Gym Etiquette

Gym Etiquette

Regardless of whether or not you plan to train under the guidance of Art of Anatomy, there are basic principles of gym etiquette that you should follow. This page cover categories such as hygiene, safety, and etiquette. Ultimately, they prevent you from being the person at the gym that everybody dislikes.

These rules were compiled by Art of Anatomy in coordination with the owners of OVOX Gym & Training Center in New Jersey and Elev8tion Fitness in Las Vegas.

Safety and hygiene

The following set of rules are based on safety and hygiene. These rules are important to help prevent injury or the spread of germs and/or illness. These rules should be enforced by your gym; unfortunately, many gyms either don’t have these rules or simply won’t enforce them.

Regardless, if you’re going to train with Art of Anatomy, then you must follow these rules even if your gym won’t enforce them!

Use a towel

It’s surprising that anyone would go into a public gym and simply sit or lie on a piece of equipment without using a towel beneath them, and yet very few people seem to use one.

Unless the gym just opened and you were the first person to walk in the doors, then somebody else already used that piece of equipment. And it’s sad yet true, but very few people choose to use a towel, and it’s exceedingly rare to see someone wipe their equipment clean after using it.

Using a towel on which to sit or lie creates a barrier between your body and the equipment to absorb sweat and prevent your skin from rubbing against the bench. This is simple hygiene! It doesn’t seem realistic that people would be comfortable sitting/lying on another person’s sweat. Therefore, do your part: use a towel on your equipment!

Gym Etiquette: Towel

It’s also a courtesy to the gym. Sweat is not just water; it includes salt and enzymes. When you sweat on equipment, the vinyl coverings will be ruined more quickly. The towel will absorb the sweat so the gym owner won’t need to replace the vinyl coverings as frequently.

Wipe your sweat

If there was a course on gym etiquette, this rule would be taught early in the course. If you’re working hard at the gym, it’s likely that you’ll be sweating. It is also likely that your sweat will drip or rub off on the equipment you’re using—it happens.

When it does happen, be courteous (and hygienic), and WIPE YOUR SWEAT! There is nothing more disgusting than approaching an empty piece of equipment to see drops of sweat where the previous person was sitting/lying.

First of all, you should be using a towel to prevent the aforementioned situation. Secondly, regardless of your towel situation, you should be wiping your equipment when you’re finished! This is bigger than simple gym etiquette; this is common courtesy. There are multiple reasons why you should be doing this—the most obvious of which is hygiene! Don’t be disgusting. Wipe your machines.

Equipment use

Do not use equipment for unintended purposes

There are two parts to this rule. One part is for your safety, and the second part is courtesy. Depending on the equipment and its wrongful use, you will likely either be creating a safety hazard or being discourteous to other people in the gym. Granted, there are some occasions where using equipment for a different purpose is reasonable; in general, however, it is not.

Gym Etiquette: Shoulder Press
Justin Raymond and Stanislas De Longeaux


In some instances, using equipment for an exercise other than its intended purpose may increase your risk for injury. A shining example of this concern is an (exceptionally odd choice of) exercise once seen at a local gym: this person was standing on the chair of a plate-loaded chest-press machine, facing towards the back pad to perform a rowing exercise.

Not only was it outlandish considering there was an open row machine next to the chest-press for which the rowing angle was nearly identical, it was also dangerous. The seat of this machine is adjustable and not designed for someone to stand on top of it. Now standing two feet above the ground, if the chair wasn’t stable or the person’s foot slipped, it could have easily caused an injury.


Most of the time, using equipment for a reason other than its intended purpose is discourteous. For example, if you choose to perform biceps curls in a squat rack (one of the worst moves that exists in the gym), then you are effectively preventing someone else from using the squat rack for an exercise that actually requires the rack (e.g., squats).

In the previous example, the squat racks are designed to enhance safety. Being able to load/rack the weight on your back (or on your shoulders) will prevent you from having to lift the weight from the ground or somehow drop it to the floor afterwards. Your biceps curls are not inherently dangerous, and they can be performed quite literally anywhere that has open space.

Ultimately, this rule is simple: use equipment for its intended purpose, and avoid using it for any other reason.

General safety

One of the most important reasons for outlining gym etiquette is safety. The following are basic concerns for your own safety, for the gym, itself, and for other gym-goers.

Gym Etiquette: Barbell on the Floor

Do not leave bars on the floor

Barbells are sometimes moved off of squat racks or other pieces of equipment to perform different types of exercises, and that’s fine. However, when you’re done, you need to ensure the bars are back on the racks or stored in an appropriate space. Leaving them on the floor is a danger to anyone walking around and can also compromise the equipment, itself.

Do not leave dumbbells on the floor

Other than during rest intervals between sets, there is no excuse for dumbbells to be on the floor. If you’ve completed your exercise, place them back on the rack. Leaving them on the floor is a danger to anyone walking around and can also compromise the equipment, itself.

Do not leave bars in landmines

For those who may be unfamiliar, the “landmine” is an attachment for a barbell that places one end of the bar into a movable joint, which is on the floor, while the other end is free to move.

Like the previous two concerns, leaving barbells in the landmine is a danger to anyone walking around and can also compromise the equipment, itself.

Never lean a bar on the wall or mirror

This one is first about protecting the gym and its equipment. If you lean barbells or other equipment against a mirror, the mirror may break. Broken mirrors then become a significant safety risk. Each of these concerns can be abated by following the simplest of rules: return your equipment to their proper places.

Proper footwear

Gym Etiquette: Sneakers

If you’re a bodybuilder, it’s extremely likely you’ve watched Arnold Schwarzenegger in Pumping Iron, and his decision to squat barefoot was interesting. And, as much as we all want to emulate Schwarzenegger in an attempt to achieve his astonishing physique, lifting barefoot is not a smart decision and won’t boost your growth potential.

Most notably, it increases risk for both injury and infection. Of course, if you dropped a heavy weight on your foot, your sneakers are unlikely to protect your foot from injury. However, if you dropped a 5lbs weight on your foot, a sneaker may protect you from fracturing a bone. If you were barefoot, even a 5lbs weight is more likely to fracture your bones.

You could also step on something sharp and cut your foot. If you have an open wound on the floor of a public gym, you’ve drastically increased your risk of infection.

Don’t wear jeans

For many athletes, this is a no-brainer. Jeans are stiff and restricting and don’t breathe well. For your own performance, it makes sense not to wear jeans. If you’d like to wear long pants during training, consider sweatpants or other athletic-wear such as joggers. Save the jeans for your casual, non-athletic scenarios.

Gym etiquette

Although the entire page is for the same topic, the following set of rules are more specific to gym etiquette—your actions in the gym and how you interact with other gym-members. Ultimately, these rules will prevent you from being the person at the gym that everyone dislikes. If you claim to want to be that person, then you have a lot of other issues including an enormous ego for which you need to again refer back to The Golden Rule.

Don’t be a creep!

This rule isn’t simply gym etiquette; it’s life etiquette. It is also generally targeted towards men; however, this does not exclude anybody else! There just seems to be a tendency that men violate this rule more often than anyone else at the gym.

Being a creep comes in many forms, but ultimately it means you are behaving inappropriately or in a manner that makes other people feel uncomfortable and/or unsafe. Most often, this inappropriate behavior includes watching or staring at someone else while they are exercising—and worse, when the exercise in which they are performing puts them in a vulnerable position (e.g., Romanian deadlifts where the person bends over at the hips).

Here is a list of (obvious, yet still somehow necessary to describe) tips to avoid being a creep:

Mind your own business: focus on yourself and your own exercises. Other people in the gym did not go to the gym to talk to you. They did not ask for your advice or your thoughts about their exercises or physique. Keep all those thoughts to yourself.

Do not interrupt other people’s exercises: understandably, you may want to speak to other people at the gym. However, if the person appears focused and has signs of disinterest even during their rest intervals (e.g., headphones on, perhaps wearing a hat, avoiding eye-contact with you and everyone else), then leave the alone! And, no matter what, respect their personal space and their comfort. If they do not want to be bothered, then don’t bother them!

Do not watch/stare: you will likely see someone at the gym you find attractive; regardless, don’t stare at them. Staring is rude and inappropriate, but you should already know that. Of course, an exception to this rule may be if someone was performing an exercise that was extraordinary or impressive and you were watching in awe. If this happens, show your appreciation afterwards by acknowledging the person’s achievement; we’re all trying to improve, there’s no reason not to be supportive.

Never make comments about other people’s bodies: it is wildly inappropriate to comment on someone else’s body if they didn’t ask for your opinion! Keep your comments to yourself even if you think they’re flattering—most often, they are not, and you’re just being a creep.

NEVER TAKE PICTURES OR VIDEOS OF SOMEONE WITHOUT PERMISSION: this should be obvious, but some people still need this reminder. Do not ever do this, plain and simple.

(Properly) rerack your weights

Gym Etiquette: Improperly Racked Dumbbell
Improperly placed dumbbell

This was already discussed for general safety, but it is an extremely simple (yet important) piece of gym etiquette that so many people still ignore. If you take a weight from a rack before you perform your exercise, then put that weight back in the same spot on the rack when you finish.

For example (and this may seem incredibly obvious to some but not to all), if you take an 85lbs dumbbells from the 85lbs placement on the dumbbell rack, then you need to put that 85lbs dumbbells back onto the 85lbs placement on the dumbbell rack when you’re finished.

If you load multiple plates onto a barbell or machine (e.g., leg press), then remove the weights from the bar or machine when you’re finished and place them back on the rack(s) from which you found them.

If you leave weights on barbells or machines, if you fail to put dumbbells back where they belong, or if you leave any weights on the floor or anywhere else other than the racks, then you don’t belong in the gym. Simple advice: don’t be this person, and rerack your weights when you finish your workouts.

Do not drop/throw weights

There are safety exceptions to this rule, and they will be identified below; however, generally speaking, you should not be dropping weights, and you should absolutely never be throwing weights. Too often, dropping weights is an attempt to call attention to yourself. And, around here, we refer to The Golden Rule.

This rule is equally as important on machines with a weight stack (“selectorize” machines) where you pull and place a pin to select your weight. There is no reason why you should ever allow the stack of weights to slam downwards. If you do this, you’re just doing it to be loud and obnoxious, or you’re just not strong enough to perform the exercise at the selected weight. Either way, you need to fix that problem.

The exceptions to dropping weights are for safety. Olympic lift exercises, for example, absolutely require dropping the weight to protect your body from harm. However, in Art of Anatomy, Olympic lifts are not performed. Other exclusions for safety may include bench pressing with dumbbells and reaching a point of failure where you cannot position the dumbbells in a way to complete the exercise and sit upright without hurting yourself.

Gym Etiquette: Dumbbells on the Floor

If the option is to drop the weight or potentially injure yourself, then you need to drop the weight. Ultimately, don’t drop the weight to be a showoff. Most often, nobody cares how much weight you’re lifting, and this is especially true on machines!

Unnecessary grunting

This is another example of gym etiquette as a courtesy to others. Grunting during workouts is inevitable; when you’re exerting yourself at such a high intensity, you’re likely to end up making some noise during certain movements. Grunting is more common during exercises that engage your core and require significant effort (e.g., squats and deadlifts) and are generally less common during exercises that do not specifically engage your core (e.g., calf raises).

Most of the time, you may be gritting your teeth and exerting yourself intensely in the final few repetitions of an exercise. During these final repetitions, you may also be utilizing the Valsalva maneuver (bearing down) to increase intra-abdominal pressure and keep your core stable, and this is often when a grunting noise will escape you—and that’s fine!

On the other hand, if you’re grunting or making noise on your first few repetitions (of an 8-15 repetition set) or during every single repetition of your entire set, then the grunting was not based on your exertion and instead based on your ego and desire to be seen by others.

You absolutely should not be making noise for every repetition of a set of any exercise. If you do, then you need to refer to The Golden Rule and check your ego. This rule also counts for the hissing sound people make through their teeth (e.g., the “squirt bottle” sound at the peak of every repetition). Simply stated, don’t intentionally make noises during your workouts.

Phone use

Text and/or scroll your phone on your own time

Gym Etiquette: Phone Use

Generally, using your phone while on the gym floor is a violation of standard gym etiquette. Additionally, using your phone will interrupt your focus.

Understandably, there may be times where you actually need to speak with someone on the gym floor and/or use your phone for a valid reason. When this occurs, it is important that you remain courteous to other people in the gym and step away from the main area of the gym floor!

Most notably, it is incredibly rude to talk to someone or use your phone while claiming a piece of equipment, thereby inhibiting anybody else from using it. If you’re the person who spends time talking to another person and/or using your phone rather than using the equipment you’ve claimed, and then you have the gall to tell someone you still have sets remaining, then you don’t belong in the gym. Go to the gym to workout, and save the talking and phone use for your own time.

Don’t judge!

If someone is at the gym, they are (most likely) trying to improve. They may be trying to improve their health, improve their physique, boost their confidence, etc. Regardless of their purpose, they made it to the gym, and that’s something to acknowledge as a positive.

Do not be judgmental of someone who is trying to exercise. Everyone has their own story, and you don’t know theirs. The most awful example is the judgement, teasing, or other negativity towards someone who is overweight or deconditioned trying to exercise; it is the equivalent of judging a sick person for seeing a doctor. Don’t do it!

Equipment etiquette

Do not claim a bench to do standing exercises

Gym Etiquette: Free Bench

The free benches in the gym (flat bench, adjustable incline bench, decline bench, and upright chair) are for exercises that require a specific body angle either lying or sitting down. If you’re performing an exercise where you’re standing (e.g., standing lateral raise, standing biceps curl, etc.), then you don’t need a bench!

There is absolutely no reason for you to put your belongings down on or near any bench in the weight room if you’re just going to stand for your chosen exercise. Leave the benches for people who may need them!

Do not claim multiple pieces of equipment

This rule is absolutely true in 2 instances: when the gym is crowded and when the pieces of equipment you wish to claim are not near each other.

If the gym is crowded, then you get to use one piece of equipment at any given time. If you’re so eager to superset certain exercises, then choose exercises that don’t require multiple pieces of equipment that cannot move (e.g., use dumbbells vs. using the triceps extension machine and the preacher curl machine for your arms superset).

If the gym is empty, and you’re not keeping people waiting, it may be reasonable to use multiple pieces of equipment. However, even in this situation, if someone approaches you and asks to use one of the two that you’re using, this is when you need to be courteous. Allow them to work in, if it’s reasonable, or allow them to use the equipment. You are not the only person in the gym!

Gym Etiquette: Equipment

Lastly, regardless of how many other people are in the gym, don’t ever claim two pieces of equipment that are not near each other. If it takes more than 5 seconds to get to the next piece of equipment, then they are too far apart for you to superset them. If you disagree, then your ego is too big for Art of Anatomy, and you don’t belong here.

The fun part of all of this: using supersets will not enhance your muscle growth more than standard sets. It will save time for similar growth, but your supersets are not making your muscles bigger than if you had not performed them.

Do not stand in front of someone who is exercising

This is another courtesy rule which should be obvious. Yet, people are still so vain that they forget other people exist. If someone is exercising in front of a section of a mirror, do not stand in front of them!

Generally, a single set of any given exercise will not last longer than one minute. If you need to grab a set of dumbbells in front of someone, that’s okay—assuming you do it quickly and get out of the way.

This rule is most important when someone is doing standing exercises behind the bench area—a courteous decision by the person exercising. If they were already standing in that area, whether actively performing the exercise or resting between sets, don’t stand in front of them. This is a really simple rule. All you need to do is recognize that you are not the only person in the gym!

Deadlift with bumper plates

Although most standard plates are steel, they are still prone to cracking and breaking when slammed against the floor. The solution for this problem was the creation of bumper plates. They weigh the same but are designed specifically for being slammed and bounced without breaking. Do your gym and its ownership a courtesy and use bumper plates to deadlift. Of course, if your gym does not have bumper plates, then this suggestion is out of your hands.

Gym Etiquette: Bumper Plates

Is something missing?

If you have any suggestions for additional points of gym etiquette, please send them in! Send an email or send a message on social media!