By Mario Strong

Having trained in various bodybuilding gyms throughout the country for nearly half a century, 10 of those being in my own club, I feel qualified to outline a few protocols for proper gym etiquette.

RERACK YOUR WEIGHTS - It’s important for each one of us to respect others in the gym who are there for the same basic reason that we are all there, which is to realize a goal. When it comes to working out in a gym showing respect comes in many forms. Not re-racking your plates or returning your dumbbells to their place on the rack is a constant form of disrespect that probably dates back to the late 19th century. This is something that I’ve personally had to deal with time and time again in my Staten Island Bodybuilding Club. I guess it’s just human nature but to get some hulk who just completed a heavy set of Incline Presses with 150-lb dumbbells to rerack his weights after use is like close to impossible. He’ll have all the energy he needs to lift mountains but when it comes to putting the equipment back he’ll find every excuse in the book why he didn’t do it. Unfortunately this kind of behavior can be seen on a daily basis in just about any gym on this planet. Guys are inherently lazy and inconsiderate when it comes to returning the weights. This not only causes a hazard but more importantly waste yours and mine time trying to find the dumbbells or weights desired.

DON’T PURPOSELY DROP THE WEIGHTS - Another form of disrespect is when trainees purposely drop the weights after completing a set of whatever they were doing. Maybe they like to hear the sound steel makes when it crashes to the floor or maybe they’re looking for some sort of recognition from their fellow trainees. All I know is that it is not only dangerous to others in the gym but the equipment (and floor) is being ruined. Over the decades I’ve seen plenty of dumbbells and weight-plates destroyed because of this egomaniac behavior. And this goes for when you’re on a leg press, pull-down, chest press, etc. Don’t let the weights slam at the bottom of the machine. You’re going to ruin the it and probably get your ass kicked out of the gym. So guys, please remember, part of the exercise is to not only lower the weight properly when finished but to treat all the equipment in the gym with respect.

STOP THE CHATTER - In my mind, nothing is more ridiculous than when I see a trainee in the gym on his or her cellphone. It’s like why did you even bother to come here. Working out is serious business and needs ones complete focus, not only to achieve the maximum gains for the time a trainee spends in the gym, but to also prevent a serious injury from happening to them or someone else. Talking, texting, or taking selfies in a gym is not only a waste of their time but rude to others that are waiting for them to get out of their way so they can do what they came to the gym to do – train. So stop with the ridiculous chatter and get to work.

PRACTICE PROPER HYGIENE - Now hygiene is very important when it comes to exercise equipment. If you’re training hard and sweating - good for you. Just please remember to wipe down whatever equipment you were using with a disinfectant.  I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to use a bench only to find a puddle of slimy sweat on the vinyl. Totally disgusting! It’s even worse with the aerobic equipment. I’ve seen lots of trainees pour gallons of sweat onto the treadmills, elliptical steppers, bicycles, etc. only to walk away when finished without being courteous enough to sanitize the equipment that they just used. One final note when it comes to gym hygiene that should go without saying, guys and gals, please wash your hands after using the bathrooms. Enough said.

KEEP THE GYM CLEAN - A clean gym is a happy gym. I’ve said these words thousands of times to fellow trainees who somehow mysterious discarded their paper towels, rags, or personal crap on the gym equipment or floor. Give me a break. You’re not home with the family at dinner time, you’re in the gym so pick up your junk and dispose of it in the trash. Once again, when you’re done cleaning your hands in the bathroom throw the paper towels in the trash, not on the sink counter or floor. Sometimes I wonder who raised these slobs.

WATCH THE VOCABULARY - Another observance of mine is the fowl mouths that are rampant in today’s clubs. Back in the day it was primarily young guys in the bodybuilding gyms, but today the gyms are loaded with lots of gals and senior citizens. When I hear some young wannabe swearing next to a woman I cringe. Holly crap, what sewer did this fowl mouth spawn from. Guys (and some gals) I know it takes a bit of maturity but if you don’t mind please try and keep your verbiage clean. It will make you a better and more respected person, not only in the gym but in other endeavors of life.

WEAR PROPER EXERCISE ATTIRE - When in the gym dress accordingly. If you were attending a wedding you would probably wear a nice suit and dress shoes, if you were working in a construction site you’d wear blue jeans, a plaid shirt, a hardhat and steel tipped boots. Well the gym is no different. In the gym the idea is to train as hard as you can. To do this you need to wear loosely fitting clothing such as sweatshirts and sweatpants, or if the temps are a bit high try shorts and a T-shirt. You want to not only be comfortable but also have no restrictions in your range of motion.

REPORT BROKEN EQUIPMENT - I can’t remember how many times I’ve tried to use a piece of equipment only to find out it was broken and not reported to the gym staff. If you see something broke say something. The sooner the better for you and the rest of the members. This is especially important if you see a cable or belt fraying. I remember one day watching a gym member perform the pull-down behind-the-neck movement when all of a sudden the cable snapped and the bar hit the guy on top of the head. The impact of the bar crashing against the skull caused it to crack open with the result being blood squirting out like a geyser. Hence the need to report any problem you see. 

DON’T JUDGE OTHERS - Definitely one thing that didn’t exist in the gyms of the 20th century are the No Judgement Zones that you see in some fitness centers today. When I first started hearing about this I thought it was a joke until I began seeing the commercials. I thought to myself ‘what kind of nonsense is this’ as my jaw dropped to my lower pecs. Sadly I knew that this was yet another nail in the coffin of bodybuilding’s golden era. The clubs have become to civilized. Now I’m not saying it’s okay to yell your lungs out, because it’s not. But if you need to exhale a little force be my guest, just don’t interrupt the flow of the gym’s atmosphere.

STAY FOCUSED - These days the gyms are loaded with female trainees and a lot of them are hot to trot. So what do the gals do, they come to the gym wearing tight skimpy clothing that highlights their assets - so to speak. In return the guys stare and drool like a pack of wolves thus forgetting why they came to the gym in the first place. Guys, keep the focus on the steel and save the Saturday Night Fever crap for the clubs…and ladies, try not to flaunt it so much.

DON’T BLOCK THE MIRRORS - Bodybuilding gyms can sometimes be dangerous places to be. Besides the residual pain felt from training with the iron, the heavy weights can lead to unfortunate accidents. On any given day, every bodybuilding gym has its share of heavy lifters pushing and pulling the steel to their very limits. A good way to experience some real pain is to stand in front of a big boy when he is performing the Overhead Dumbbell Press and block his vision to the mirror. I’ve seen plenty of dumbbells fly like “smart bombs” in the direction of feet that weren’t supposed to be there. It is amazing how instinctively accurate some of these big boys can be.

KEEP THE BS FOR THE LOCKER ROOM - One thing that drives me bananas is when I see one or more guys sitting on a piece of equipment that I want to use. Now I have no problem if it’s for a minute or so but when you’re on a bench or machine for a half hour and all you’re doing is arguing about who’s the better quarterback well that’s when I lose it. Guys, have some common sense and move your rumps to the locker room if you want to BS.

LEND A HELPING HAND - When you’re training in the gym and you see someone suffocating with a heavy bar across his throat on a flat bench stop whatever you’re doing and run over to help the individual. Happily this is usually the case, but I can remember a couple of instances when someone got caught under a heavy bar and needed help immediately. To my bewilderment, I’ve seen individuals who saw what was happening only to continue with their own exercise until finished. God forbid if they should miss a couple of reps. If you see someone that might need a spot ask them before they lift the weight.

LEAVE THE ATTITUDE HOME - If a gym staff member ask you to put your weights back or pick up some trash you left by an exercise machine – do so. Don’t give them a hard time or disrespectfully walk away. We all know you’ve got Mr. Godzilla arms and can bench press 500-lbs. Guess what, nobody cares. While in the gym be not only courteous to the other trainees but also to the staff who are doing their best to keep the gym functioning smoothly so you can keep training like there is no tomorrow.

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS - Since gyms are inherently dangerous places always be aware of your surroundings. One near catastrophe that I experienced occurred while I was resting between sets. I had worked up to heavy poundage while performing the Leg Press. After I finished my last set with twelve 45-pound plates on each side of the machine, I stepped out of it and stood by its side to answer some questions from a gym member regarding training. I wasn’t paying attention to what was happening behind me. On the opposite side of the machine, another gym member started removing all the 45-pound plates from one side. Since the machine was not designed to stay upright with a tremendous amount of weight only on one of its sides, it came crashing down and hit my back like a giant boulder falling off a cliff. The 500 plus pounds that remained on my side whipped the machine towards me while sending its top metal plate-holder ripping into my back like an axe. Instinctively, I fell downward with the machine’s force to avoid breaking my back in two. As I hit the ground, I rolled out of the machine’s way and heard it crash loudly to the floor while I watched the 45-pound weight-plates fly in different directions. As the crash echoed throughout the gym, its members suddenly became quiet. I rose from the ground and looked over to see who had stupidly removed all the weight-plates and nearly crippled me. All I could see was a couple of fellows sprinting towards the exit in fear of what might have happened to them. I never did find out who they were, probably a couple of beginners that knew to quit while they were ahead. Because of the incident, I received some serious muscle pulls as well as deep scrapes from the machine as it tore against my flesh like sharp blades. My sweatshirt was soaked in blood and my back burned from the torn flesh. It was time to call it a day and heal my wounds. The one thing that I was reminded of from the experience was always to expect the unexpected. Since gyms are very dangerous places that could cause some serious pain and suffering, I should have known better than to let my guard down. Hopefully you can learn from my experience.

DON’T EAT IN THE GYM – Gyms are not luncheonettes. This is common sense and yet on occasion I’ll see someone with a sandwich and drink munching away on an exercise bench between sets. The big problem are the drinks, which frequently spill onto the training floor and cause a hazardous condition. So if you’re hungry go to Burger King and have a burger or two before you go to the gym.  

DON’T BLOCK THE WEIGHT RACKS – A practice that’s really annoying is when someone is standing or exercising near a dumbbell or weight rack and for a period of time is blocking your excess to the weights. They seem totally oblivious to your needs and have to be asked to get out of the way.

DON’T SPIT ON THE GYM FLOOR – I wasn’t going to list this one because I haven’t seen it happen in years, but low and behold, while I was writing this piece I saw someone’s spit on the floor. This is totally disgusting and what ignoramus would do such a thing is beyond my comprehension. They should be forced to lick it up and then thrown out of the gym.

STAY HOME IF YOU ARE SICK – A no brainer - right. Well, I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to tell a trainee to go home before they made their cold/flew get worse or before they got someone else (especially me) sick. Don’t come to the gym and try to sweat it out. Please do the right thing and stay home so you can properly recuperate.

ASK FOR HELP – A sure recipe for disaster is to try and do an exercise without knowing how to properly perform the movement. Thousands and thousands of trainees have been injured in the gym because they either used too much weight or performed an exercise incorrectly. If you need help ask for it. We all started from humble beginnings, but eventually, one step at a time, climbed our way to the top of the mountain.

PAY YOUR GYM DUES ON TIME - This etiquette is primarily for the smaller clubs since the big franchises will automatically charge your dues to your credit card or debit your bank. The smaller clubs need your dues to survive. Without them they won’t exist for very long. So if you’re training at a small club and want to see it keep open pay your dues, it’s that plain and simple.

Well, there you have it. The way you carry yourself in the gym will either bring you respect from your fellow trainees and gym staff or a boot out the door. Remember, you are part of a greater whole, behave that way.




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