Rules of the Gym, Part 2

As promised, here’s the second part of my blog post on the rules and etiquette of the gym.

Free Weights and More About Equipment Etiquette

Probably one of my biggest pet peeves is people not racking their weights after they’re done. The other day, I walked into the free weight room and one of the dumbbells was missing. I eventually found it by the Roman Chair, which is on the other side of the gym, and returned it, but there’s really no excuse to not returning equipment where it belongs.

Not only does just leaving dumbbells, barbells, or other equipment lying around anywhere inconvenience the next person who wants to use it, but potentially, a dumbbell in the middle of the floor where it has no right to be is a safety hazard.

checking your form in a mirror

Do not get to near to a person while they are actually lifting. I was doing reclining dumbbell bench flies one morning and a guy had brought his son, maybe 11 or 12 years old, into the free weight room. He wasn’t keeping an eye on his kid and as I was extending my arms out, the boy walked right past me, nearly colliding with one of the dumbbells. This not only distracted me which might have affected my form and thus risk me injuring myself, but if he had actually collided with my arm holding a 20 or 25 pound weight, we both could have gotten hurt.

I know 20 or 25 pounds don’t sound all that heavy, but with my arm hyperextended away from my body, it wouldn’t take much to injure my shoulder. Also, if I dropped the weight, a 20 pound dumbbell landing on his foot would have been no laughing matter.

There are mirrors all over the gym for a reason and it’s not because people love looking at their awesome physiques. Lifters watch themselves in the mirror to check their form and make corrections as needed. It’s common when using dumbbells which are racked in my gym next to the mirrored wall, to stand at least somewhat close to the dumbbell weight rack.

If I need a pair of dumbbells and someone is standing near the rack while lifting, I’ll wait rather than trying to reach the dumbbells, blocking their view of their reflection, and distracting them. Usually, if the person sees me waiting, they’ll back up a few steps to let me in.

That said, try not to stand too close to equipment others may need when working out. No one really has to stand literally 2 or 3 feet from a mirror to check their form, but I’ve seen some lifters do it anyway.

This doesn’t happen so much during the week, but sometimes if I miss a day of lifting, I’ll make up for it on a Saturday. It’s a different crowd on a Saturday. One guy who lifts there occasionally is something of a “drama queen”.

We all grunt or otherwise make some sort of noise every now and then during a lift. I wheeze like a steam engine between sets on some particularly difficult lifts. On the other hand, the “drama queen” yells at each and every lift so loudly he sounds like a hippo giving birth to farm machinery.

The first time I heard him, I thought he’d hurt himself, but this just seems to be how he works out. I don’t know if he’s lifting too heavy or if he thinks all that noise somehow makes him more effective in his workout. All I can say is that it’s really distracting and in my opinion, unnecessary.

plate loaded machineThe other thing, and it’s not just this guy, is slamming the weights down. I’ve seen people do this both with free weights and on weight machines. If you are so exhausted at the end of a set that you lose control of the weight and you have to drop it, you’re lifting too heavy. The idea is not only to choose a weight that challenges you, but to keep control of the weight during the entire set of reps. That means maintaining good form and balance from the start of the movement until the end. When you are lowering the weight to the starting position, keep control until the weight is completely at rest. This may not always be possible if you’ve overestimated the amount of weight or number of reps you can handle, but most of the time, you should keep control.

This isn’t just proper etiquette and form, it’s a matter of safety. Believe it or not, if you drop or slam a barbell or dumbbell down hard enough, it’ll bounce…maybe into you or someone else. Even on LifeFitness machines where the weights travel along a track, slamming them down risks damaging the machine.

Look up the cost of these machines online sometimes. They’re expensive. Thousands and thousands of dollars of expensive, and they take a lot of wear and tear every day, day in and day out, sometimes by people who don’t know how to use them or who are careless.

Which brings me to broken equipment. Sooner or later a machine will break or not perform as expected. It might even be dangerous to use. Please report broken machines to the gym staff so, if necessary, they can take the machine out of use. This protects the next person who might get hurt on a broken machine, and lets the management have the machine repaired and return to use.

Being Social

It’s pretty common in the morning for people to go to the gym in pairs or occasionally in small groups. There are a fair number of older married couples, along with friends who are workout partners who do some or all of their workouts together. Particularly on the cardio machines, people will stand or sit next to each other and talk during exercise, which is actually desirable since on cardio, you shouldn’t be working so hard that you are too out of breath to talk.

Having a workout partner during your weight training routine is also helpful. As I’ve mentioned, my son David and I used to workout together and at first, we did the same routine, so we switched off on the various weight machines and he taught me a lot about form and technique. Also, having a partner motivates you to go to the gym rather than get lazy and skip a day, and it also can encourage you to do your best at each exercise rather than just lifting enough to get by.

I could probably go to the gym, do my workout, and never talk to anyone except to say “hi” to the receptionist, but that’s just me. My problem is I tend to be very focused and not particularly social. I’m sure some people have thought I was rude, but when I go to the gym, I know what I want to do and I want to get it done.

I also have to confess that when I was first working out with free weights, I felt awkward, like I was going to be judged by the more experienced weight trainers.

None of that happened, and particularly one guy, who’s pretty friendly and supportive of just about everyone, helped me get past my social inhibitions. Not every one is particularly chatty at the gym, but after you start seeing the same people every morning five days a week, you get used to saying “hi” and exchanging a few words.

Eventually, you won’t be the least experienced or newest person at the gym. Eventually, if someone has been friendly toward you or given you a bit of advice about how to do some workout better, you can pass the favor along.

I generally stay out of someone else’s workout, even if I think their form isn’t what it should be, but one time, I saw a guy risking a shoulder injury on the pec deck machine by attempting pec flies when the machine arms were set all the way back for reverse machine flies. He didn’t know the machine arms were adjustable.

I stopped what I was doing to show him how the adjustment worked. I think he was embarrassed, which wasn’t my intention, and I was as friendly toward him as I could be, but it was either that or stand there and watch him hurt himself.

And So On

The rest of it is simple social manners. If someone forgets their water bottle as they move from one part of the gym to another, take it to them. If you’re there first thing in the morning, and you see someone left a towel or sweater next to a machine, probably the night before, take it up to the front desk, which is where the person will eventually return to and ask about their property.

senior weight trainingI’ve had a lot to say about etiquette, but in my experience, most people I’ve encountered at the gym are polite, courteous, and reasonably friendly. Occasionally, someone has done something I’ve found annoying, but usually it’s momentary and I move on.

Going to a gym has not only physical benefits but it also helps you realize that you’re not alone. Particularly at my gym, almost everyone there is pretty much like me. No one has a perfect or hulking body (well, maybe one or two), and everyone is there for the same reason, to exercise for the sake of their health, to lose weight, to feel more energetic, and to get a sense of accomplishment that they can be better tomorrow than they were yesterday.

If you think I didn’t mention something about etiquette, rules, or social behavior at the gym that should be included, please leave a comment and let me know. I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now without delay.

Simone de Beauvoir

Just found a YouTube video of a guy with serious dancing and treadmill skills. Enjoy.

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