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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Fitness: Be wise with your time at the gym

Time is precious. Don’t waste it.

I was at the gym the other day and overheard an interesting conversation.

It was between a woman and a man (I assumed either they were married or at least dating), with the woman looking over a training log the two were sharing.

I’d just seen her doing some sort of ab routine, and he was working some of the machines. Two things I noticed: 1) She looked like she was finished; 2) She was getting tired of waiting on him.

Then she said what was on her mind.

“I think we have to rework this. There’s no way I can be at the gym for three hours a day.”

Oh how right you are.

Some might question her commitment compared to his. Others marvel at movie stars and “Biggest Loser” contestants who spend 3, 4, or even 6 hours a day working out. And surely professional athletes are putting in that kind of time at their workout pad of choice.

I’ve got news for you, folks. If that’s the kind of time you’re putting in, I can wrap it up in a one-word summary.

Overkill.

There are exceptions, and I’ll get to that. But for the average person who is looking to lose weight, or gain mass, or just get in shape/maintain conditioning, there is no reason to spend more than 90 minutes on any given day working out.

None.

And I mean that for people who strength train and do cardio in one session.

Most of my strength training workouts don’t last more than 45 minutes. In that time, I can cram in 18 sets, usually working two major muscle groups in the process. My splits are chest/back, legs, shoulders and biceps/triceps. Only on shoulders day do I perform less than 18 sets (15 in this case).

The key is simple. Have a plan, get to work, get out. What it means is minimizing rest time between sets to a reasonable time, avoiding chit-chat and staying busy. If the gym is not too busy, I’ll go back and forth between muscle groups (do a set of incline presses, then jump on a pull-up bar; repeat). This will help you get done quicker and adds a slight cardio benefit as well. This system works for me, and with a few tweaks here and there, I’ve seen gains in strength and positive results in terms of weight loss/maintenance and overall work accomplished.

Now let’s talk cardio. First, I’d advise doing cardio AFTER you lift. If you’re looking for the fat-burning variety, all you really need is a decently rigorous high-intensity interval training session that doesn’t need to last more than 20 minutes.

So assuming you get through your lifts in 45 minutes and then bust out 20 minutes of HIIT, you just got in a good session in slightly over an hour. I usually run for 30 to 40 minutes after a lifting session (except on leg day), so my overall session is slightly longer. But it’s nowhere close to two hours, and really won’t even hit 90 minutes unless I feel the need to run more than originally planned.

Take this into consideration: The wildly popular Crossfit workouts (Workout of the Day, or WODs) typically are finished in about 20 minutes or so. I’m not endorsing Crossfit, but I can tell you that the people who do it leave the gym fatigued from the perspectives of both strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. Crossfit may come under fire from its critics, but its designers got one thing right: get in the gym, do your work, get out.

You can do a lot of good in the gym to build a better body. But don’t let the gym become a time suck. Get in, get to work, and get out.

THE EXCEPTIONS

There are some endeavors that will require more time. Athletes on sport-specific training regimens will frequently endure workouts that last 90 minutes to three hours (or more), but much of that time is spent coaching technique as well as doing conditioning and strength training. Team sports athletes, boxers/MMA fighters, and track athletes (among many others) fit into this realm.

Then there are the endurance athletes. You know who you are. Marathon runners, ultra-marathon runners, cyclists and triathletes must put in more time for training. My longer runs are taking me up to two hours right now, but the point in that case is getting my body accustomed to working that hard for that long; others will be running for three to four hours, depending on the distance.

But if you’re like most people in the gym — you just want to get in shape, lose weight, get ripped, get strong — don’t fool yourself into thinking you have to put together some marathon session of two to three hours at the gym per workout. You’ll burn out. Or worse yet, you’ll get injured. Either way, you’ll end up sidelining yourself and short-circuiting your fitness ambitions.

Instead, be better at gym time-management. Get it done quickly. Then you’ll have all that extra time to use your rapidly improving physique to do cool stuff outside the gym walls, and your workout buddy or your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse won’t poop out on you.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088