Jerks are everywhere, but people being jerks in the gym can be especially grating. All you want to do is lift heavy stuff in peace, but there they are, with their sweaty butt imprints on a bench, loud conversations on the phone, and equipment strewn all over the floor. Oops -- does that sound like you? Here's how to make the gym a better place for all.
I'm an optimist, so I believe in most cases, people are merely oblivious to the fact they could be inconveniencing others. That is, people aren't inherently horrible, they're just accidental jerks. After all, I've certainly been one of those people, and have since learned the ways to become a better, more courteous fellow gym-goer for others. As the saying goes: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So what does that mean at the gym?
Get to Know Your Gym
Every gym will have slight variations of common guidelines. Gym policies spell out what the gym staff will or will not tolerate, and also what the other gym enthusiasts have come to expect from others. For instance, if you're keen on deadlifting (which inevitably leads to louder thunks), but the gym has a policy against loud noises -- well, don't do that and get huffy about it. That could mean that particular gym may not be in line with your own training needs, anyway.
Your initial "walkthrough" with a sales representative is one of the perfect times to inquire about all of these things. Make your unique needs and desires known and see if the facility and staff can accommodate them.
If You Use It, Put It Back -- Where It Belongs
It doesn't matter if you "found it there". All equipment should be returned to its proper place after you use it. Each section of the gym has its own array of equipment that tends to hitchhike around: errant dumbbells and weights should be returned to the weight room; foam rollers go in the stretching area, whereas jump ropes probably belong in the cardio zone. It sucks to clean up after other people, but the best practice is to replace the things that you end up using.
If you must take away only one thing, make it this: replace your damn weight plates. Don't be that person who either keeps 45-pound plates on the barbell and walks away, or leaves a drunken ant-like trail of scattered weights. Spend a few minutes re-racking them. Heck, doing so is a good way to sneak extra movement into your workout.
This goes for dumbbells, too. The dumbbell section of my own gym makes a post-apocalyptic wasteland look like paradise. Oftentimes, there'll be a lone 40-pound dumbbell in the groove that's clearly labelled 15, and well, good luck to the hapless human (usually me) who has to find the other one. If you use dumbbells, match them up with the labelled numbers and keep them in pairs!
Respect Your Gym Equipment
Gym equipment is poised for a fair amount of beating, but letting attachments snap back to their cable pulleys, dropping plates like a hot potato, and generally just abusing equipment are no-no behaviours, not to mention indications of a bad attitude. It's simply common courtesy to be respectful of things that aren't yours (you do pay to use good equipment, after all). It's the same as going into a library, folding dog-ears in all of the crisp pages of the most popular books, and licking the covers. OK, maybe not that last part.
Death to Sweat Stains (And Germs)
Look, nobody wants to sit or stand in another person's sweat puddle. Plus, gyms are notorious for spreading germs and infectious diseases. I mean, just think of all the hands and sweaty butts that have touched each piece of equipment. Luckily, most gyms have hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray stations, which you should definitely use, whether you've got snot dripping down your nose or not.
While we're at it, tidy up your space. Most gyms employ janitorial services, yes, but no one should have to pick up piles of snot- and sweat-soaked paper towels. Throw away your trash!
Don't Be a Smelly Sandy
While it's impossible to maintain a prim-and-proper look and be odor-free throughout your workout, the use of deodorant and wearing clean clothes every time can go a long way -- mostly for other people. On the opposite end of the smelly spectrum, insufferably strong colognes and perfumes can be absolutely suffocating. Don't wear those to the gym. Or ever, really.
Communicate and Share with Others
If it's busy, politely verbalize your intentions to share (or offer to share) equipment. Even if you were there first, be prepared to let people "work in" while you are resting or doing something else. Most people, however, will generally ask how many sets or how much time you've got left on the machine, and might wait for you to finish.
Sometimes, though, hogging machines can be necessary. If your workout program calls for supersets, which consist of performing two exercises (usually each working opposing muscle groups -- push-ups with rows, for example) back-to-back, you will have to use your best judgment on being a machine hog. Obviously, it will be difficult during peak hours. Try to select equipment that are closer together, and make it known to others that you are doing a superset and let them work in while you're resting. Communicate!
Texting Is Not a Thumb Workout
Many gyms have begun to institute a "no cell phone" policy for a variety of reasons. But if you absolutely must check Twitter and Instagram during your workout, at least have a bit of situational awareness. Maybe someone is waiting for you to finish your sets or you might be blocking someone's view of the mirror. Even if you're checking your phone in-between your sets, it's mightily easy to lose track of time and shoot past the minute or two of rest you were supposed to take.
That said, I'm of the opinion that it's hard to maintain focus and get a really good workout if the phone is constantly distracting you. If you're going to check your phone, at least do it when you've finished your sets of an exercise.
Grunt If You Must
The general consensus seems to be that grunts are weird and awkward. Well, tell that to Serena Williams when she's slamming a tennis ball back into her opponent's side of the court at 145km per hour. When lifting heavier weights, grunts, gurgles, and shouts will inevitably happen.
It all comes down to the gym environment: if the other gym patrons are used to that sort of lifting, grunts -- as long as they're not too awkward-sounding (you know what I mean) -- seem to be ok. On the other hand, there's no need to overemphasize how strong you are to everyone within earshot. Keep it classy, friend.
There's a Proper Place for Every Exercise
Every section of the gym provides a conducive environment for certain types of workouts. Sure, a gym is just a general place for people to get their physical fitness on, but it's simply less appropriate to be using a weight bench to stretch your hamstrings. Similarly, many weightlifting enthusiasts poo-poo on bicep curls in the squat rack, but I've yet to actually witness this happen myself. Like we mentioned before, respect the gym equipment (and others) and use them as intended.
Give People Space
Classes like Zumba, yoga, or even a weight training one like BodyPump can get crowded, but be sure to give the neighbours all around you a wide berth. The last thing you want is someone's bare foot shoved right in your face during yoga, right?
If everyone follows these very basic principles, then your gym experience would likely be more awesome. If not, it takes only a couple of blockheads that don't return equipment to where they belong, for example, to send a rippling effect of negligence and pure anarchy.
The bottom line: a gym membership isn't a cheap investment. When we shell out that hard-earned cheese every month, most of us at the very least expect a good workout without constantly needing to hunt down missing dumbbells.
So, do your part, be a courteous fellow gym-goer, and respect others' time by not making them clean up after you!
Stephanie Lee is a geeky health and fitness freelance writer. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter or on her YouTube channel.