Rules of the Gym, Part 1

In any place you have to share with other human beings, there tend to be rules. The gym is no exception. Usually, as part of signing up for a gym membership, you’ll be shown a list of rules for proper use of the equipment and so on. Chances are you’ll eventually forget what the list said just as I have. Or maybe you’ll have internalized the gym rules by then as I have so that they’re part of your standard behavior during your workout.

But it’s not just about the rules and good social manners, it’s about being prepared to have an optimal gym experience. It all starts before you even get to the gym.

What to Wear and Take With You

I wear a somewhat oversized t-shirt, regular gym shorts, and serviceable gym shoes. My clothes are comfortable and allow for easy movement. I don’t like tight, restrictive clothing when I’m working out. Also, I want to wear something I don’t mind sweating in.

gym bagMy gym has changing rooms but no locker room with showers. There are lockers on one wall of the main gym area if people need to lock up their stuff. In cold weather, I wear a ragged old hoodie that I just hang up on a hook in the hallway leading to the bathrooms. I keep my phone, keys, and anything else I want to hang on to in the pockets of my shorts.

I also take a water bottle with me since I don’t like interrupting my workout to walk to and from the water fountain. As I probably mentioned previously, I take a small, old hand towel with me to lay on when I’m doing bench work, to periodically wipe sweat off my face, and to clean up whatever I’ve sweat I’ve left behind on the equipment.

Finally, I have a small notebook and pen with me to record the particulars of my workout; what exercise I did, how many reps per set, how many sets, that sort of thing.

I live about an eight to ten minute drive from the gym, so them not having showers is no big deal for me. I drive there, arriving at about five in the morning, workout, and leave a few minutes before six, getting a shower in when I get home.

You don’t have to take a water bottle with you. Plenty of people don’t. They just go to the water fountain when they get thirsty. However, even for folks who don’t exercise, most people walk around every day in a state of dehydration.

According to the Mayo Clinic the average adult male should drink about 13 cups or 3 liters of water a day. The average women should drink about 9 cups or 2.2 liters of water daily.

If you’re working out at even a moderate intensity, you’re going to start losing water. This will affect your performance at the gym, so don’t be afraid to drink. You probably aren’t going to drink so much that you’ll feel bloated or uncomfortable exercising. I usually take a short drink after ever set when I’m lifting. Believe me, staying hydrated will make your workout a much better and more rewarding experience.

You don’t have to take a notebook or record any information about your exercises, but I’d recommend it for one reason. It’s a great way to keep track of your progress over time and to see how you are improving. I tend to quantify my gym experience and use history to help set goals for the future.

A lot of people take an iPod or other music player with them. Also, some of the cardio machines have a built-in television screen and a jack to plug in headphones. I tend to break wires when working out, so if I need music, I just listen to whatever’s blaring out of the gym’s speakers. However, if you’re more careful with an iPod’s earbuds than I am, go for it.

Sharing the Equipment

Believe it or not, there are a fair number of people who are at the gym doors at 5 a.m. when they first open up. These are the morning “regulars,” some of whom have been showing up every morning for their workouts for years.

We all tend to have our set routines with at least half of the regulars starting off their morning on a cardio machine. I usually head straight for the weight room with about 3 or 4 other people give or take.

sharingOccasionally, someone gets to a bench or a machine that I was about to start using. There are one of two options in this circumstance. In my case, I just switch to a different exercise and wait for them to be finished, but you can also ask if, after they do one set and are going to rest for a minute or two, you can do a set. It’s not uncommon to switch off like this and it has the benefit of breaking the ice and getting you and the other person talking a little.

I have a pre-set amount of time I choose to rest between sets, which is about a minute or a little less. Chances are another person will rest between sets at a different interval and depending on how long it takes them to get through a set, this arrangement could throw off my timing.

I know it seems like a picky thing, but I only have an hour or less to do everything, plus this is one of the methods I have to keep my workout intensity up, at least somewhat. This is why, if someone gets to the leg extension machine before me, for example, I’ll just start out with the lying leg curl machine instead. It works better all around.

It’s common for people to rest 2 or 3 minutes between sets. If you’re sitting there for that length of time and you see someone standing around waiting to use your machine, offer to switch using it back and forth as I described above.

Probably the rudest thing I’ve seen (though it’s pretty rare in my experience) is a person sitting on a machine taking a phone call or texting, or maybe just chatting it up with a workout partner. Don’t be that person. You’re there to workout. It’s a gym, not a coffee shop. There’s no harm in being friendly, and in fact, the gym can be a good place to meet new people, but don’t let your social side make you hog the gym equipment or water fountain when others want to use them.

The exception to sharing is when you are using plate loaded machines in the free weight room (if you’re a beginner at a gym, it’ll take you a while to work up to using them). I’m shifting my routine to use these machines rather than the LifeFitness machines. On a LifeFitness weight machine, setting the weight is a matter of moving a pin under the appropriate weight value and then starting your set.

On a plate loaded machine, you manually have to lift large metal plates from racks onto the bars attached to the machine. This is a bit time-consuming, and it makes having two people switching the use back and forth by adding or removing plates every time rather awkward.

For example, if I’m using 160 lbs on the leg press machine and you’re pressing 260, it’s a terrific inconvenience to move these heavy plates around between sets.

If I kept this blog post in one piece, it would be over 3,000 words long and most people don’t want to read that much in an online article, so I’m breaking it up. I’ll publish Part 2 of “Rules of the Gym” tomorrow morning.

And no, I have no idea what that dog is doing in a gym in the featured image at the top.

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.

Og Mandino

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