Gym Etiquette for Men - 15 DOs & DONTs

Rules of Civility: Gym Etiquette for Gentleman

The gym is the perfect place to be a gentleman. Whether you’ve been a gym member for years or  joining a gym in the U.S. for the first time, manners apply at the gym. With excellent workout etiquette, you’ll keep your stress low, stay out of other people’s way and reach your fitness goals. Today, I will outline the 15 DO’s and DON’Ts at the gym that guarantee your workout peers will hold you in high regard. Here are some suggestions for gym etiquette in the United States. You want to strive to enter the gym, perform your workout and leave. You never want to be THAT guy in the gym, the one that gets an evil eye at every opportunity.

1. Understand the Equipment

If you are new to a gym, you do not know how to use the equipment. Gym managers and owners want safe, happy customers. So go ahead and ask how to use a piece of equipment. Otherwise, you may do bicep curls in the squat rack or deadlifts with no training or injure yourself.

Rerack your weights and return your equipment to its proper home.

Rerack your weights and return your equipment to its proper home.

2. Return/Rerack Weights

Do not abandon dumbbells and weight plates on the floor. You make extra work for the employees and create potential hazards. Imagine walking between pieces of equipment and tripping over a lose weight plate or barbell. Loose equipment can cause far greater physical damage.  Kevin Ogar became paralyzed after he dropped a heavy barbell, which then hit weight plates on the floor behind him and severed his spine as it bounced  into his back.

Always work out in a clean space. Do not resent people who refuse to pick up after themselves. View the chance to return weights to their appropriate racks as a reminder that your safety is paramount. Do not assume the staff will put everything away within minutes. They have other duties, including private clients. Appreciate that the next person may not want those 45-pound plates on the bench press bar. Put all the plates and weights away. Every time. An additional benefit of returning your weights is this: Loading and unloading weights is a great part of the exercise routine. In fact, loading and unloading those weights replicates real-world activities like carrying a child or luggage. If you do not unload the weights, you miss an important  part of the routine.

Work-out without any weights on the floor around you

Work-out without any weights on the floor around you

3. Don’t Hog Machines or Equipment

If you’ll be longer than two minutes between sets, be a gentleman and let someone else use the equipment. You may also let them “work in.” This means while you rest between your sets, another person uses this equipment. If, for example, you are using the squat rack, when you rest they can perform your set. Sharing is good. But be mindful of tremendous weight differences. Using the squat rack as an example, if someone lifts 450 pounds and you lift 225, you will spend part of their rest set unloading and loading weights. This may lead you to rush through your sets and possibly injure yourself and waste their time as you reload their weights.

Courtesy dictates that you stay close to the equipment between active sets. Don’t be like that guy who puts a single kettle bell on a bench and walks away to use press machine for 3 complete sets. When you move the kettle bell to the floor he then remarks, “I’m using that bench!!” Use one piece of equipment at a time. When you step away, people can legitimately assume you are not using that particular piece of equipment. If you must use more than one, do so during slower hours.

If you’re using cardio equipment, 30 minutes per session at peak times is expected in the U.S. You are welcome to use the equipment for a longer period during off-peak times, of course, this rule only applies if there are no other cardio machines of the same kind available.

3. Don’t Lurk, Stare or Stalk Someone Using the Equipment

Most usual exercise routine with free weights, dumbbells and weight machines includes work-out sets and rest sets. It is sometimes hard to tell if a person is finished or just resting between sets. If you cannot tell the difference, please ask. Do not glare at them or complain to management or hover near them during their routine. They have as much right to the equipment as you do. A gym membership does not guarantee instant equipment availability only equipment access. A gentleman knows how to wait his turn with a smile. If you do not want to work in your sets, you may ask how long before they will finish. Once you have that information, find another piece of equipment to use. Watch the clock. Then make your way back to the first machine after the agreed upon time.

4. Do Not Drop Weights

Lifting heavier weights, especially pulling exercises like deadlifts, creates tremendous stress on the body during the eccentric or downward motion. You feel a tremendous urge to drop the weight. Do not drop the weight!  Most gym floors will not bounce. Dropped weights can damage the floor or the weights or you or some combination of all three.

5. Do Not Grunt, Scream or Make Strange Noises

The gym is not a zoo. Work hard but do so in relative silence.

6. Deal with Your Sweat

In the U.S., we have specific – and seemingly contradictory – cleaning rituals. In the gym the rituals go something like this: Barbells, dumbbells, weight plates and kettlebells do not need to be wiped down. If your back or bum touch a bench or if you use a piece of cardio equipment, wipe it down with a towel or, if available, disinfectant.

Carry a towel with you so you can wipe down the equipment when you are finished.

Carry a towel with you so you can wipe down the equipment when you are finished.

People Etiquette

7. Don’t Talk Loudly or Swear

Some people view the gym as an opportunity to stand around, model and talk. Not you. You are there to work. Headphones with inspiring music may help with some of this chatter. In silence, you focus on the movements of your routine. Working out in silence can also assist you in observing when you move into a range of motion that may cause injury. Many people find swearing offensive. Resist the urge to yell “fuck!” when you cannot lift that 100 pound dumbbell off the floor.

Be aware of your surroundings in the gym.

Be aware of your surroundings in the gym.

8. Don’t Ogle at Other sin the Gym

Most women visit gyms to work out. Occasional flirting is cool but ogling is not. You are there to improve and maintain your physical health. A date is a serendipitous accident and let me repeat, a gentleman does not ogle. Ever. Of course, the same is true for men.

9. Don’t Interrupt Classes

Like work, do not arrive late to class. Also do not interrupt a class to retrieve a piece of equipment.

Use your cell phone outside of the gym.

Use your cell phone outside of the gym.

10. Don’t Use Phones

Leave your cell or smart phone in your car or locker. Nobody wants to hear about your grandma’s surgery, your sex life or your business meeting on the phone, especially if you are swearing into the phone while doing pathetic sit-ups.

11. Pick Up After Yourself

Some people act as though their gym fee is money paid for a maid service. Pick up your protein bar wrappers, tape, clothes, hand towels and anything else you brought in with you. The same is true in the locker rooms.

Do not share your body odor with others at the gym.

Do not share your body odor with others at the gym.

12. Smell Nice

If you’re prone to body odor, use copious amounts of deodorant before working out. Make sure you wear clean gym clothes every time you work out. Your funky smell is yours. Others will appreciate you if you keep it that way.

13. Don’t Abuse the Water Fountain

In the U.S.,  you will find water fountains in gyms, not so much in other countries. These are the machines that dispenses water for you. It is not a sink for the remains of your protein drink, your coffee or apple core.

Share your best parts with your significant other.

Share your best parts with your significant other.

14. Wear a Towel

In the U.S., most men choose to wear a towel while in the dressing room. Like swearing, nudity is best done quietly. Too much (like the guy who walks around the locker room in a polo shirt, socks and sneakers and nothing else) and you’ll be THAT guy in the locker room. Save your gifts with your intimate partners. And for extra credit, use the hair dryer for your head hair only!

15. Be a Good Gym Steward

Let gym staff know when you find broken equipment or equipment that is about to fail. What other types of behavior annoy you at the gym? Please share them in the comments section.

23 replies
  1. Folgore
    Folgore says:

    I would also add: No matter how experienced you are, when you walk into a new gym, even as a guest who is invited over by a friend, always introduce yourself to the Staff or to the Instructor, possibly telling him beforehand what is your program. It’s a simple courtesy to acknowledge the role of the Staff and to seek for some advice, after all you’re the Guest and they’re the Hosts

      • Steve Musick
        Steve Musick says:

        One other important DON’T: If someone is working, whether with free weights or on a machine, and they are wearing earbuds, headphones, or some other listening device, DON’T start a conversation with them. This is hard and sometimes dangerous work. Let others concentrate on their workout, and you concentrate on yours and only yours!

  2. Laurent
    Laurent says:

    Agree with most except, to a point, for dropping the weights and making noise. Anyone lifting over twice or three time their body weight is entitled to some discrete vocal expression of their effort. I’m guessing that’s why deadlift platforms and squat racks are usually hidden in the far corners of most gyms.
    Past a certain work weight, deadlifts are bound to come back down hard and fast even if you try to hold them back a bit. If a gym doesn’t have bumper plates and a deadlift platform, better find a new one.
    OTOH, there’s no excuse for yelling and then dropping your 20lbs dumbbell while curling in the squat rack (true story)… :)

    • Jay Sennett
      Jay Sennett says:

      OTOH, there’s no excuse for yelling and then dropping your 20lbs dumbbell while curling in the squat rack (true story)… :)

      My true story concerns a gentleman who yelled each time he brought his knees to his chest in a leg lift chair.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      I think anybody who’s pushing himself is entitled to make a little bit of noise. Maybe the 115 that new guy is benching while grunting loudly is just as hard for him as the 300 that the veteran lifter is working with.

  3. Tom
    Tom says:

    One DON’T that must be added is DON’T go around in groups. Yes ok when you are doing particularly heavy weights you may need someone to spot you, But other than that going round in pairs (or even threes and fours as is often the case in my gym) is unnecessary, and causes congestion around machines and walkways.

    • Jay Sennett
      Jay Sennett says:

      Thank you for bringing up this point. After I read it, I realized several people at my gym behave this way, and you are correct. It does cause congestion.

  4. Xavier.S
    Xavier.S says:

    A couple of others:
    -If you see someone with wrong or even ridiculous form, don’t go up to them and correct them. Only when it’s getting to the point where it’s dangerous.
    - Leave your ego somewhere else, don’t bring it in the gym. Don’t use a ridiculous amount weight (I mean do it if you can handle it or going for a PR), don’t be the dude that will always try to outperform someone else, don’t make fun of the person using the 1lb plates. You’re there for yourself, not to impress others.
    - Don’t curl in the squat-rack. Actually, never do something else in the squat-rack other than squatting.
    - If you’re going to put your weights back, put it at the right place. 45′s with 45′s, 25′ with 25′s etc. If you use dumbbells in pairs, put them back together if you can.
    - Bring a towel to the gym as well, even if you don’t sweat that much.
    - Never talk or interrupt people during their sets.
    - Ask the personnel if you can use chalk. And be sure you’re lifting weights where you actually need the chalk.

    Other then that it depends on your gym. If you’re training/working out in a wellness centre, etiquette is going to be different than when you’re training at a gym where there are a lot of people powerlifting/bodybuilding. It will be more accepted (almost expected) to drop your weights when you’re deadlifting at a “real” weightlifting gym for example.

    This is just how I see it. Feel free to disagree or to ignore. It is just my experience.

    • GI Zhou
      GI Zhou says:

      In full agreement with you Xavier. Ina military gym on a base I was in the tropics the free weights were downstairs and we it was an old fashioned gymnasium with old mats, cyclone wire around it, an old fan with three foot blades and the smell of sweat. We had one rule which was ‘No dickheads’. Respect for everyone, bring a towel, help spot if free, put your weights away or help change them if sharing a bench for example. etc. Egos and rank were left at the door.

      • Jay Sennett
        Jay Sennett says:

        The wellness center mentioned by Xavier seems to be a place where poor etiquette happens. The old fashion gym you mention tends to scare the amateurs. Thanks for commenting.

    • Jay Sennett
      Jay Sennett says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences. I agree with everything you said though I’m leery of dropping weights on the floor. Very few gyms have the proper floor structure for such a downward force.

  5. Kory D.
    Kory D. says:

    Additionally, don’t think that because you are a regular with the gym body that you have more right to be there than the newbie that is skinny or obese. Everyone started somewhere, be respectful that they started the journey not disdainful that they as not as far along as you.

  6. Alex H
    Alex H says:

    I would like to add:

    * In the locker-room don’t lay your clothes and other items spread out on the benches, unless you’re the only person in there (which is rarely). And if someone has their locker right next to yours, offer to scoot over so they can get in. This is a SHARED space and not your boudoir.
    I had an experience where this guy took up two benches to lay out his things and then refused to move them when I tried to get to my locker, which was on the far end of bench two.

    • Jay Sennett
      Jay Sennett says:

      ” And if someone has their locker right next to yours, offer to scoot over so they can get in. This is a SHARED space and not your boudoir.”

      This. I’ve learned over the years some people remain detached from their immediate surroundings, which is to say they don’t pay attention.

  7. pep wahl
    pep wahl says:

    Agree with all, but would definitely add: don’t ever walk in front of someone who is doing an exercise, especially a squat, deadlift, or an olympic lift. walk behind, to the side, or wait until the lift/set is complete.

  8. Bumblebeedave
    Bumblebeedave says:

    A couple of more that really get my goat . . . First, grabbing the dumbbells, then doing your curls or whatever so close to the storage rack that nobody can get in to get any of the other weight weights. It’s that guy in the picture above number 8 in your list. But the biggie is people who step right in between you and the mirror so you can’t see your own form. I’ll be standing back ten feet or so, and they not only walk in front–they grab weights and start doing their set right between me and the mirror. They think there’s nobody in the gym but them. Absolutely infuriating.

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