Top 10 Unwritten Gym Rules

Break any of these age-old unwritten gym rules and you’ll find yourself about as popular as the guy who never washes his gym clothes!

March 25, 2013

By Frank Hoffmann

I’ve been in the iron game for over 15 years and have trained in every type of facility imaginable. From posh health clubs to underground dungeons and everything in between, I’ve lifted there. The one recurring trend that I cannot seem to escape is that I always come across individuals that are simply unaware of the unwritten gym rules.

You have your two basic rules, which are posted in nearly every gym: Put your weights away and wipe down the equipment after use. These rules are cut and dry, universal and should be easy for anyone to understand, even newbies. Do people follow them? Generally…no! “Bro, if you’re man enough to load a bar with four plates than you’re man enough to strip it down.” Ya’ll know what I’m talking about and I’m sure some of you reading this are guilty of breaking the rules on occasion. But this is not what I’m talking about; I’m talking about the unwritten rules. These rules prove you belong in the trenches of iron warfare and respect your fellow soldiers enough to ensure that their battles with the unforgiving steel is successful and unabated.

Whether your goal is to pack on slabs of granite-hard muscle, get shredded to the bone, add power and strength or crush a new PB, we’re all in this together! Face it, we all have our own demons to contend with and the last thing we need to worry about is one of our comrades holding us back because of bad gym etiquette. Below are ten gym rules everyone should abide by. Remember them, write them down or take a picture – I don’t care! Just follow them for your best interest and the interest of your fellow iron warriors.

1) Strip the Bar – Simple enough. When I get set to begin any lift I expect to start off with a clean bar and I trust everyone else feels the same.

2) Step Away from the Rack – 90% of the time the dumbbell rack is in front of a mirror. This doesn’t mean you can pickup a pair, take a 1/2 step back and start lifting. Grab your equipment and move away from the rack so there’s an unobstructed path for others to get what they need. Additionally, if your bench is too close to the rack, pull it back a couple of feet.

3) Don’t Horde – Supersets and giant sets are great but taking up multiple machines or gathering up dumbbells like a squirrel is a no-no, especially when the gym is packed. If your program calls for you to jump from one machine to another, train during off hours. If you need several sets of dumbbells, hurry up and re-rack after every set.

4) Learn to Share – Mondays have become national chest day which usually leaves benches in short supply. However, don’t think for a second that this rule doesn’t apply to all equipment. Let someone else work in. If you’re on a piece of equipment or using the only 150’s in the house and have more than one set left, let someone work in if they ask. You have to rest between sets anyways, so be a decent human being. Conversely, if you’re waiting for someone to finish their set, don’t linger around them. Ask to work in or get out da way!

5) Enough with the Walking Lunges – Most gyms have a walkway through the weightroom that people, mostly personal trainers and their clients, feel they can use as a one lane track for lunges. Stop it! Either take it outside, to the yoga studio or just do stationary lunges.

6) Squat Racks are for Squats – Unless you’re the only soul in the gym, don’t you dare do bicep curls in the squat or power rack, that’s an offense punishable by death in some states! Heavy rows, rack pulls, push presses and cleans are acceptable lifts, but never curls.

7) Cell Phones…Really? – Unless you’re a doctor on-call or your baby momma is expecting, your cell phone should never taint the sanctuary of the weightroom floor. If you must take a call here’s what you do: (Ring-ring) “Hello…hold on a second, I have to strip this bar real quick and take this call outside before this 250 pound gorilla kills me.”

8) No Reservations – A towel or water bottle on or beside a piece of equipment does not constitute a reservation. If you’re bench pressing, stay by your bench. Don’t drape your precious towel or leave a water bottle on it and walk away to chat. If no ones around, I count to 30 before your possessions go flying and I start lifting.

9) Buffer Zone – Imagine an invisible circle around a person lifting and if you get within three feet of that circle you’ll get an electric shock. When someone is in the act of lifting try and stay away at all costs and never walk in front or behind them. Wait until they’ve completed their set.

10) Respect the Headphones ­– First off, you should not be bugging anyone while they’re lifting, but if they’ve got headphones on, leave them the hell alone. If you’re like me, I wear headphones for three reasons: 1) To play my choice of music, 2) Drowning out the background helps me focus on my mind-muscle connection and 3) As a social repellent. Headphones on = world off! If you come to the gym to socialize, fine, just do it away from the warriors who are there to get some serious work done!

There you have it, my top ten list of unwritten gym rules. There’s plenty more where those came from but I ain’t got the time to list them all. In an ideal world there would be no more than 10 people in a gym at any given time, but sadly that’s rarely the case. Like I said before, we’re all in this together, so abide by these rules, have respect for the lifters around you and let’s make some serious gains!

Frank Hoffmann is a former NCAA and Professional CFL football player from Toronto, whose passion for health and fitness stems from his years as a personal trainer. Frank works as a freelance fitness and lifestyle writer while holding down a nine to five job and believes having a full-time job is no excuse to not be fit. Check out his fitness blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Nine2Fit.