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Gym Etiquette: 20 Things to Never, Ever Do

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(Image credit: Unknown)

As Ernest Hemingway once (nearly) said, “The gym is a fine place, and worth fighting for.” Stay on the side of the angels with our easy-to-follow guide to being the man everyone likes in the gym.

  • Using your phone for anything other than checking your workout, listening to tunes or as a timer. Stick it on airplane mode.
  • Leaving your towel on the bench as you go to the water fountain, chat and tour the gym. It’s not a sun lounger.
  • Most non-­squat activities in the squat rack. If you can lift it off the floor easily, you probably don’t need the support.
  • Accumulating a tiny pile of dumbbells around you like a nest as you train. Other people need those.
  • Not putting the weights back. Yes, the gym has people to tidy up: but no, they don’t have to unload 12 plates off the leg press. Think of it as your cool­down.
  • Forming a four-­man bro­ cluster around the bench. Just do something harder.
  • Doing the “hover”. It’s OK to ask to share the kit, or check how long someone’s going to be using it for. Just don’t circle like a barracuda, silently waiting… It’s weird.
  • Refusing to share. Take as long in the squat rack as you need – just as long as you’re letting other people “work in”.
  • Staring other people down. Yes, this happens.
  • Bellowing on every rep. The occasional grunt is fine: a staccato rhythm suggests there’s something wrong with you.
  • Leaving Rorschach-esque blots of sweat on the benches. Perspiration is fine and to be expected – but for God’s sake, man, wipe it up when you’re done.
  • Throwing your weights to the floor after a set. If they drop from your shaking hands after a technical drop ­set, this is OK. If you’re not familiar with that sensation, you can manage to get them back in the rack.
  • Doing the two­-man bench: one lying down, one doing half the work as he “spots”. Nobody cares how much you’re lifting if you do it like this.
  • Standing directly in front of the dumbbell rack to train. Yes, even if you need to check your form out in the mirror.
  • Those pull­-ups where your arms don’t straighten and your head doesn’t go over the bar. Oh, you can do 20? In a very real sense, you can’t do any at all.
  • Using the mirrors to check out the ladies as they do their Romanian deadlifts. They know. Everyone knows.
  • Offering unsolicited advice. Unless you’re really, really sure someone’s about to break their spine.
  • That thing where you faux-­swipe the sweat off your forehead with the hem of your T-­shirt so you can sneak a look at your abs.
  • Hair-­drying the crown jewels. Why would you even need to?
  • Selfies. If you really must, then just one per session. Tops.

Bad manners

Kensington Personal trainer John S Richardson tells you how to make friends (and avoid everyone hating you) at your local sweatbox

What most annoys you as a trainer?

There’s a lot of scope here. Some people will turn up, not have the first idea what to do and be open to advice and help. That’s fine. However, others will turn up without the first idea of what to do but mysteriously under the mistaken impression that they’re experts. I just leave them to it. It’s a cliché, but the worst offenders are guys who take their girlfriends along to the gym to work out together. The guys don’t know what they’re doing to begin with, but still stand there, arms folded, “instructing” their girlfriend through an ill­-advised, bad form, two-hour triceps workout. And it’s not like you can step in and tell them or else they think you’re trying to make moves.

What’s the best thing you can do to make things a bit smoother?

I’m lucky in that the clients I have now are motivated and open to advice but, my God, I’ve had some moaners in the past. Sadly, saying “Shut the fuck up” is rarely the best response. So instead you find yourself saying things like, “Yes... I know it’s hard” when a client complains that they can’t eat cake every day of the week or something. Ours is the forced sympathy of the tech store employee, frustrated at the utter incompetence of the customer yet outwardly friendly. It’s times like these where the mental calculator comes out, and you start calculating how much you’re earning for every minute of nonsense you’re subjected to.

How can you tell the difference between a good trainer and a bad one? Are they fat?

It’s not to say that the trainers in the best shape are the best trainers – far from it – but I have never, ever, seen an out-of-shape PT who was good at their job. I used to work with a guy, let’s call him Dave (not his real name), who was obese. Not a few pounds overweight but properly huge. I could see why Dave kept his clients: he was a genuinely lovely guy who they enjoyed chatting to, but given that he couldn’t even demonstrate exercises without hyperventilating, there was never any practical reason to keep going back.

What’s the worst thing you’ve seen in a gym?

This wasn’t my client but a well-known TV personality, whose TV persona is based on being quite rude. I was training my client, a young lady who was quite overweight, had never been in a gym before and was, understandably, terrified. As I was trying to reassure her and start off with some basic exercises, the star thought it reasonable to say quite loudly, while staring directly at my client, “Oh, is it fat-person training today?” Venomous.

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.