4 Basic Rules of Weight Room Etiquette

Don’t be “that guy” in the gym. Wear some deodorant, for starters.

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About a week ago, I was at the University of Alabama's Student Recreation Center getting my workout in. I had just finished my first two weight circuits and was moving on to the final phase of my workout, which required the use of a pull-up bar. Now, because there's only one real pull-up bar – that is, a bar that's not attached to a cable machine – in the entire gym, I can usually expect to wait a few minutes for it to be freed up.

Steven Holbrook
Steven Holbrook

What I didn't expect, however, was a half-hour delay in my workout. Which is exactly what happened.

The guy in front of me had obviously just begun his pull ups. No big deal. I walked up and asked him how many sets he had. Without looking at me, he eloquently replied, "Dunno."

"Alright, maybe he's just focused," I thought. "After all, nobody would be that rude on purpose." So, I sat down to wait for my turn.

After five minutes of watching him slowly complete two sets, I began to grow concerned. Fifteen minutes later, I got annoyed. I eventually got up and asked him if I could work in with him. He glared at me and, as if he hadn't been hogging the only pull-up bar in the entire gym for almost 20 minutes, told me to just wait my turn.

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Whatever. I sat back down and continued to wait. Ten minutes later, he finally walked away, leaving the distinct stench of body odor behind him. Simply excited to finish my workout, I reached up, grabbed the bar, lifted my feet up and, due to the excessive amount of sweat coating the bar, promptly fell to the floor.

I've been in weight rooms for almost a decade now. My dad ran a gym and lifted weights for a long time (and, even in his 50s, is still maddeningly stronger than me and everyone else in my family … I'm comin' for ya, Pops), and my mother was a three-sport college athlete. I was pretty much raised understanding gym etiquette.

Even if this fella had never been in a weight room before, the way he acted is completely unacceptable. There are certain unspoken rules that all gym-goers must adhere to in order to allow everyone a pleasant weight-lifting experience. Here are four things you can do to avoid making Mr. Sweaty-Palms' mistakes.

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Make your sets as quick as possible. This doesn't mean rushing your workout. No one expects you to do that. However, if the gym is busy, and someone is clearly waiting for you to vacate your dumbbells, bench or whatever machine you're working on, it's an unspoken rule of politeness for you to make their wait as short as possible. Sometimes, though, your workout requires you to "hog" some equipment for a while. If this is the case, you may have to…

Let people "work in" with you. Like I said, my current workout plan has me doing a whole bunch of circuit work. This requires me to pretty much take over certain parts of the gym for about 20 minutes at a time. So, whenever someone asks me if they can "work in" with me – that is, alternate sets with my equipment – my answer is always yes. While you by no means have to interrupt your own workout to accommodate someone else, all gym-goers have a responsibility to avoid inconveniencing others while in the weight room. Which leads me to my next point...

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Leave things exactly the way you found them. I'm generally a pretty relaxed dude. It's hard to get me really annoyed. I could have handled Sweaty Palms' rudeness. I could have even handled the ridiculous wait for the pull-up bar. What really ticked me off was the unacceptable state in which he left the equipment once he was finished. There are two basic things you need to do once you're done with a piece of equipment. First, if applicable, put all the weights you used back where they belong. Not only will this keep the gym a little cleaner, but it can actually prevent injury. If someone who isn't as strong as you, or is an inexperienced weightlifter, has to put up your heavy weights, they could seriously hurt themselves. Next, wipe down all the equipment you used. Most gyms now have disinfecting wipes on the gym floor for exactly this purpose but, at the very least, you should wipe everything down with a towel. Nobody wants to lay their head in a puddle of someone else's sweat. And, speaking of sweat…

Wear deodorant. Seriously. Put it on before every workout. I can't tell you how many times I've considered calling Hazmat when the drenched guy next to me starts doing military presses. Body odor is a nasty, smelly and completely fixable problem (I use original Old Spice, myself). So, please deodorize. All your fellow gym-goers will thank you for it.

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Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns and feedback. 

Steven Holbrook is a senior majoring in journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. In addition to finishing up his degree, he is currently working on attaining his personal trainer certification. He wants to use his fitness journey to help others attain their own fitness and nutrition goals. He loves a good omelet, aggravating his dog allergies and superhero t-shirts. Follow him on Twitter at @iHolbrook.