A fitness club is more than a good place to start your road to a healthier life. It’s often like a community center and spa as well. You can meet your neighbors (or colleagues), encourage each other as workout buddies, and in some clubs have a post-workout sauna. But as with any micro-society, there are those who throw a monkey wrench into the works.
I encourage you instead to grease the wheels of society, project an image of a considerate man who pays attention to his surroundings, and in a few cases perhaps even make a good impression on that hottie on the elliptical. It’s simple, and in most cases it’s just common sense, to avoid these gaffes. (I’ve also included a bonus tip to help you not strike out with that hottie.)
1. Hanging out on the equipment between sets
If you’re following the Simple Starter Workout Plan, you won’t be doing this at all, but you’ll see it often: the guy at the one preacher curl station who does one set, then sits there for five minutes—sometimes reading or texting—while his fellow gym rats hover waiting for him to finish.
It’s better for you to keep moving between sets, so get up, take a drink, shake your muscles out, and if anyone looks like they’re waiting for the equipment, offer them the opportunity to “work in.” You might even make a workout buddy!
2. Dropping weights
There are gyms where dropping loaded dumbbells and barbells is part of the accepted protocol. Your local consumer fitness club isn’t one of them. Knowing how to “ditch” the bar will save you from injury when you start doing heavy Olympic-style lifts, but dropping weights at the end of each set means you’re not doing it properly. It’s highly distracting to the members around you (and under you), and can damage the floor (hardcore lifters use a “bumper,” a rubber plate slightly larger than the largest metal plate, to prevent damage and reduce noise). You could even end up injuring yourself.
If you’re using the proper weight for the exercise, you should be able to set the weights down at the end of each set without dropping them. A common exception is the dumbbell chest press: the weight that maximizes your muscle gain might not be easy to set on the floor beside the bench. One answer to this problem is to place the dumbbells on your chest at the end of the last rep, then sit up, sliding the weights down to your lap from which you can then smoothly set them down. Another answer is to employ a spotter to help you. A spotter will also enable you to squeeze out one or two more reps.
3. Forgetting to wipe down the equipment
This one is probably the most common gym gaffe, and there are occasions when I can see not thinking of it: namely, when you’re not sweating at all. Likewise, it’s not required to spray down the handles of every dumbbell you use. But once you’ve started perspiring, grab the disinfectant spray and a small towel and just give the seat or bench a quick wipe after your final set.
After catching numerous viruses from my fellow members who didn’t wipe down their equipment at all, I started instituting a rule of thumb: I wipe it down before I use it, then again after. That goes double for stretching mats.
4. Leaving weights on the barbell
When you next visit your local gym, go over to the free-weight section and note how many barbells are loaded with plates but have no one using them. There’s almost zero chance that the next person to use that bar will be pushing the exact same weight, meaning they’ll often have to remove the weight before they put their starting weight on. Make those plates 4-6 45-pounders and that next person a 110-pound girl, and you get the picture.
When you’ve finished a set of squats, bench presses or other barbell exercises, take the plates all off the bar and put them on the nearby storage rack. If someone’s waiting to use the bar after you, ask if they want you to leave anything on the bar.
5. Leaving towels on the floor or benches
I know, this seems obvious, right? But it’s surprisingly common to find towels lying pretty much wherever they were last used. In fact, when I needed a photo for this very article, I didn’t have to wait long to find exactly what I was looking for, and it’s far from the worst recent example I’ve seen. To top it off, when you find a towel lying in a random walking area or bench, it’s almost invariably wet, adding another layer of yuck. And why some of these guys are using two or three towels is anyone’s guess.
Every changing room has a receptacle for used towels. Use it.
6. Walking around the locker room soaking wet
This often goes hand-in-hand with the above. Most locker rooms have carpet, and by the time you’re a gym veteran it’s guaranteed you’ll have stepped with your bare or stocking feet in a wet spot created by someone who didn’t think to dry off before exiting the shower area. To up the ante, a select few walk to their locker wet, then put a towel down on the bench and sit on the towel.
Even if there’s a line for the showers, dry off before you exit. The other guys will understand. You don’t have to do a perfect job, but make sure you’re not dripping.
Bonus: Chatting up every attractive woman on the floor
This is another guy you’ll see at any busy gym: he usually shows up at the busiest time of day. He does one set of an exercise, then saunters over to where an attractive woman is working out and “checks in” with her. After 5-10 minutes, she finally tells him she needs to continue exercising. Some of the hotter female regulars can’t walk from one station to the next without running a gauntlet of guys wanting to know “how’s it goin’?”
This is the reason more and more gyms are creating women-only areas, and that’s sad, because there’s often no better inspiration to squeeze out that one last rep than watching a goddess in spandex walk by.
I’m not going to tell you never to talk to women at the gym. What you need to do is time it right: instead of going out of your way to catch her, say hi as she passes you. Then if you’re somewhere you can say a few more words, like the water fountain or front lobby, do so then. It’s a good practice in any situation to be the one who has to get back to what he’s doing, but it’s especially important at the gym. Plus you’re here for a primary purpose: don’t compromise your workout!
You’ll find that even in an environment where testosterone reigns, someone who shows consideration is more respected. And respect, like a healthier body, builds confidence. Now go get it on!