I made the mistake of going to the gym with two of my kids yesterday, on Presidents day, at 12:30 in the afternoon. Since I pretty much work seven days a week, I forgot that some people have Presidents day off. In addition, school is out for vacation. So needless to say, the gym was beyond crowded. You could also say it was a real shit show.
Bars were strewn about, loaded with plates. Crap was left everywhere. Available equipment was at a minimum, and if you wanted to get anything accomplished, you really had to be assertive.
With that said, it was a solid opportunity to teach my kids how to navigate the gym floor in a busier setting. It was a perfect opportunity to teach them how to (politely) work in sets on equipment between other people. There was also a plentitude of examples of what not to do and how not to behave in a commercial gym.
I’m proud to say that when my kids go to the gym with me, they always put their toys away, as do I. They partly do it because I’m there to make sure it happens. I also make sure to set a positive example of how to be respectful when working amidst others.
My kids have been there at my side when I’ve had to remind a fellow gym goer that we are all sharing . When some guy has to stop in the middle of his dips to walk over to me where I’m setting up the cable machine for one of my kids, to say to me as asocially as possible, “Hey, I’m using that”. That’s when I look him straight in the eye and politely but firmly say, “We’re gonna work in some sets, ok?”
It’s never been a problem.
These are opportunities to show my kids how to negotiate, so to speak, but also how to move amongst the flow in a busy setting. I want them to be active throughout their lives. I don’t want the gym to be a place that intimidates them.
When it comes to things like courtesy and etiquette, I do get that some people are less experienced or new in the gym setting. Some people are nervous. Some people forget things. Some people just never learned how to work in with others or never thought about it. And, alas, there will always be the thankfully rare exceptions who really are assholes.
So today I’m sharing with you my top tips on how to act like a civilized, thoughtful human being when you’re at the gym. This is going to go beyond the usual basics of “put your things away and wipe down any equipment you used.” There may be some stuff you’ve never thought about and this may also teach you how to better navigate the gym floor yourself.
1. Pick up your shit
We’ll start with the most obvious one. It’s amazing this even has to be said. Put your stuff away. And yes, especially you people who throw three 45’s on either side of a bar in the squat rack, 6 feet high, realize you can’t squat it, and walk away just leaving it there for someone else like myself, barely 5’4, to come along and put it away. And that’s just so I can do some warm up sets. Same goes for the deadlift station. If you’re man or woman enough to load that shit, you best be putting it away too.
And this goes for any other equipment you use. Bands, medicine balls, bar clips, plyo boxes, bumper plates, those little 5 lb increments you use on the cable pulleys, and any attachments. ALL of it. Put it where it goes when you’re done so other people can find it when they need it. Duh. You’re at a gym. Quit being lazy.
Oh, and yes, while we’re at it, wipe up your greasy sweat. No one wants to see it let alone have to clean it. We’ll touch on another hygiene tip later.
Pretend you’re in kindergarten and you already learned how to do this. Seems so easy, no? Look, we’re all at the gym for the same reason, and while some of you may have the whole day to hang out and do bicep curls, most of us have places to be. Be considerate of that fact. We all pay for a membership. So unless your membership had a special clause that said you get exclusive use of all equipment at all times, follow these tips:
Let people work in with you.
Yeah, I know, but you’ve got your machine on the right settings and your towel daintily thrown over the seat pad. So, move them. While you’re resting between sets, go do another exercise that compliments the one you just did, or just step aside and wait. How many reps are you doing anyway? Let someone else work in their 8-12 reps and then you get another turn. See how easy that is? Quit pretending you’re a protester at a sit in.
And if you’d like to be extra courteous, I recommend also leaving things the way you found them. If you had to change the other person’s seat setting or weight selection, put it back the way you found it. If you’re not sure how, or can’t remember, politely tell the other person. They’ll appreciate you being thoughtful and they’ll most likely remember that the next time you ask to work in.
Make sure you’re a good match
Now, on the flip side of this sharing coin, there are also other things to consider. I once had a guy ask if he could work in deadlifts with me. He failed to mention that he’d be pulling six plates for a warm up. I was still new to deadlifting at the time, and only pulling two. Just helping to load and unload the plates between our sets wasn’t only annoying. It tired me out to the point that it affected my deadlifts. I learned my lesson that day. Same goes for squats. If you’re going to ask to work in with someone, make sure they are a good match for you. Nobody wants to spend half their workout loading and unloading tons of plates.
(If I get to the gym and the deadlift platform is in use by someone pulling heavy, I’ll politely ask how much longer they’ll be. If it’s going to be a while, I just set up another bar on the floor wherever there’s space, and get to pulling. If all the squat racks are full, and everyone is into heavy sets, I wait for a rack to open up. If you politely ask people when they’re going to be done, it moves them out sooner if they aren’t seriously working. Now, if someone is in the squat rack doing push ups or bicep curls, or whatever, I’m going to them first. That stuff can be done elsewhere.)
3. Be aware of your surroundings
Try to practice some level of awareness when you’re working around other people. While it’s not your job to know what everyone else is doing all the time, it is good to be somewhat cognizant. If someones been alternating several sets on the cable machine, and you walk over during one of their rest breaks, and just start reorganizing everything, you could lose a friend.
If things look “set up”, or someones water bottle is sitting there, and you’re not sure, just ask somebody. Usually other people standing around in that area will know if someone was working and coming back. That doesn’t mean you can’t work in, but if that person is nearby, it is nice to just give a quick “okay if I work in?” They may say yes. They may say, “Let me just get this last set in”. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone tell me no.
Furthermore, be smart about what you do and where you do it. For example, don’t set up to do a HIIT workout by the squat racks, or bench stations, where people are handling heavy weight. They don’t need the added stress of you jumping around them like a banchee.
And stay the hell away from the dumbbell racks. Grab your weights and step back several feet so that other people can get to the dummbells while you’re ‘miring yo self in the mirror. People shouldn’t have to stand there and wait for you to finish staring into your own eyes while you do endless sets of combination lateral, front raises.
4. Wash your gym clothes after every workout
I cannot believe this even has to be said. Some of you people smell like moldy milk. It’s pretty offensive. Please wash your gym clothes.
5. Don’t lurk like a creeper
Do you know how embarrassing it is when your 16 year old daughter has to say to you, “Eww. Mom, that guy on the bike keeps staring at your butt.”
No? Well, trust me, it’s pretty embarrassing. And it’s not like I don’t already know when a man is staring at me like he hasn’t seen a woman in years. It’s just hard to avoid when your kids see it and now need therapy for the rest of their lives.
And even if a man or woman is at the gym alone, without their kids, don’t stare at them! If you think you’re being discreet in a gym with mirrors on practically EVERY wall, guess again. And yes, even if people have headphones on, they can still SEE you staring at them. Show some self restraint, for god sake.
(If you go to the gym between the hours of 7-9pm, specifically to hit on people, disregard this tip. Everyone knows those are the pick up, meat market hours. Stare away.)
So, I hope this was helpful. I do have one more tip. Don’t ever leave your phone unattended, when your daughter is in the locker room with you, and you have to use the bathroom. The next time you open your camera, this is what you’ll find.
This post was meant in good fun, and if it ticked you off, you may have some unresolved issues to work out. I would like to say, in my many years of working out at a gym, I find that if you respect others, they respect you back. It’s that simple, folks.
See you at the gym!