The unwritten don’ts of gym etiquette

Seasoned Fitness First personal trainer and lifter Ellie Silvers on what you can do for an enjoyable time at the gym.

Walking into the gym for the first time can be particularly daunting. You see so many people consumed in their own little worlds, doing their own thing and using foreign pieces of equipment as if it’s second nature. Spend long enough in the gym environment and you’ll learn that there is, in fact, an unspoken, universal code of conduct, with a number of dos and don’ts to follow. Key elements of this code are worth knowing because they’ll make your gym experience (and that of other gym-goers) much more enjoyable if you adhere to them.

1. Hogging a particular piece of equipment or bench

What’s worse than discovering the piece of equipment you want to use is taken? Finding that all other alternatives are taken, too. There’s only a certain amount of equipment in each gym and, especially during peak time, there isn’t enough for everyone. That means it’s particularly important to share whatever piece of equipment you’re using with other members and trainers. The same goes when someone is using a piece of equipment or bench that you’d like to use. One of the best ways to go about this is to wait for the person using the equipment to finish their set, approach them politely and ask if you can share with them or “jump in” between sets. Then, when one of you is resting, the other can perform their set and vice versa.

2. Not putting equipment away

This one is pretty self-explanatory. After you finish an exercise, put away what you used. If you’re not sure where something goes, ask the staff or another gym-goer who appears to know the gym quite well. If you’ve been using a barbell, be sure to rerack the plates that you used on the bar. If you’re strong enough to load the bar, you’re strong enough to unload it, too.

3. Standing in a lifter’s line of sight at the squat rack or platform

Imagine someone is eyeing down a loaded barbell, psyching themselves up for a heavy squat or deadlift. That individual is clearly trying to get in the zone, so having someone walk straight in their line of sight and start performing an exercise (or even just stand in front of them) is extremely off-putting and also dangerous. If someone is about to perform a squat and you want to use the squat rack facing them (or even just load or unload the bar), wait until they’ve finished performing their set and racked the bar before beginning your own set.

4. Interrupting or speaking to someone while training

This is one is definitely circumstantial. The gym can be a relaxing, social place for many members, although for some, time spent there is often capped. If someone is clearly in a rush, don’t engage in conversation with them and allow them to complete their training session in time.

5. Curling in the squat rack

This is a bit of a gym joke, but if you’re caught performing bicep curls in the squat rack, you’re bound to get a few snide looks from fellow gym-goers! Why? Because squat racks should be used to perform predominantly barbell-based exercises that would be very difficult to execute elsewhere. These include squats, overhead presses and often even bench presses and deadlifts. If you’re performing bicep curls in the squat rack (or any other exercise that could very easily be performed somewhere else), please consider those who specifically need to use the rack for exercises that can’t be performed elsewhere in the gym.

6. Saying you can spot someone if you’re not sure what to do

This is more of a safety issue than just gym etiquette. A “spot” is assistance during a lift, in case the individual can’t complete the set. If someone asks you for a spot, but you feel uncomfortable, simply tell them and decline. Similarly, if you feel like you may need somebody to spot you, approach someone who appears to know what they’re doing in the gym. This will likely take place during a squat or bench press, so be sure to tell the person how many reps you’re going for before commencing the set, as well as any other information they need to know (and vice versa). 

7. Poor hygiene – not wiping down equipment after use and training while unwell

The gym is a place with a lot of sweat and a lot of sweaty people, obviously. This means germs can spread very easily throughout the place. Think about it – someone with a slight cold decides to come into the gym and “sweat it out”, uses a few pieces of equipment, doesn’t wipe them all down and then just a few minutes later, another person comes to use the same piece of equipment. If that individual doesn’t pick up some of the germs, someone else after them will, and it could potentially be spread very easily and very quickly. So in terms of general hygiene, don’t show up to the gym sweaty, wear deodorant, wipe down pieces of equipment after use, wash your hands thoroughly before and after training and, most importantly, if you’re feeling at all sick, don’t come to the gym and infect others.

8. Filling up your water bottle at the fountain

This one is pretty minor, but if you’re at the water fountain busy filling up your bottle and there’s a line of people behind you wanting to take a quick sip from the bubbler, let them go first. #ItsTheSmallThings