Gym etiquette rules that you’re probably breaking

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There are a lot of unwritten rules of gym etiquette that newbies and gym rats alike may not know. This week, Dr. Jonathan Su, the Get-Fit Guy, provides nine tips for proper gym etiquette so that the only thing you have to worry about during your workout is your workout.

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Here are some tips for proper gym etiquette

Most people are in full swing with their New Year’s fitness resolutions. Gyms across the country are busier than usual, so I thought it would be timely to share tips for proper gym etiquette.

If you’ve never stepped foot inside a gym before or it’s been a while since you’ve gone, knowing the dos and don’ts will help you quickly feel comfortable, fit in and earn the respect of fellow gym-goers.

The last thing anyone wants is to show up to a place with long-standing norms, like the gym, and zig while everyone else is zagging. That’s like the person who shows up at the holiday work party without a gift for secret Santa.

If you’re a gym rat who’s familiar with the dos and don’ts, it still might be time for a refresher, especially when the gym is busier than usual. It’s easy to let gym etiquette go down the drain out of convenience when the gym is not so busy … at least I know it is for me!

For example, I love supersets, which is a strength training technique that involves switching back and forth between two different muscle groups instead of taking a break. This usually requires taking up two different pieces of workout equipment at once, which is poor etiquette when the gym is busy. (On a side note, this is why I ended up building a garage gym with all of the essential workout equipment.)

By following the nine tips for gym etiquette below, you’ll know what to expect of your fellow gym-goers and how to act at a gym so that the only thing you worry about during your workout is your workout.

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1. Have good hygiene

The worst thing anyone can do is show up at the gym with heavy body odor. Now, I understand that we’re humans and body odor is normal when we sweat. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about showing up to the gym in a state of good hygiene, which means wearing clean workout clothes and having body odor managed. It sounds simple, but it only takes one person to ruin the gym for everyone.

I remember going to a month-long yoga teacher training retreat in Hawaii several years ago, and one person did not believe in bathing or changing her clothes. Every time this person walked into the yoga studio, their stench from twice-daily workouts filled the room so powerfully that people literally vomited.

So, if your job is physically demanding and you’re showing up to the gym right after work, you might consider showering off at the gym and changing into fresh workout attire. If your exercise session includes a pool or a post-workout hot tub soak, you must shower beforehand, with soap.

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2. Ensure equipment is open

Before hopping on a piece of workout equipment, make sure it’s not being used by anyone. If you don’t see anyone on the equipment, it’s possible that they might be getting a drink of water or using the restroom.

If this is the case, you should see a towel, water bottle or something else on or near the equipment to indicate that it’s being used. If not, the equipment is free game.

On the other hand, if you do see indications that the equipment is being used but nobody shows up for 10 minutes, you can safely assume that the equipment is free. Respectfully set aside the belongings or let the gym staff do it for you.

As an aside, don’t leave your equipment for more than a few minutes. If you’re gone for 10 minutes or more, even if it’s for a valid reason like explosive diarrhea, expect someone to be using the equipment when you come back.

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3. Give others space

If you’re waiting for workout equipment to open up, it’s fair to ask the person in a friendly and respectful way how long they’ll need. If you’re willing to wait for the equipment, let the person know and then stand back.

There’s nothing more annoying than having someone circle the equipment like a hawk. Stand back about 8 to 10 feet so you’re close enough for others to know that you’re waiting but far enough to give the person exercising room to breathe.

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4. Check your surroundings

Check your surroundings before you start exercising to ensure that you’re not in anyone’s way. This is especially important if you’re using equipment that you can move around, such as dumbbells.

Don’t stand in front of someone who may be using the mirror to check their form while exercising. Also, don’t exercise in the same place where you just picked up the dumbbells from the rack because you’ll block others from accessing the equipment.

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5. Don’t monopolize equipment

For gym rats, this means no more than one piece of workout equipment at a time. If you need more than one piece of equipment at a time because you’re performing supersets or circuits, go to the gym when it’s less busy, like at 5 a.m.

The same goes for newbies, but the additional consideration here is to avoid using equipment that’s not for its intended purpose. For example, there’s usually only a few squat racks in a gym, so don’t perform dumbbell curls inside the squat rack just because it’s the only open mirror space.

Image Credit: Chainarong Prasertthai / istockphoto.

6. Keep socializing to a minimum

There’s nothing more annoying than having people socialize with other gym-goers or talk on the phone in workout spaces. The chatter and physical space that’s taken up is a distraction. If you must talk on the phone or socialize, do it in a common area away from where people are exercising.

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7. Know your limits

Gym rats are generally like sheepdogs to the newbie, and they’ll jump in to help if they see that you’re in trouble. That said, make sure you know your limits and progress the resistance or intensity of your exercises gradually to prevent everyone around you from stressing out about your safety.

For real, gym rats are always checking their surroundings, and if they’re in the middle of their workout and they spot a novice using an unsafe weight on a bench press, they’re going to be watching and ready to drop everything to pull that bar off your chest.

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8. Clean up after yourself

Always clean up after yourself after using a piece of equipment. I find that this is something that newbies are better at doing than most gym rats, maybe because the gym is like our second home and it’s easy to be way too comfortable at home.

Clean up after yourself by putting the dumbbells and plates back where they belong on the rack, even if you didn’t find them there. This also means disinfecting and wiping down the equipment with a paper towel or a towel that is not your sweat towel.

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9. Stay home if you’re feeling sick

This is especially important during the pandemic and is good neighborly practice. If you’re feeling sick, stay home and recover. You don’t want to risk exposing yourself to more infection while your immune system already has a lot to deal with.

Image Credit: Yelizaveta Tomashevska/ istockphoto.

Five-day gym etiquette challenge

Let’s put this knowledge to use with a five-day gym etiquette challenge! Over the next five days, your challenge is to put into practice the nine tips for proper gym etiquette. Give it a try and let me know how you feel by emailing me at or leaving me a voicemail at 510-353-3104.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

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