Gym Etiquette 101

Advice for novice lifters and a refresher for gym veterans: you may be strong, but you don’t have to be a brute.

By Advaita Sood

2023: the new year. As with every new year, we usher this one in brimming with resolutions but rarely with the will to see them through. However, this article is for those of you who plan on sticking to one of them—particularly, the resolution to go to the gym more often. If you are already a frequenter of the gyms at Ratner and Henry Crown, keep reading anyway; the following remarks will remind you of the nuances of that oft-forgotten, all-important practice: gym etiquette. 

Underlying every rule of gym etiquette is the understanding that, at the gym, you must exercise empathy just as much as you do your muscles. You may have seen it in Kant, Plato, or Gandhi, but I find it most simply distilled in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Also, regardless of how hopped up you are on whatever anabolic cocktail you consumed to prepare for your workout, try to exercise common sense to the best of your abilities. 

Rule No. 1: Rerack your weights. This is the most fundamental rule of gym etiquette. Leaving the plates on a barbell after you finish your sets forces the person after you to waste time and energy and is just plain annoying. Additionally, leaving dumbbells strewn across the floor after you finish using them causes clutter, makes it difficult for others to find them, and is a safety hazard. Reracking your weights is like putting down the toilet seat: It only takes a few seconds, but it goes a long way. 

Rule No. 2: Do not hoard weights or machines. In other words, do not be inconsiderate. If you happen to be supersetting exercises with different machines (performing two different exercises back-to-back for a certain number of sets) or doing drop sets (doing the same exercise with successively lower weights and no rest in between), allow others to use one of the machines or set of dumbbells while you use the others or rest. 

Rule No. 3: Wipe down benches and machines after you use them. We cannot control how much we sweat. Still, that is no reason for you to turn a gym bench into a Slip N Slide. Few, if any, would like to simmer in a pool of someone else’s bodily fluids. Therefore, clean up after yourself, especially if you are one of those unfortunate beings who cannot help but slobber from every pore of your body at every chance you get. Better yet, place a towel beneath your most hazardous outlets. 

Rule No. 4: Wear deodorant. Many find in the gym a sanctuary, a place where one can clear one’s mind through physical exertion away from the superficialities of the modern world. While this is all well and good, one must remember that the gym is still a public place: You will come into contact with other people, people who would rather not be subject to the various fumes that are the inevitable byproducts of your exertion. Therefore, in the spirit of mindfulness and general decency, before you leave your room, take a moment to spray yourself with something that will mask the odors you may produce. While you may be a beast in the gym, it is best not to smell like one. 

Rule No. 5: Respect personal space. This is where some of that common sense comes in. If you’re waiting for someone to finish using a piece of equipment, do not hover and stare. Definitely do not try to talk to someone while they’re performing an exercise lest they lose focus and hurt themselves (or, out of rage, you). And finally, refrain from wooing, courting, or “hitting on” people. Although it is a public setting, one’s intent in going to the gym is generally to exercise, not socialize. If you happen to be particularly entranced by someone and feel compelled beyond reason to talk to them, choose your timing wisely—perhaps after they finish their workout or during a water break (though some may argue that even this is unacceptable). In fact, choosing your timing is the key to interacting with others at the gym—with the exception, of course, of staring at people (though even this, arguably, is acceptable under a few, extremely limited set of circumstances, such as when one finds another gym-goer lifting absurd amounts of weight). 

Rule No. 6: Withhold unsolicited advice. Try not to offer unsolicited advice; most do not take kindly to that sort of thing. Of course, this particular matter is fairly circumstantial. For instance, should a fellow lifter’s form be so egregious that advising them becomes a matter of public safety, it might be appropriate to have a word with them about it. Besides this, advice may also be warranted if you are a veteran gym-goer and you see a novice struggling with an exercise. Still, perceptions can be tricky, so think twice before saying anything. If you do decide to advise someone, broach the topic cautiously, like approaching a doe in the woods—gym-goers, despite their brawny exterior, are often quite sensitive about their gym-related knowledge. 

Finally: Do not bring your dog.