A Beginner’s Guide to Gym Culture and Etiquette

17-PP-1052-SOCIAL-Gym You don’t need 20-inch biceps, a 200-pound bench press, or designer fitness apparel to look and feel at home in the gym.  You just need to understand the unique and specific set of rules that govern gym culture.  Don’t worry; it’s mostly common sense.

Most people know enough to re-rack their weights and wipe down their machines after use, but here are a few additional tidbits that may be less obvious to those just beginning their fitness journey.

Be aware of equipment.  You know that flat bench that you’re resting your towel and water bottle on while you dive into a set of standing bicep curls?  That’s not a park bench – it’s a piece of equipment that Social Media Man Dan has been waiting to use for 45 minutes.  Don’t rest your towel, your water bottle, your notebook, your phone or your behind on a piece of equipment that you’re not actively using.  Even if others are 99% sure you’re not using it, they may avoid the awkwardness of asking you and move on to a different exercise.

Don’t be a Chatty Kathy.  A quick phone call in between sets can stretch into long periods of time and annoy others who are more focused on their workouts.  Don’t talk on your phone while on the gym floor.  Period.  Using your phone for listening to music or texting is fine, provided you don’t lose track of time and occupy a piece of equipment longer than necessary.


Be aware of floor space use.  Some gyms have limited floor and studio space.  Resist the temptation to sprawl out in the weight training areas for your ab workout; use only designated spaces for floor exercises.  Also, occupy only the space that you require and do not enter a space in which you might disrupt the workout of someone else.

It’s not social hour.  While gym-goers expect and appreciate your happy, smiling face, most people are ‘in the zone’ during their workouts and wish not to be disturbed.  You may need to interrupt people from time to time for various reasons, but keep the interactions brief.

Using multiple pieces of equipment.  Some exercise routines require rotating quickly between different exercises on separate pieces of equipment.  Gym etiquette dictates that you’re only really entitled to one space at a time.  If you must use multiple machines, only do so when the 2 machines are relatively close to one another.  Expect that others will jump in on the machine you’re not using, and be polite when this occurs.

Working in.  Allow others to ‘work in’ – i.e. use your machine while you’re resting between sets.  Take advantage of this yourself; sharing equipment is a fully expected and reasonable request in all gyms.  Be especially courteous when using a high-traffic machine.

Don’t hover.  If you’d rather wait for a piece of equipment than work in with somebody else, don’t awkwardly hover nearby or stare daggers at the person in front of you until they finish.  Step away to re-fill your water bottle, wait elsewhere, or choose a different exercise.  Nobody wants to feel rushed through their workouts, so either ask to work in or allow some space to finish.

Use equipment for its intended purpose.  A bench press is for bench presses—not tricep dips, ab exercises or bicep curls.  Use high-traffic equipment like bench presses, squat racks and smith machines for their intended purpose or expect some eye rolls.  Wait until the piece of equipment intended for your exercise is available, or ask to work in.


Keep the air fresh.  Leave the heavy perfumes, colognes, and toxic spray deodorants at home.  The scent of chemicals in the air is off-putting in a gym setting.  Don’t smell bad, don’t smell good – just don’t smell.

Ignore the etiquette failures of others.  When others break any of the aforementioned rules, just let it go.  You’re likely to see these folks regularly for some time to come, and any confrontation may lead to future awkwardness and make you dread your gym visits.  Focus on yourself and keep the vibes positive.

A note on bodybuilding equipment.  This one I’m on the fence about; as a paying member of the gym, you’re in your right to use any piece of equipment you like.  However, as a beginner, you should know that certain machines are primarily used by those with intermediate and advanced levels of fitness, and many of these machines have alternatives suitable for beginners.  A leg press rack with stackable plates is a good example; use it if you like, but know that you may earn an eye roll or two from advanced gym-goers who feel that you could just as easily be using the smaller leg press machine.  They prefer the stackable plates because the maximum weight allowance is much higher.

Here are a few more tips from our Team Myology athletes:

Respect the weights.  “I get very tired of seeing people drop, slam and throw down weights after every single set. I’ve seen this in every lifter ranging from beginner to advanced.  I understand that people like to bring a certain kind of intensity to the gym, but what it shows me is a lack of respect for the equipment, control required to perform the exercise and courtesy for those around you.”   – Travis Gardner


Ask for help.  “Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, whether it be a spot or advice on a certain exercise. Nothing is more painful than seeing someone perform an improper squat or deadlift that could potentially lead to injury. Most experienced gym-goers are more than happy to help.”  – Jeremy Potvin


Be aware of the mirrors. 
“It’s considered poor gym etiquette to walk or stand in front of people using mirrors, because for some exercises, like squats, it’s the best way to maintain the correct form.  It doesn’t matter how good you look!” – Tim McComsey


Leave your ego at home.  “The gym is a place to better yourself both physically and mentally. Don’t be that guy who scours the gym for every 45-pound plate possible to load onto the leg press only to execute the movement with poor form.  Chances are he looks the same year in and year out because of the way he works out.  The average gymgoer is not concerned with how much weight you are moving, nor should you be.” – Daniel Zukich


Always consult a physician before beginning any exercise program.


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One Comment

  1. Posted March 15, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Very nice! Thank you for sharing these tips.

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