Gym Basics

by Michael on August 20, 2009 · 0 comments

Suitable attire for Iraq...and that's about it. (Photo by

Suitable attire for Iraq...and that's about it. (Photo by

Now you have a solid workout plan, including a warmup and post-exercise strategy. Once in a while you just get outside and do some body-weight exercises — great. But it occurred to me today that I might be leaving something out.


Because it happened again. A guy walked out of the showers, soaking wet, across the locker-room rug, and sat down on a bench with only one of the gym’s thin free towels between him and the seat. Dripping all over, he somehow decided the most critical place to start was his hair. Eventually he got up to dry the rest of himself off, changed and left — leaving the waterlogged towel on the bench, and the other one on the floor.

Don’t let this be you.

It doesn’t stop in the locker room either. There are certain protocols that help everyone to not only have a better workout, but to not catch that cold or spread that H1N1 virus you don’t even know you have yet.

Be Smart About Weights

It’s easy for a guy to get intimidated the first few months at the gym: there’s always some dude and his buddy with bulging biceps, urging each other for one more 120-pound preacher curl. You look down at the 15’s in your hands and you feel like showing you can handle a bunch more weight. You go grab a couple of 40’s, take a deep breath, put a little extra oomph into it with your body, and…the next day you ask your buddies, “did you know you can hurt your back doing bicep curls? Turns out you can.”

Go light and work your way up. There’s no crime in using light weights. In fact, you can get a decent workout using the smallest possible weights, as long as you practice with good form and a full range of motion. Even experienced bodybuilders will often do warmup sets with just a bar, so they can make sure their form is correct. Nobody’s keeping track. Except you. In your notebook.

Use a spotter. I once clobbered myself in the forehead with a barbell I thought I’d racked properly after a set of incline chest presses. Knurled bars + weight = a nasty scrape. If you’re working out with free weights, a spotter not only ensures you don’t hurt yourself, it helps you squeeze out an extra rep or two.

Don’t drop weights — unless you’re in danger. There’s always one guy who finishes every set by just letting the bar or dumbbells fall to the ground. The problem is, unless you’re at a pro gym, neither the equipment nor the floor is made for that. Plus it’s annoying to the other people around (and occasionally under) you. If your weight is too heavy to put down properly, it’s too heavy for you to handle on your own. Use a spotter.

Respect Your Fellow Members

You’ll be going to the gym between 4-6 times a week, and you’ll likely start to get to know the other members at least as nodding acquaintances. It’s a good idea to help them enjoy their workout by treating them with consideration, so that they do the same for you. One day when you’re stuck under a body-weight bench press you can’t get back to the rack, you want someone to actually come help you instead of laughing inside as your windpipe gets crushed.

Wear appropriate clothing, and wash it regularly. Find yourself a few workout shirts (old t-shirts are fine), some sort of rubber-soled athletic shoe and either some shorts or workout pants. Street clothes are too constricting for a proper workout. Breathable sports underwear is also a very good idea. And change at least the shirt and your underwear daily: you may be the last one in the room to realize that shirt you’re using “one last time” because it “smelled fine” is actually pretty ripe. I usually toss all of my shirts into the gym bag so I know there’s always a clean one there, but keep in mind that if you leave a sweaty top in the bag too long it’ll infect everything else.

Wipe down your equipment. Everyone’s touching and sweating on the equipment. Dirty equipment isn’t just nasty, it can serve as a virtual petri dish for viruses. For the sake of others, when you’re done with a piece of equipment use the spray and towels the gym provides for wiping off all surfaces you’ve touched. For the sake of yourself, you might also consider wiping them off before you start. (If the gym doesn’t have spray and towels, call the local health department and find a new gym.)

Stay off the cell phone. Keep your private conversations private. A gym has lots of hard reflective surfaces. You may not think everyone can hear your call, but they can.

Don’t stare at the ladies. Even if you honestly have never seen a real live fitness model in spandex before. (Smart guys use their peripheral vision.)

Locker-room Etiquette

I have theoretically seen Dave Matthews naked.

I say “theoretically” because: 1) I don’t look at any guy’s naked stuff in the locker room, at least on purpose; 2) If I do happen to see something, my brain is really, really good at blocking it from my memory. The fact I don’t recall it also tells me he was a good locker-room citizen and didn’t draw attention to himself like, say, asking if I know a good accountant while he’s letting it all hang out. But some guys do that. I am begging you, don’t make me notice that you’re naked.

Wear shower shoes. This one is mostly for you. A typical locker room is a breeding ground for athlete’s foot. You don’t want athlete’s foot, do you? (If you’ve ever had it, you’re shaking your head violently right now.) Besides, it’s hard to find a place where flip-flops are fashionable, so take advantage of it when you can.

Dry off in the proper area. Take your towel to the shower with you. If there are individual showers, it’s customary to dry off in the shower stall, even if there’s a line of guys waiting. If it’s one large communal shower, there’s always a tiled, water-friendly area set aside specifically for drying. When you walk to the locker area while soaking wet, you make the floor (often a carpet!) wet, which means the next guy who changes there gets to step in your drippings, possibly with his fresh socks. Not cool.

No hanging out naked. It’s okay to not cover up every second you’re in the changing area, but if you’re doing much more than going from point A to point B, at least wrap a towel around your waist. That includes shaving, hair gel application, Q-Tip usage, talking to other guys (even if they’re your brahs — hell, especially if they’re your brahs), checking your cell phone messages, watching the last five minutes of the football game on the locker-room TV, and anything that requires bending over.

Throw your towels in the proper receptacle. Towels left all over the benches and floor are unsanitary as hell. The cleaning staff may wear latex gloves but your fellow members don’t, and we have to use that floor and those benches.

A Little Common Sense

Some of these tips are obvious, but others may not be, especially if you see guys behaving like they grew up in a monkey house. Anything you do with weights, do it smart to avoid injury. Anything you do other than with weights, do it smart to keep the gym a clean, positive place where everyone (including you) wants to be. Concentrate on the best workout you can get, and as you feel more comfortable around the place, you’ll make some friends who might help you get to the next level.

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