Gym Etiquette for Beginners: 8 Gym Norms to Follow

The gym can be a very daunting place, especially for a beginner. It has its own culture, and within this culture are acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior. Part of the anxiety that is caused by going to the gym revolve around not fitting in. One sure way to stand out (not in a good way) is to break the common established gym “norms.” Below is a list of common etiquette rules when in a public gym setting. Follow these guidelines and nobody will even know it’s your first time!

1) Be aware of your surroundings

Arguably the most important rule. The gym can be a busy place, with people lifting heavy weights above their heads. It is important that you pay attention to your surroundings. The last thing you want is to have weight over your head, and someone not paying attention bump into you, or vice versa you bump into someone else. For everyone’s safety, pay attention to what you’re doing. Additionally, try to respect the personal bubble (3ft of space on all sides of others).

2) Respect the “no-lifting” zone

The no lifting zone is the 3-5ft of space immediately in front of the dumbbell rack. In a commercial gym where multiple people need to access the weights, it is important that you don’t block this area. Grab your weights and take at least 5 steps away from the rack before beginning your lift. This goes for the use of benches too. Other members shouldn’t have to climb over you to access their weights.

3) Wipe down the equipment after use


There is a certain level of “dirty” that everyone accepts by sharing the same gym equipment. However, it is common courtesy to wipe down the equipment that you use after you are finished. All gyms will have spray bottles of disinfectant solution located throughout the gym.

4) Re-rack your weights (leave equipment as you found it)

Always leave equipment as you found it. When using free weights, be sure to return the plates back to the racks where you found them (and in the appropriate place). NEVER leave weight plates on bars or machines after use. It creates a big hassle for the next person who needs to use that piece of equipment.

Additionally, when removing weight plates from bars (especially suspended bars, such as on a squat rack), make sure to unload the weight evenly on each side. This may mean a few trips back and forth to each side of the bar. However, if you unload all of the weight from one side you risk the bar tipping over. This can be very dangerous for yourself and others.

5) DO NOT curl in the squat rack


The biggest pet peeve at gyms. Why? Squat racks are limited. You can only squat in a squat rack, but you can do bicep curls anywhere. Don’t steal a squat rack to do curls. Plain and simple. Save the squat rack for exercises that require the rack, such as squats and overhead presses.

6) Spotting practices

If you need a spot (assistance with a lift), don’t be afraid to ask someone. Additionally, if someone asks you for a spot and you don’t feel confident or comfortable giving assistance, simply tell them so. It’s better they find someone else who is comfortable than risk serious injury if something goes wrong. Regardless of which role you play, a few bits of information need to be addressed when spotting/being spotted, including:

    • How many reps are to be completed? This gives the spotter a better sense of when you might need their assistance.
    • Whether there needs to be assistance on the “lift-off.” During a bench press, this is the moment when the lifter unracks the bar from the bench.

7) Don’t hog all the equipmentavoid-hogging-the-weights

Supersets and circuits are great for heightened intensity and shorter workouts. However, if the gym is super busy, hogging multiple pieces of equipment can prevent others from completing their workout. If the gym is super busy, complete all sets of one exercise before moving on to the next and avoid large circuits using multiple machines.

Additionally, if someone is using a piece of equipment you need, and it appears they have been/will be there for a while, it is acceptable to ask to “work-in.” Working in means you swap out to complete your set while they rest, and you go back and forth as necessary. However, one thing to consider: will it be a logistical nightmare to work in on this machine? For example, if they are doing grossly different weight than you, and it requires removing large amounts between sets, then it may be better to just wait it out or find something else to do in the meantime. If it is a similar weight, or easily adjustable (like a pin-loaded machine), then go ahead.

8) Avoid unnecessarily dropping the weights

Different gyms have different rules on this. Better to be safe and avoid dropping weights while you are completing your workout (unless it is a necessity for safety reasons).


The gym can be an intimidating place for a beginner who doesn’t know all the rules. Like any other venue where you find yourself as the “newbie,” understanding the norms of the group can help you fit in faster and avoid negative experiences. You can use the guidelines mentioned in this article to ensure a seamless transition from beginner to accepted-regular.

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