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Basic Guidelines: Tips on Proper Gym Etiquette Part 3

Monday, February 01, 2010 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD
In the past 2 posts in the series on proper gym etiquette we’ve covered what you should wear at the gym and what personality you should avoid adopting while there. Thanks to all for all the great comments on those 2 posts – it is a whole lot more fun for us when our readers join the conversation (Hint: please continue to do so!)

In the last post in the gym etiquette series, I will wrap up some loose ends, and cover some basic guidelines you can follow next time you head over to your local fitness establishment.

1. Clean up after yourself: This is pretty straightforward. Whether you are done with a cardio machine or any piece of equipment and you left behind a serious pool of sweat, please wipe it down with the towels and alcohol spray that is available at all gyms (I hope, at least). There is nothing more gross and frustrating than getting to your exercise machine of choice to find it covered in someone else’s juicy efforts.

2. Share equipment: When the gym becomes very busy, as mine has been of recent, it becomes difficult to get your routine completed given the traffic. If you are using a bench, and are combining with other exercises performed all over the gym or are taking long breaks between each set, allow others to work in on the equipment with you. These days most of my exercises are done “working in” on equipment someone is already using. If you see someone hogging a piece of equipment that you need to use, just approach politely and ask: “Do you mind if I work in with you?”

3. Safety First! Because many people (mostly guys) feel the need to compete with others at the gym, safety is very often overlooked. While I sometimes think injury to the person acting inappropriately may be a good lesson, it is particularly scary when the actions of one buffoon put others in danger. Here are some basics:

- Always put collars on barbells to avoid weight plates from falling off onto your or someone else’s toes

- I can’t emphasize this enough: don’t pick up more weight than you can handle!

- When running on a treadmill, ensure you can handle the speed you just set, and also avoid looking all around you if your balance is questionable (treadmill wipeouts are dangerous and VERY embarrassing)

- If lifting heavier loads, particularly when doing exercises such as squats, bench press, shoulder press, etc. (any exercise where you can get trapped under your weights or when these are lifted over your head) always ask someone experienced for a spot. When someone spots your exercise, their purpose is to assist you with lifting of the load on the very last repetition (or 2) of that exercise when you are struggling to do it on your own. If you need serious help doing a single repetition of that exercise, it is unwise to go for more as this puts you and your spotter in danger. (I once had to spot a moron on the bench press who could not perform even half a repetition of the exercise without my help, yet continued to do 6 repetitions – with me having to lift close to 100% of the load. I refused to spot this individual on subsequent exercises – don’t become the person no one will spot for fear of injuring themselves.

4. Come clean/leave sweaty: There is nothing wrong with leaving the gym covered in sweat, maybe even smelling a bit rich. In fact, I commend those who actually work their butts off at the gym over those who fall asleep on the recumbent bikes reading novels. Nevertheless, just because you will eventually end up sweaty and gross you should make an effort to arrive clean and wearing fresh clothing. Unshowered bodies develop a foul smell MUCH quicker than showered ones, and re-wearing previously worn gym clothes is never a good idea (unless of course, you want all the equipment in your vicinity to be evacuated so that you get exclusive use). In a previous gym I used to work out at, there was one gentleman who came everyday wearing the same sweat-stained white t-shirt and grey track pants, who would fill the entire space with the scent of a dead carcass within minutes of arrival. After enough complaints from other gym members (I can attest it was almost unbearable), the staff had to ask the fellow to wash himself and wear clean clothes to come back.

As this  is all the venting that I need to do for the time being, this completes our series on proper gym etiquette. Thank you for letting me get years of frustration off my chest – I feel much better (I never imagined how therapeutic blogging could be). For further discussion on proper gym etiquette from a female perspective, please check out the excellent post by our friend ERV over at Also, as always if you have any thoughts or personal experiences you'd like to share please leave a note in the comments section below.

Peter Janiszewski

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6 Response to "Basic Guidelines: Tips on Proper Gym Etiquette Part 3"

  1. justjuliebean Said,

    That's outrageous and gross that the staff had to tell the guy to come back in clean clothes. I'm surprised some people can't smell themselves when everyone within 10 feet can't breathe.

    Posted on February 1, 2010 at 8:24 PM

  2. Anonymous Said,

    I've enjoyed all three parts of this series, but I would add a bit to the clean up point. First, in these days of swine flu, seasonal flu and whatever it is important to wipe equipment after you use it regardless of whether there is an actual pool of sweat. It's just good hygiene! Also, people should strip the weights off the machine when they're done and put them back in the proper place. I shouldn't have to go searching for that 25 lb dumbell someone drifted to the other side of the gym, or take someone else's weights off the bench press just because they think their workout time is more valuable than mine. Super pet-peeve!

    Posted on February 2, 2010 at 8:15 AM

  3. Anonymous Said,

    It annoys me when people do not sign up properly for the equipment. At the fitness centre I attend, you have to fill out a time slot for the treadmills/elliptical trainers and it is annoying when people do not sign up but go on anyway (in which case, I don't know when they'll be finished) or when people sign up, forget about it, and then when I get on they decided to go on the machine... you forfeited your turn! Ugh, that bugs me.
    It's funny when guys (sorry if it sounds sexist, but it is always a guy who does this), like two buddies, get on the treadmill and decide, "Dude, let's go as fast as we can." "yeah!" And then, two minutes later, they're walking. Heh.

    Posted on February 3, 2010 at 4:02 PM

  4. Murray Said,

    Why shower beforehand when you can slather yourself in cologne? People in the gym love that, don't they?

    Posted on February 10, 2010 at 12:07 PM

  5. Anonymous Said,

    This was wonderful. I truly truly enjoyed this. I am a manager at a gym and think ALL of this on a daily basis....especially the treadmill one. :) Although the wipeouts are sometimes just from exhaustion...the show-offs make it hard to substain my inner laughing.

    Posted on May 24, 2010 at 12:20 PM

  6. Komal Said,

    Me n my husband are joining a gym from today for the first time and was really concerned about few things regarding the gym etiquette. Thanks a lot for all you posts, they were quite helpful.

    Posted on July 13, 2010 at 12:46 AM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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