Gym Etiquette 101: 7 Unwritten Rules of The Gym

If you are lifting in the right environment, it shouldn’t feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells with your gym owner.

The basic rules of the gym are the basic rules of courtesy and respect you should already be employing in your daily life. While gyms can be intimidating at first, I promise if you treat both the members and equipment with respect you’ll be just fine!

That being said, as a coach you’ll always hear members concerned they might be breaking some of the “unwritten rules” of the gym without knowing. Here’s your basics to etiquette in the gym.

1. Respect The Barbells

Easiest rule to make your gym owner proud, treat this equipment like it was your very own. 

While barbells and other gym equipment may seem impervious to damage being made of steel, it’s actually easier to break this stuff than you may think.

Repeated drops and slams with heavy weight can slowly warp bars and dumbbells overtime. Throwing those specialty clips your gym owner was nice enough to buy halfway across the gym shouting “KOBE!” will guarantee they last a solid week. And while you feel super strong hitting some pin deads, it’s also a great way to bend an expensive power bar.

If you lift in a “specialty” type gym like a powerlifting or strongman gym it’s likely you have different types of barbells (even if they all look the same to you). Your gym owner most likely has specific bars that they are fine with you beating up, and others where they’ll be sitting in the corner with tears in their eyes as they watch you slam down your 1000lb 1 inch deadlift directly onto the pins.

Talk to your gym owner if you are confused on which bars are which and always respect their own personal rules for certain bars.

2. Spotting Lifts

If someone asks you for a spot: Understand that you have the option to say no if spotting a particular lift makes you uncomfortable, or you just aren’t sure how to spot. They can find someone else who is comfortable. Other than that simply listen to whatever the other person wants in terms of a spot (it’s on them to be clear with this). Additionally, every lifter ever will indicate to you when they want you to take the bar. If they haven’t said anything it’s HIGHLY LIKELY they don’t want you to touch the bar. If they are still grinding out a rep, just let them grind, don’t touch the barbell until they lockout and you’ll be good.

If you are asking for a spot: First, it’s on you to be specific with exactly what you want for the spot (if you want a liftoff, how many reps you’re going for, when the person should touch the barbell if you are failing). Don’t blame the person spotting you for your lack of communication skills. Second, be grateful. I see way too many lifters bad mouth the “horrible liftoff and spot” they just got from a complete stranger. Like bro, your second option was death. Show some gratitude, and understand that spotting with strangers will always have it’s “rough edges“. It’s fine. You didn’t perish in your wonderfully ridiculous hobby of lifting progressively heavier pieces of metal thanks to the help of a stranger, try to lighten up a bit yeah?

3. No Unsolicited Advice (Even if What They are Doing is “Wrong”)

I know what you’re thinking “but what if…nope.Their form could use some…nope.I could really help them…nope.

The only acceptable time for unsolicited advice is if the way a person is currently training is endangering themselves or other gym members. To be clear, “endanger” means weights could fall on themselves or others, pieces of equipment could break, a rack could tip…NOT, their knees are caving on their squat and it is your moral obligation to go fix this “travesty“.

It’s not…it’s actually in the realm of…not your business.

You give advice only when it’s been specifically asked for, otherwise, just keep on killing it with your own training. I know a lot of people get confused by this because they truly want to help, but understand the other party involved needs to actually want your help in the first place.

While usually given with good intention, the end result of unsolicited advice generally just makes people wildly uncomfy. Enough so that they may not want to come to the gym again. Someone could very well know their form is off and feel awkward, and now you…a complete stranger…coming over to correct them is making them feel worse. So long as they aren’t in danger, let them work through it themselves. We’ve all been a beginner working our way through the gym for the first time, they’ll figure it out, or they’ll ask for help when they are eventually ready for it!

Also keep in mind, even if you are highly qualified to give advice, you have zero clue as to what this persons training history or goals are. What you have deemed in your head as “wrong” could be them working around an injury, or training in a specific way to their own goals, you have no way of knowing.

4. Keep your Distance

With new COVID regulations this tip is probably happening whether you are aware of it or not. However, this is something I don’t think too many people think about. If someone is currently mid lift, try to avoid walking right in front of them or beside them.

They already have enough to worry about keeping themselves safe, let alone adding another human that they could potentially hit into the equation. People moving close by while lifting can be extremely distracting, and even if someone’s nice and not overtly complaining to you that you are doing this, they probably wish you wouldn’t.

Just take the few seconds it takes for them to complete their set THEN walk past. If you are at a gym with a strong community you can use the time to actually encourage them instead of bulldozing straight through.

5.Cell Phone Use

Ideally, you’d get through your whole gym session no phone involved. That being said I’m realistic about this situation, I’m not going to convince many people of this and even I still use my phone between sets.

HOWEVER, your cell should not be adding time to your workout. If you are timing your rests and only scrolling while that timer is going, fine. But if you scrolling on your phone is your rest interval…fix yourself.

Not only will others be thankful that you are freeing up equipment faster, you’ll probably surprise yourself by how fast you can actually get through a workout without all the extra “thumb training“. Not to mention ditching social media for a brief hour will be good for your mental.

6. Filming in the Gym

Filming in the gym often gets frowned upon as the ultimate “big ego” move.

I’m actually all about it. I think new lifters and advanced lifters alike can actually get a lot of great info from filming their sets and actively encourage it.

This comes with the conditions first and foremost that you’ve asked your gym owner if filming is okay (different gyms have different rules, respect them). Likewise, if you are filming you are the one getting in the way, not others. Don’t get mad when someone accidently walks in front of your phone, and don’t try and act like you own all the gym space that the field of view of your camera takes up. This isn’t a film studio, get your footage and get out of the way.

7. Put Your D*mn Weights Away

Ironically this rule isn’t even unwritten. It’s most likely plastered across the entirety of your gym.

Still the weight’s get left out…

Of the bigger red flags for gauging someone’s character is the person that leaves all their stuff out and promptly exits the gym. We all learned to put our own toys away when we were kids. If I can’t trust you to put your own “toys” away as an adult, what can I trust you with?

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.