The Gym Rat Code: 11 rules to follow when you’re at the gym

This is a tool, one that gives you power. But use it wrong, and it's a source of pain. And setbacks.

It’s early January, it must also be National Gym Month.

The turn of the new year means a lot of people will be trying to turn a new leaf. Often, that includes those wonderful fitness resolutions.

The gym rats — those of us who hit the iron 12 months out of the year — are well accustomed to seeing the effect of the New Year’s resolution on our workout space. A whole bunch of people we’ve never seen before or haven’t seen in awhile will be clogging up the works at fitness centers across the country this week.

I’m cool with that, mostly because for some of you, it means that real transformation is underway. You won’t see me giving folks the “Get off my lawn!” stare just because a few more people are taking up some gym space.

But I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a high number of annoyances that come with the flood of newbies who are suddenly mastering the art of the dumbbell bicep curl. So for your sake and our sanity, here are a few tips from Gym Rat Nation on how to behave during the unofficial National Gym Month:

An exercise station is not a parking space. If you’re going to rock those lat pulls or leg presses, have a seat, get your work done, and move on. Sitting there for 15 minutes before finishing your second set is quite rude. A little self awareness helps here, in that you should realize that other people (gasp!) might want to use that machine or bench, too.

Put the damn phone away. You’re not at the gym to text, check Facebook or post selfies. You’re there to work off that pumpkin pie you snarfed all by your lonesome. We waste more time on cellphones than just about anything else we do, so why bring that time-wasting habit to the gym? That text, social media post, cat video or selfie can wait. Do your work, move to the next station. If need be, leave the phone in your locker or in the car. Trust me, it’s not a vital organ. It’s a portable piece of technology that can actually be set aside for an hour or two.

Don’t crowd the dumbbell rack. When you’re grabbing a pair of dumbbells, do us all a favor and don’t just stand in front of the rack while you get your epic pump. Take a few steps back. Otherwise, you might be standing in front of several pairs of other dumbbells the rest of us want to use. Seriously, I don’t want to have to reach for a weight that’s right in front of your junk because you’re too lazy to create a little space.

Minimize the chit-chat. You may know some of us at the gym. But we may not want to talk to you very much while we’re there. A few words, a sentence or two, that’s fine. But don’t drag us into a conversation. We’re there to get some work done, and a play-by-play breakdown of Sunday’s game, your epic pub crawl or a recap of the latest “Game of Thrones” episode is not furthering our goals. Save the water cooler talk for places where calorie burns and work sets are not part of the business at hand.

Excellent tools for fitness. But put 'em back when you're done.

Excellent tools for fitness. But put ’em back when you’re done.

Clean up after yourself. One of my two greatest pet peeves of the gym is when people use a bunch of weights and put none of them back when they’re finished. They leave the floor looking like a tornado flung random dumbbells and plates everywhere, leaving it up to gym employees or other exercisers to sort it all out. Dude. This ain’t your mom’s house, and you aren’t four years old. Put your stuff back when you’re finished.

Clean up after yourself, Part 2. So you’re working hard and sweating, right? That’s fine, but it’s not OK to leave pools of sweat on benches and seats. Any gym worth its salt has towels and spray bottles ready for you to wipe your goo off the equipment. No one wants to wallow in your slime or clean up after you, and certainly these are the types of behaviors that give people staph infections or MRSA. Do your part and leave no trace of your perspiration behind.

Don’t slam the weights. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There is no reason most exercisers should slam weights. Aside from people doing powerlifting barbell work with bumper plates, or perhaps deadlifting big amounts of weight, there’s no excuse for it. You’re either using too much weight or you’re trying to draw attention to yourself. Stop it. It’s douchey as hell and can damage equipment.

Leave the ladies alone. The gym is sometimes populated with female exercisers, and many of them have done an excellent job at getting themselves in shape. Kudos to them. But it’s not a bar scene, and it’s not a singles mixer. Stash the pick-up lines, don’t leer at the gal in the yoga pants and in general, let the gals do their work. They’re not there for your romantic fantasies, so keep your eyes on the ball and remember why you’re there.

Don’t be a coach. Unless you’re a trainer who works there or if you’re asked, we don’t want to hear your tips. I confess, I’ve been guilty of this one when I see atrocious form at work, but I always felt like a douche afterwards. Why? Because it’s a douchey thing to do. Unsolicited training advice is unwanted training advice in almost all situations. Chances are, the training tips you got from your high school football coach suck anyway.

Share. Especially at this time of year, lots of people are going to be wanting to use the same equipment as you. Be cool and let folks work in a set with you. Or pick a different weight or exercise station. We go along by getting along. You don’t own that pair of 25s on the dumbbell rack. They sorta belong to all of us.

And finally, no curls in the squat rack. The squat rack seems like a convenient place to load up a bar with plates and use as a station for barbell curls, right? You can rest the weight on the safety bars, walk up to it, do your thing, and then set it back down in the cage without having to bend over. Don’t do it. Ever. The squat rack is for squats. Serious lifters squat, and we take great offense when this precious piece of real estate is being squandered on your epic bicep pump. So take your bro-curls elsewhere, junior.

If you can do these things, you will get along well with the gym rats, and given time and commitment, you’ll become one. And believe me, there are far worse things to be.

Bob Doucette

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7 thoughts on “The Gym Rat Code: 11 rules to follow when you’re at the gym

  1. Pingback: The Gym Rat Code: 11 rules to follow when you’re at the gym | Health Ambition

  2. My sentiments exactly, I’m also really glad there’s people who want to get fit, and I’m truly rooting for them! But I go to the gym regularly and it’s so hard to watch the change that happens… And battling to find parking. Last Jan it took me 30 minutes and I finally gave up!

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