Unwritten Rules of the Gym

We all know that the beginning of the new year brings the resolution to join a gym or dust off the membership card, and for those who are familiar with a gym setting, it may seem like no big deal. In reality, stepping foot into a gym the first time may as well feel like stepping into a foreign country where no one speaks your language. I’ve had some people tell me they are afraid to go to the gym because they don’t know what to do and what not to do, and that is a valid fear. This post is for those wanting to learn the ropes, but also for regular gym goers because it is all too relatable. While some of these may seem like common sense, and maybe a bit lighthearted, the gym is definitely a different world filled with all ages, and stages!

One space rule

Just like there is an unwritten rule for regarding bathroom stalls and not using the one right next to someone unless it is absolutely necessary, the same goes for cardio machines. One must not go on the treadmill or elliptical right next to someone else if there are other ones open. I can guarantee you that if there are a billion other treadmills open in the gym, and you pick the one next to the guy wearing a Turkey Trot shirt, he will be a little bit upset. Why is this a “thing?” I have no clue, but for me, I know I don’t want the person next to me hearing my rapid breathing that sounds like I have never exercised in my life. I also don’t want them leaning over and watching “Say Yes to the Dress” with me while I walk (true story). All in all, remember the one space rule.

Wipe it down

I gotta say, sometimes people watching is more entertaining than watching my shows because you literally see and hear everything! The stair master is a great perch for this because it sits higher than everything else so you can scan the room quite nicely. It’s amazing what people do during cardio sessions: dancercise, fix their hair, pick their ears and nose, tweeze their eyebrows, eat a jar of peanut butter (not kidding), and do their nails (I found a fingernail on my machine this week). There’s also those that replicate my Elmo sprinkler I had as a kid as a constant stream of sweat flings everywhere. In addition, people will talk about anything and everything; including a detailed description of their batch of stomach flu they had the night before. Think about it, hundreds of people who have been who knows where touching who knows what all come back to that one machine that you use, and they might not wipe it down after they pick their nose, cough all over it, or change a poopy diaper…just let that sink in. If you’re too lazy to wipe down your machine, you better not be too lazy to make a trip to the doctor.

No texting and lifting

I firmly believe that since there is a no texting and driving rule, there should be a no texting and using weight machines rule. But instead it should be a no texting, Instagram scrolling, snapchatting, tweeting, pinning, Tik Tok, shopping, VSCO, or calling Jimmy Johns rule ( I have seen and heard them all). Every time I go to use a machine in my circuit, there has not been one time where the machine is actually in use, but rather, someone sitting on their phone and taking snap stories that they are “getting gains” as the machine doesn’t move at all. Usually this is on the leg extension machine because it is the perfect comfy leaned back chair to sit in and take selfies in front of the mirror. Now, I completely understand using your phone to change the song because doing leg extensions to any country love song just doesn’t do it for me, but in every other case you have two options; go take your Instagram stalking somewhere else, or put that phone away and do the work!

Keep bodily noises and dropping weights to a minimum

If you ever walk into a Planet Fitness, they have something called the “Lunk Alarm” which is specifically for those who grunt, or drop their weights. This would not exist if it weren’t a problem. I have been in the gym when people sound like they are dying, giving birth, just ran a marathon, and even singing along out loud the song on their headphones. While there is nothing wrong with that, sometimes you gotta do whatever you gotta do to make it through a workout, I can’t deny that it makes people around that certain person feel extremely uncomfortable and irritable. I’m guilty for wanting to throw my phone at the person who cleared his throat very loudly every 30 seconds, or ellipticalled like a maniac making it sound like he was going to break off the machine and fly away. Additionally, dropping your ten pound weights after five bicep curls is absolutely uncalled for and scares the daylights out of anyone not expecting it. I can’t help but recall the time a guy dropped a giant barbell which made it feel like there was an earthquake in the gym. Finishing a set does not require a “mic drop” finish at end. Don’t be a lunk!

Get off the squeaky machine

This relates to my previous point about making people irritable. There are many times where I have been on a machine next to someone and it sounds like a dying animal, yet they aren’t phased at all by the high pitch screetch every stride. I understand that the new Air Pods cancel out all outside noise, but if you have the whole cardio section turning around to stare at you, chances are it isn’t because they’re noticing that new workout top you have on or that you have been doing more squats lately because your booty is popping. Please, for everyone’s ears and sanity, go use the identical machine right next to you that doesn’t sound like a seagull.

Don’t mind the mirror selfies

This rule is for both the picture taker, and the observer. Honestly, this “rule” isn’t weird at all. I think mirror pictures are great for those tracking progress over a couple months or feeling really confident in their skin that day, so let those people have their moments without making them feel embarrassed! Yes, I have been caught taking post workout mirror pictures for my fitness Instagram page, and yes, it was very awkward when someone noticed what I was doing, which is why it is best to pretend you saw absolutely nothing just like you would when someone trips in public or accidentally drops their towel while changing in the locker room. I’ve witnessed a guy taking mirror pics for a good five minute (he wasn’t on a weight machine so it’s ok) and everyone just walked on by him like he wasn’t checking out how big his biceps were. It’s also not uncommon to see people filming themselves, me included. As weird as it looks, I always appreciate when people don’t notice that I’m filming some burpee variations because it ultimately benefits others! Don’t knock it now, because I bet you that you will take a gym picture at LEAST once in your future.

Do not correct someone’s form unless they ask

There is a distinct difference between the cardio and weight section. People like to talk to each other while casually ellipticalling, or catch up with friends in the cardio zone. When it comes to weights, everyone is in the zone by watching form, counting reps, trying not to drop a very heavy object on their head, and probably listening to hardcore rap or metal (unless you listen to the occasional Jo Bros and Hannah Montanta like me). The last thing someone wants is to be told they are doing something wrong, especially when they are holding a heavy object in their hand that could take your head off. The gym is a place where people can build muscle, and confidence, and when a stranger comments that your butt isn’t back far enough on your deadlift, that totally contradicts that and makes them feel intimidated. I’ve had people ask me in HIIT classes what they can do to better their form, and of course I tell them, but only if they want me to. When it comes to the weight section, leave it to Personal Trainers to correct form because their clients are truly seeking the advice and don’t want to be corrected about their bicep curls from someone with toothpick arms!

Use a towel

I relate personally to this one because as I have stated in my previous posts, I become a sweaty tomato when I get my heart rate up, and drip like an icecream cone on a hot day. It is so gross getting on a machine where someone’s sweat puddles remain from their literal sweat session. I can’t go a workout without a towel because if I did, I would have streaks of my so called “waterproof” mascara running down my cheeks. There have been a handful of times I have gotten on a stairmaster with someone else’s sweat all over the handles. As much as I tell myself it is probably their water bottle that dripped, I know deep down that just isn’t the case. Just like you would wipe up a spill on your counter, please please please wipe up the spills coming from your forehead and everywhere else.

Keep chatting and PDA away from high traffic areas

One of the things I enjoy most about the gym is the sense of community, and befriending people you probably never would have without it. That being said, it is so easy to find your friends and start venting about life right in front of the squat racks, by the wipe dispenser, or at the entrance of the locker room. This isn’t a huge problem, but there are some people that seem to be on a mission, and losing two seconds in a workout due to having to go an alternate way can really get their muscle tanks in a twist. If anything, this gives you and your friends an excuse to go down to the Life Cafe or out to lunch to catch up without a frustrated sweaty person in sight. PDA may seem like a strange place for the gym, but there are so many couples there working out that it happens more than you think. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is goals when couples spot each other, or hit a new personal record and share a quick smooch, but when you are making out right in front of the water fountain, that’s when PDA becomes a problem. Lastly, I have been stuck behind a couple that held hands walking from machine to machine and it is very hard to get around a literal bond like that!

Sharing is caring

Just like our parents taught us to share our toys and put them back after we were done, weights are the adult version of toys. Imagine this: you have one hour to get a workout in and planned it the night before. When you go to the weight rack, ready to crush this weight session, you only see one 20 pound weight when you need two. You compromise and go for the 22.5 pounders or 17.5 pounders instead, but notice there is only one of each. You then look over at the person on the bench next to you and they have a weight rainbow, one of everything, hoarding all the weights when only using the tiny pink ones. You wait patiently for them to put the 20 pound weight back with its match, but instead, they just get up and walk away, leaving the weights scattered all over the floor like a toddler with Legos. If you pull that move, people will remember you as “that guy” for the rest of your days. Channel your inner child and put your weights back after using the sets you need because tripping over weights is almost as painful as stepping on a Lego.

Keep sips short

Staying hydrated during a workout is super important for muscle repair and keeping energy up, but hydration does not require a leisurely happy hour at the water fountain, or large gulps like you’ve been stuck in the desert for years. A common theme throughout this post is time – people like to get in and out of the gym, and they don’t like to wait for anything. I’ve personally experienced what it feels like when you’re holding up the line. One time I was filling up my water bottle, and a couple of intimidating guys with giant muscles were waiting behind me. This may not seem like a huge deal, but when the water is streaming out at the speed of molasses and my water bottle is only 1/4 full, it gets really uncomfortable as you feel their stares on your back. It’s an equivalent feeling to when you are trying to put your change back in your wallet after checking out and the person behind you is waiting for you to get out of the way- pressure is on! I now make sure my water bottle is full before I go to the gym so I don’t delay anyone’s #gainz.

Respect marked territory

It is crazy how territorial people can get in the gym, and even I am. People know which elliptical is “mine” (under the air vent) and they won’t go on it if I show up. In return I know which one is “theirs.” In group exercise classes, placing a mat on the ground is basically the same thing as making a reservation at a restaurant. The same goes for the weight section. If there is a towel, free weights, or a phone on a bench, it is taken, so don’t move it. There could be no one in the gym but if there is something on that bench, it is taken, no questions asked. Communication in the gym is so different because everyone walks around with their earbuds in – which leaves it all to body language and non verbals. I have been working out before and someone will come up to me and just point at a bench with their eyebrows raised which I’ve learned translates to “is this bench taken?” Learn the language of the gym and your life will become so much easier. If you move someone’s stuff on a bench, they won’t tell you it’s theirs, instead they will most likely stare you down in the mirror while you carry on with your workout as if they have just been evicted. Stay in your lane, stay in your territory, and you will be golden.

You are what you wear

People will remember you based on what you show up in, which is why I will forever be the “matching bun girl” because I wear my gymnast bun and scrunchie that matches my outfit every single day. This is proven by the fact that someone at the gym saw me at a restaurant and approached me saying “you’re the bun girl!” That being said, wear what you want to be remembered as. I have to admit that I can’t help but laugh when I see some questionable choices worn to the gym. I am thoroughly impressed by the people who work out in jeans or khakis, those things have no flex at all, so props to you. Some honorable mentions are the groutfits, cowboy boots, moon bounce shoes, a puffer vest with no shirt on under it, galaxy cat leggings guy, all green guy, wind suit guy, shirtless hairy guy, guy with giant quads but tiny shorts, the Lululemon wearing grandma (you go girl), the short shorts guy, knee high socks lady, and the “Sloth Running Club” shirt guy. When it comes to gym fashion, it’s all over the place.

Know where to look in the locker room

I don’t know if this is the same in the guy’s locker room, but it is very strong in the ladies locker room. There are people that are very confident in their skin and have no problem walking around butt naked (which I still can’t get used to not going to lie), but on the other hand there are some people just starting their fitness journey and may not even feel comfortable changing. Because of this, it is important to be conscious of one another and respect their privacy even though there is none at all. Maybe someone looks fantastic and you are admiring their abs, but they can’t read your mind, so they may think you’re staring at them for a different reason. I still remember my first time walking into the Lifetime locker room as a 12 year old and immediately looking at an older woman who was sporting her birthday suit. As terrible as it sounds, I didn’t know what to do because I had never seen that, or granny panties, before. I was just frozen staring at her until she realized I was either mesmerized or scarred. I can imagine this was very similar to the feeling the custodian had my sophomore year when I flashed him (for those of you that have been loyal readers, you know I had to drop that in here somewhere). I think we can agree that we wouldn’t want strangers looking at what God gave us no matter how many squats or chest presses you’ve been doing, so save the awkwardness and mind your business! Lastly, when holding a conversation with someone stripping down at the same time, keep steady eye contact and do not look down 🙂

Build others up

I love the gym for several reasons, but the biggest one is that it is a great place to learn. I have not always been into fitness – I was used to bars, chalk, springboards, and beams for 16 years of my life. I never went into a weight room until college. The day I retired from gymnastics and entered the actual gym, I was completely intimidated. It took me about three years after I joined the gym to feel comfortable in the weight section. I used to avoid anything I didn’t know how to do because I was afraid of looking like an idiot, but the reason I am so confident in what I do now is because I had the ability to push the pull machine without any judgement or finger pointing. Mistakes were accepted and not shunned. I will go ahead and say that you do see some pretty interesting things in the gym (there are Instagram accounts dedicated to people doing weird things on weight machines), but what you will notice is that no one is making them feel inferior. We learn through watching others, and that is how I eventually learned that the push machine was in fact a pull machine. If you feel lost in the gym, chances are, no one actually notices because everyone is doing their own thing. Don’t take three years to go try something new like I did, because there is no shame in doing it wrong the first time!

As intimidating as the gym may seem, if you break it down, it’s a place to pick up things and put them down again, pull things, push things, run in place for a while, climb some stairs, etc. Everyone can do that, which means you aren’t out of place at all! It’s funny to see what unwritten rules are made in different environments, and as weird as they may sound at face value, you soon come to realize that you start to do them too! Next time you hit the gym, look for these unwritten rules, because they definitely are there!

Happy 2020, everyone! I hope those resolutions aren’t putting the “dead” in deadlift 😉