The DH Guide to Gym Etiquette

We’d all love to live in a perfect world. Aside from everything else that’d be perfect, we’d all be able to train in private gyms, free of the ubiquitous bullshit that’s unavoidable in your typical commercial facility. You know exactly what I’m referring to when I talk about “private gyms”: those private athletic facilities you’ve seen in all the magazines and websites showing how professional athletes train. In this perfect world, every gym would have twenty power racks with deadlift platforms, Prowlers, Woodway treadmills, and a 50-yard strip of lined field turf for sprinting—among other things.

Instead, most of us get the local Planet Fitness. We hate it, but that’s how life works. No matter how seriously we take our training, most of us aren’t college and professional athletes, and we’re stuck with this shit—and there’s not a hell of lot we can do about it.

Although it can be an issue, the biggest problem with these places—aside from their management—isn’t the quality of their equipment. It’s the clientele. Your typical commercial “big box” gym has too many people “working out” at the same time—and let’s face it: most of these people have no idea what they’re doing, and they’re in the way.

It’s a sad fact of life that most human beings simply aren’t equipped to deal with each other in a civil manner when they’re thrown together in a cramped environment—and even when the majority of them can handle it, all it takes is one asshole to ruin the experience. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in your neighborhood big box gym, where oblivious inconsideration of one’s fellow man—or woman—seems to be a requirement for membership. 

With that said, we’d like to do something to improve this situation. Believe it or not, it’s possible to not irritate the crap out of other people in the gym by following a few simple suggestions. Start here, and you’ll be well on your way to…well…not being an asshole:

messygym1.  Put everything away where it belongs. This one is universal—regarding all equipment—and it’s a problem at every commercial gym on the planet. Do the people who leave their dumbbells on the floor and their plates on every barbell expect everyone to clean up after them wherever they go? Or do they act this way because of the “coolness” factor? Is it not cool to put your shit away after you’ve used it? There’s absolutely no excuse for this one. Returning your equipment to its proper place is part of your workout.

2.  Leave a smaller footprint. Let’s say you’ve started off your workout doing something on a flat bench near the dumbbell rack, and you’re performing your second exercise on a machine on the other side of the gym. If this is the case, there’s no reason for your phone, your water bottle, your towel, and your jacket to still be sitting on that flat bench, a hundred or more feet from the piece of equipment you’re currently using. Put your shit in a locker, or keep it in a gym bag and carry it with you.

3.  Learn the meaning of “spatial awareness”: Cardio version. If your commercial gym has 30 treadmills, and 29 of them are empty, don’t use the one immediately next to the only guy who’s there. This is the same thing as taking a leak next to someone in a public bathroom when there are multiple open urinals. It’s just weird, and borderline felonious. Go find your own space, and leave people alone.

4.  Learn the meaning of “spatial awareness”: Weights version. When you see someone in a power rack or regular squat rack lifting with very heavy weight, there’s no reason for you to stand directly behind him doing reverse curls with a 20 pound fixed barbell. Now, you have every right to do this exercise whenever you want—and since we’re assuming you’re a fully paid member, you also have the right to stand wherever you want, too. All we’re suggesting is to have some respect for the personal space of people who are actually doing something worthwhile. So stop bothering them and go over by the mirror, okay?

gymphone5.  Go outside if you need to use the phone. Yes, this is the obvious one, and it’s a bit of a cliché by now, but it’s still a massive problem. The gym floor is not the place where you need to be talking on the phone. If it’s a family or work emergency, simply stop what you’re doing and move to an area where you’re not bothering anyone. That whole pacing the floor thing with your phone? Not a good look, bro. Nobody cares.

6.  Please get the fuck out of the way. Unless you have 500 pounds or more on the bar and you’re training for a powerlifting meet, you don’t need to monopolize any piece of equipment by taking ten minute rest periods. One thing we consistently see in big box gyms is that people simply don’t get enough work done. This experiment may take you several hours—or even days—but you’ll eventually see someone trying to squat at your local Planet Fitness. We want you to observe them. As soon as they’re done looking for the protective “tampon” pad and loading 25 pound plates on the bar, they’ll proceed to do absolutely nothing for at least 5-8 minutes—pissing off, in the process, anyone who’s actually waiting to get something accomplished. Move it along, please.

7.  If you’re doing a stupid exercise, don’t ask the guy who’s squatting how many sets he has left. When you walk up to a guy who’s doing full squats with multiple plates on either side of the bar and ask him what’s he’s got left, you’d better not be doing so because you need the rack to do reverse wrist curls. We’re all paying the same money for our memberships, but not all exercises are created equal. Everything comes in second to the big three—and if you have to ask what the “big three” are, you may as well stay home. Instead of bitching about us, put a fucking barbell on your back and join us.  

8.  Watch where you’re walking. When there’s an exercise or movement in progress, and you’re walking from one place to another, it’s your job to stay out of the way, especially if the person performing the lift is staying “in bounds” relative to the piece of equipment he or she is using. In other words, if you’re stupid enough to bump into someone who’s bench pressing or squatting, you need to just go home and stay there.

hover9.  Watch where you’re talking. We’re not denying the presence of a certain social aspect to places like Planet Fitness, et al, but even in big box enviroments, there are places where talking is okay, and places where it’s not. If you see some guy working his ass off with a barbell or on a machine, it might be better for you and the rest of the coffee klatch to set up camp and talk about last night’s game somewhere other than three feet in front of his face. That’s inconsiderate, annoying, and disrespectful. Even if you’re not there to train hard, some people are, and they deserve your consideration.

10.  Don’t ask for a spot with compound lifts if you’re not using a full range of motion. Unless you’re an expert lifter and have a legitimate reason for performing a quarter or half-squat, or a half-range bench press—and, honestly, most people at Planet Fitness won’t have any reasonable justification for doing this—don’t interrupt someone to ask for a spot. Take some weight off the bar and learn how to do the damned exercise properly. Unless you’re board pressing—or you have an injury issue—a correct bench press goes all the way down to your chest. And unless you’re doing something very specific, a proper squat entails descending to at least parallel depth. Ask for a spotter for anything less, and you’re wasting everyone’s time—especially your own.