Can't we all just get along? A guide to proper gym etiquette

Only 10 minutes into my workout, I found a power rack that seemed to be in use. I couldn’t see anyone nearby but the barbell hadn’t been stripped and a towel was lying on the floor next to it. Naturally, I assumed that someone was training here and was just on a bathroom break. Ten minutes ticked by and still no one showed up. Then it dawned on me … someone had vacated the rack leaving more than just sweat on the bench.


I had to get my workout done in an hour. I really didn’t want to waste time cleaning up after others. Honestly, I was upset. Why didn’t that person behave respectfully? Didn’t they understand gym etiquette? How could they be so darn rude?

For anyone new to the gym, this rant might sound pretty intimidating. Here you are, ready to begin a new healthier lifestyle. You’ve paid your membership and you’re keen to get your sweat on. The gym didn’t give you a “Rules of Conduct” sheet when you walked through the door. And now you have to worry about offending someone off by committing a gym no-no?  What does behaving appropriately even mean?

Sweat not, it’s really not that complicated. Here are a few easy-to-follow guidelines to make the gym more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Re-rack your weights

The saying goes: If you can lift it, you can re-rack it. Leaving weights and dumbbells lying around is a major trip hazard – someone could get seriously hurt. Plus, it’s not very nice to the next person who has to waste her precious workout time searching for the weights that weren’t returned to their proper location.

Also, please don’t leave your plates on the bar or a machine for the next person to strip down. Other gym users won’t be able to tell if the equipment is available or whether someone is actually working out there. Re-rack so people can see that the equipment is no longer being used.

2. Put equipment back where it belongs

When you’re in the zone you don’t want to lose momentum or you simply forget to return equipment to its designated storage area after every exercise. But please remember that others are in the zone, too. And it’s really not much fun for them to run around the gym in search of a piece of equipment that has not been put back in its proper place.

Kettlebell rack at  DIAKADI , San Francisco

Kettlebell rack at DIAKADI, San Francisco

3. Honor the equipment

Please put weights down as gently as possible instead of letting them crash to the floor. If you’re weightlifting on a proper platform, you’re good, but otherwise dropping your weights can be dangerous and can damage the dumbbells or barbells and the floor underneath.

4. Wipe down your equipment after use

Use wipes to clean down the benches and mats after you’ve finished using them. Most gyms have cleaning supplies on hand. Also, remember to take your (empty) water bottle with you so others won’t encounter it on a bench or other piece of equipment they would like to use.

5. Curling in the squat rack?

If the gym is empty and no one needs the rack for squats or other compound exercises, go for it. Otherwise please leave the power racks and squat racks for those who really need it and do your bicep curls in an area that’s not in use.

6. Move away from the weight rack

If you start working out only inches from the weight rack, you’re going to prevent others from accessing the weights. Please step back to an area where you can exercise safely without obstructing traffic.

7. Exercise spacial awareness

Gyms are busy places. We’d love it if you didn’t take up too much space or leave your stuff lying around. That way, we all have room to maneuver when the gym is packed. On the other hand, take care to not interfere with someone else’s workout by stepping in too close for comfort; it can cause them to lose concentration and potentially drop heavy equipment.

8. Respect the headsets

We love that you’re friendly but please don’t interrupt someone’s workout so you can have a chat. Save the small talk for later when it’s not so safety-critical that you focus on your workout and make sure you’re lifting correctly to avoid injuries. And if you want to ask if you can share the equipment, wait until the other person has finished his set.

9. Keep it clean

Yeah, we all sweat at the gym. But if you wash regularly and wear clean clothes, you won’t suffocate the person next to you with your body odor. Don’t overdo it, though. Strong perfumes and colognes can be offensive and even trigger allergies.

Oh, and if you have to fart, please take it to the bathroom.

10. Be respectful of other members

Chatting on your phone while sitting on equipment is distracting and prevents others from using that equipment. . And we ask courteously that you think twice before explaining the finer points of an exercise to the person next to you unless they specifically ask for your help (you wouldn’t want others singling you out for a lesson, now would you?)

The same goes for locker rooms. Share the space, clean up after yourself, and refrain from facetiming your friends while others are trying to change. Camera phones in a changing room is all kinds of creepy!

The bottom line…

Gyms are busy places; we owe it to each other to be respectful. By following these guidelines, we can all have a much more pleasant gym experience.  Let’s prove that we care about others and not only ourselves. Remember, a smile and a friendly hello can go a long way. If you ever don’t know what to do approach a trainer or staff member and ask for help.

Want some more? Check out The Glute Guy Bret Contreras’s 50 Commandments of Commercial Gym Etiquette. It’s a funny yet accurate list!

Anka Urbahn