A Guide To Proper Gym Etiquette

aka How Not To Suck At The Gym

I recently asked a bunch of people on Twitter what some of their biggest hurdles were in their desire to get in shape. The number one answer?

Being afraid of the gym.

I get it; new things can be scary. In no way do I want to discount your trepidation about stepping into a potentially intimidating environment.

But while at-home workouts are great to get you moving, get you on a regular exercise schedule, and preparing your muscles for the rigors of strength training, they will only get you so far.

Eventually, if you want to shed serious pounds and build muscle, you are going to have to get on a strength training program.

And more than likely, that is going to require joining a gym.

So let us take a minute and talk about the realities of going to the gym for the first time, proper gym etiquette, and getting over some of your fears.

Sound good?

Get Out Of Your Head

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Let’s start with the most important tidbit I can give you –

“No-one else cares about you, or your workout.”

That might sound a little harsh, but so many people are afraid of setting foot in the gym because they are too self-conscious.

Ashamed of their appearance, or worried about how they look as they exercise for the first few times, in the gym.

Here’s the truth though, no-one cares.

I know you don’t believe me, but 90% everyone in a gym is just worried about their own workout (or how they look in the mirror;) not how you look or what you are doing.

I promise!

  • The super-ripped dude with the Captain America arms? He’s busy trying to figure out how to get even bigger.
  • That dude-bro, strutting around in his spaghetti string tank top? He’s too busy looking in the mirror admiring himself.
  • The woman on the rowing machine? She is trying to work up the confidence to head over to the free weights.
  • That older guy stretching? He just wants to not wake up too sore in the morning.
  • The guy crushing it on the treadmill? He’s just hoping that he isn’t sweating too hard.
  • Oh, and that guy? He’s self-conscious too.

And as to the remaining 10% of people who might actually take notice, they all realize one very important thing.

Everyone starts out as a level 1 Newbie!

Proper Gym Ettiquette - The Jerd 2Personally, I started going to the gym in high school because I was skinny… like, super skinny. And just like those old Charles Atlas ads I used to see in the back of my favorite comic books, I wanted to get in shape!

And even in the vortex of social suck that was high school, when I set foot in the weight room all the day-to-day, hormonal cruelty disappeared for that glorious, sweaty hour of lifting.

The fact is, no-one is going to judge you because you’re out of shape; and if they notice you at all, they will be supportive and helpful because they were once there too.

And they remember what it was like to get started!

I promise you, there’s no reason to be scared.

Besides, remember what Yoda said about being afraid:

“Fear is the path to the dark side.” – Yoda

Since we all know that Yoda is wise; set aside your fears young Padawan, and take a second to gather your thoughts.

Then make your way over to the free weights section!

Free Weights Are Your Friend

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The free weights section of the gym is where the real heroic transformations occur.

Young, old, male, female, in shape, out of shape, overweight or skinny… none of it matters.

You’ve just as much right to the free weights section as anyone.

You pay the same monthly membership fee as the giant, muscled guy bench pressing 300 lbs at a blistering pace, so don’t sweat it if you are only able to slowly put up a third of that weight.

Your workout is just as important as anyone else’s!

Even if you aren’t ready to graduate to a full-fledged strength training program, I want you to try to start incorporating free weight training into your gym visits.

You don’t have to abandon your cardio-kickboxing or pilates classes, and you don’t have to give up running on the treadmill. But I do want you to pick one free-weight exercise and give it a shot.

Free weights are the key to:

So please don’t sleep on the free weights, no matter how intimidating it might be at first.

If you have questions on form, ask on of the gym’s personal trainers. That’s what they are there for!

And if you are still nervous?

Don’t look around. Don’t think about anyone else or what they are doing. Just put your earphones in, crank your favorite song, and think about nothing else but the exercise you are doing and how you are taking another step on the road to a stronger, healthier you.

Once you get through your first few sets, and realize no-one is paying you any mind, you will start feeling like you belong at the gym.

And once you belong, you will want to stay in everyone’s good graces!

Hang In There And Don’t Be That Guy

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No-one wants to be “That Guy”.

We all know at least one “That Guy,” and nobody likes him!

So here are my unwritten rules for existing peacefully in the gym eco-system, and not disturbing the natural order of things.

Because, ultimately, I think that is where most people’s fear of the gym comes from. Fear of making mistakes that draw unwanted attention.

I think the biggest reason we’re afraid of gyms is that we don’t want to make mistakes, and we don’t want to appear foolish.

So here are a few things to keep in mind as you acclimate to gym life:

  1. Put your weights back: There’s nothing more irritating than trying to do a set and finding the equipment you need loaded up with a bunch of weight on it. If you don’t have time to put away your weights and equipment back where it belongs, then you don’t have time for that exercise!
  2. Wipe it down: Anytime you need a bench to do an exercise (bench press, military press, flies, etc…) you need to be wiping it down afterwards. No-one wants to sit down in a pool of your left-over, cold sweat. *shudder*
  3. Don’t hog the equipment: Don’t set up your weights on multiple stations at the same time. Just don’t. Only occupy one piece of equipment at a time whenever possible… and don’t be afraid to “work in” (trading off using the equipment in between sets) or let others do the same; especially if either of you have more than two sets left. Plus it is a great way to get to know some of the other members too!
  4. Use equipment correctly: This one is simple (and a major pet-peeve of mine). The squat rack is for squatting, not for #$@%ing bicep curls or other vanity exercises!
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for a spot: If you are doing heavier compound muscle exercises like bench press or squat, don’t be too scared to ask for a spot. Not only does it make your workout infinitely safer, but your spotter will also more than likely help you push through that last repetition that you wouldn’t be able to do on your own. Remember, we’re all in the gym trying to get better together, and even the strongest lifters will still need a spot, so just ask.
  6. Put down your #$@%ing phone: Texting. Phone conversations. Selfies. These days you can’t step into a gym and without seeing a sea of phones. Don’t join in on the madness! Every minute you are sitting on a piece of equipment playing with your smart phone, that is a minute someone else has to wait to get to their next exercise. Not only is it rude, but it also lengthens the time you need to spend in the gym because invariably you will spend way too much time between sets while you are screwing around on your device. Just stop it.

There is one more on this list, and it pains me to even have to list it, but I feel that it must be said.

  • The gym is not a nightclub: Guys, I am going to say this one time. I am not going to explain it, I am not going to elaborate on it, and it is not up for discussion. Don’t hit on the ladies while you (or they) are working out! Are we clear? Good.

The last thing I want to remind you of is that you are going to need to hang in there… just like getting in shape is not an overnight thing, neither is feeling comfortable at the gym. It is going to take time, so ease into it and please be patient.

It is worth it!

So do you have any other tips, or unwritten rules of the gym, that I might have missed? Speak up in the comments below!

(Photo credit #1, Photo #4 credit, Photo credit #5)

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