind of problem arises - a result of some disagreement or argument - usually because people fail to heed the rules of basic respect and etiquette. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't expect Gold's Gym/Venice to ever be the backdrop for a tea party because it's a big gym with hardcore members working toward massive size and conditioning. It isn't your typical health club. It attracts everyone from actors who are serious about getting ready for a film role to tattooed skate boarders and every subsection of the population represented in between. Expecting everyone to get along all the time isn't realistic.

Then again, you don't see rules of etiquette posted any more in gyms, and no one gives new members the run-down on what goes and what doesn't. That may be part of the problem, but I also think it has something to do with the fact that gyms are accessible to almost anyone now and the mixture of folks isn't always a good brew. But look, I'm not here to philosophize about society, just to give you the low-down on gym and health club etiquette.


Although it's not often discussed in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, gym conduct is a subject we should consider more frequently because the sport has gotten away from stressing manners. What passes for decorum these days leaves a lot to be desired. Most of etiquette should be common sense, but then you never know whether people have learned right from wrong at an early age, or whether they have learned crucial social skills that will help them on the job, on a date or in the gym. Some rules of etiquette are very gym specific and wouldn't be obvious to someone unfamiliar with that environment. Here are a few guidelines you'll want to follow when you're in the gym.

Bring a hand towel along with you so that you can wipe sweat away.

This is just common courtesy. Wipe down all equipment when you have finished using it. Sweating is a fact of life in a gym or health club, so make sure you can wipe benches, handles, and especially cardio equipment with a towel.

Wear a shirt with sleeves to avoid "throwing" sweat.

Simply turning around in close quarters between machines can cause you to brush up against another member. No one wants your sweat on him or her. Tank tops may be comfortable, and may be preferable on very hot days, but for most days a T-shirt with sleeves is the best way to ensure you don't mark anyone with the drops of your effort.

Don't sit on equipment talking with friends.

I see this practice very often. It's not a capital offense, but it is annoying to anyone trying to superset or work through sets rapidly in succession. Benches and machines weren't intended to be used as furniture to lounge on while chatting with friends. When you've completed a set, go and visit away from the equipment.

Let other members "work in" with you.

If no one is waiting to use a piece of equipment, you can rest on it for a minute or two until your next set. However, if someone appears to be waiting, let him "work in" with you and do a set himself. Cooperation is important when there are only so many machines, barbells and dumbells to go around for a large number of members.

Don't bring gym bags onto the gym floor.

First and most important, they are a hazard and clutter up the floor. Plus, this is how small items like cable attachments and dumbells walk out the door. Some gym owners even feel that bags on the gym floor make selling steroids easier for those people who would do so that openly. Theft of your possessions is also a possibility. You're wiser to leave them safe in a locker.

Don't bring food into the gym.

Would you want to smell tuna or eggs while doing a set of squats? I know I wouldn't. I bring several meals to the gym each day because I start my day at 4:30 a.m., but I don't make other people smell my food while they work out. I eat outside or in my car and never bring food into the gym. Food on the floor makes the workout experience less intense too. Eating is what you should do once you've finished and left.

If someone is wearing headphones, that means he wants privacy.

A guy walking around the gym with head-phones on is usually wearing them to shut the world out while staying focused. Don't pull back one of his ear pieces to speak to him, and don't bother him unless you really need something. Some competitive bodybuilders train for competitions this way.

If someone asks you for a quick spot, give him one.

This has been an unspoken rule for years. Just as we should always let others work in, giving them a spot is simple courtesy. Trust me - they'd do the same for you if you needed one. That's what unifies us in any gym. We may not know one another, but we can become acquainted over a workout. Wear appropriate footwear. I know a lot of guys who work out in steel-toed boots, but I don't think the gym is any place for them. If you can't squat or do dead-lifts in regular athletic shoes, something is wrong! Steel-toed boots are intimidating to some members, and they spell trouble if a person becomes angry and decides to use them. People who wear open sandals into the gym are asking for broken toes. I know The Mecca doesn't allow them, and I don't know many gyms that do. The liability is too great. Wear appropriate footwear to the gym and you'll get a better workout.

Don't yell across the gym at your friends.

Like going into the supermarket and yelling across the aisles to your buddy over in produce, it's not the best practice. Is it a crime? No, but it doesn't do much for members who are trying to concentrate or are using their workouts to relax. Yelling disturbs the concentration of other members.

Don't hit on the opposite sex while they're working out.

Believe it or not, some people really are at the gym to work out, not to find a date. Making a woman or man feel as though he or she is being pursued and stalked across the gym floor makes going to that gym unpleasant for that person. Compliments are one thing, but comments that make a person feel uncomfortable are not appropriate. I can't tell you how many women have told me they feel intimidated because a pro bodybuilder has propositioned them. This "serial pursuit" can be just plain creepy!

Don't get exasperated at other members for taking their time with a set.

Check your anger at the door when you come to the gym. Having a bad day at work or taking too many steroids isn't a good excuse for getting angry with someone for simply taking his or her time with a set. Wait patiently for your turn.

Don't feel self-entitled just because you compete.

I see this scenario a lot, especially in Los Angeles. Certain competitive bodybuilders and fitness athletes somehow feel their workouts are more important than the average person's because they are working toward a tangible goal. Sorry, but this attitude doesn't wash. You're not more important. You only think you are!

Don't use foul language aloud in the gym.

You may feel profanity has its place because sometimes weight training can be painful and can anger us, but try to curb your tongue. There are all sorts of people training around you who may not think profanity has its place in any setting. Keep it to a minimum, and keep it under your breath. Don't risk offending other members.

Try to stay within time limits for cardio equipment.

If your gym has set time limits for the use of machines and/or cardio equipment, try to respect these limits. Usually 30 minutes per customer is the max. If you're doing cardio for an hour, try getting on a different type of apparatus to give yourself a change and respect the time limitation. There are usually people waiting in a busy gym because cardio equipment is typically the most popular.

Wait until a person has finished with his workout before picking his brain for advice.

If you're anything like me when I started, you probably want to ask a lot of people questions about working out. If you see someone whose physique you particularly admire, and you want to ask him how he got it, wait until he's finished with his workout before you approach him.

Don't offer unsolicited workout advice to other members.

You may know someone is training incorrectly, but don't offer your advice unless it's requested. The only exception is if someone is lifting without a spotter and is likely to sustain an injury unless you step in to help. In terms of form, however, let the person consult a personal trainer or gym employee.

Don't dress in ridiculous gear.

By this I mean don't wear gear that is all stretched, torn, gaudy, or too revealing. If you wear loose clothing, it could get caught on equipment. If you wear garments that are too revealing, no one is going to get anything done, and you'll be branded either a weirdo (if you're a man) or an easy mark (if you're a woman). No matter what, inappropriate gear makes you look like an idiot.

Be courteous to desk personnel, trainers and maintenance people.

These people work hard to see that your experience at the gym is a good one. Making enemies of these people isn't exactly a good idea. Plus, why would you want to be unfriendly to people who greet you with a smile every day.

Practice good hygiene habits.

No one likes to smell a sour armpit, look at filthy hair, or brush against unclean clothes. There is no excuse for poor hygiene in this day and age. If you're training hard, you're already going to be leaving in a less than clean state. Why add to it by showing up at the gym in that condition?

Don't wear perfume or cologne to the gym.

This is really one of my pet peeves. I can't stand doing cardio next to someone whose fragrance wafts over me. Getting a good workout in that environment is difficult. I usually end up moving to another area of the gym. Save your cologne for the dance club. No one at the gym appreciates it!

Wear appropriate undergarments.

I don't know a diplomatic way to put this, but failing to wear appropriate undergarments borders on exhibitionism. I don't want to see how you look outlined in tights and neither do any of the other people around you. No one needs to feel as if he or she is training next to livestock during breeding season.





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