Gym etiquette is a delicate art, and not many people get it right. ‘Hogging equipment’ and ‘taking a rest break’ can seem very similar, so it’s important to know what’s what, and how to deal with it. Today we’ll tackle a tough question about what to do when somebody is using the equipment you want, and seemingly wasting their (and your) time.
Lifehacker reader Kelly sent in this question:
My biggest pet peeve is people who get on a piece of equipment, and then tie it up by spending 0.1% of the time using it, and the other 99.9% checking email, whatever on their phone. What’s the politest way to work in, or get them to use their phone somewhere else?
I would join you in getting angry at this person, Kelly, except that sometimes the person is me. My pet peeve is that people think I’m goofing off checking my email when in fact I am resting the prescribed number of minutes between sets and using my phone for entirely gym-related purposes, such as calculating how much weight I’ll need to put on the bar for the next set.
Also, sometimes I’m dreading the next set and I am in fact delaying by checking email. Sorry.
Here’s the bad news: you can’t always tell when somebody is goofing off versus taking a legitimate rest period. So my advice is not to judge, to give them the benefit of the doubt, and then say one of the following magic phrases:
“Mind if I work in?”
To use this, you must first determine whether the equipment is shareable. If they’re using the assisted pull-up machine, they could easily step aside and you would just need to move the pin to a different weight in the stack, do your sets, and move the pin back to where they had it.
This approach is not recommended if the equipment would be a pain in the butt to reconfigure between your sets and theirs. For example, nobody wants to load and unload multiple 20kg plates between sets.
Either way, it’s up to the person who has the equipment to decide if they want to let you work in. If they say yes, be gracious and don’t make them do any extra work to accommodate you. If they say no, proceed to the next question.
“How many sets do you have left?”
This is the phrase for things where the person is not likely to be able to share (or is not willing, if you already asked.) (A “set” is, if you’re not familiar, a set of repetitions that they’ll do before taking a break. So maybe I’ll do five squats, then rest, then five more squats, then rest, then five more. That’s three sets.)
This question is partly for your planning purposes: if they say 10 sets, you’re not getting that equipment anytime soon. If they say one or two, stick around — the equipment is about to be yours.
That’s because the question’s real purpose is to announce your intent. After they finish their sets, they should look around and ideally flag you down or make eye contact to indicate that the equipment is now free. If somebody else has already asked them, their answer to your question might be “three, but that guy has it next.” In any case, knowing that somebody is waiting will tend to make the person use their time efficiently.
You are never guaranteed to be next in line — if they leave the squat rack before you return, anybody might grab it — but you greatly increase your chances.