Gym Etiquette

I notice more questions about gym etiquette from people new to gyms than I do about working out. I think many of us are nervous about fitting in to the gym world. Many women over 50 did not grow up using the gym so we’re a bit more shy about it. I know I didn’t do much exercise of any kind until I was in my 40s or 50s.

Here are the most common questions about gym etiquette that I see and my answers. I’ve spent many years going to different gyms but I think there’s some common courtesies that hold true regardless of which gym you’re at. There’s no book of gym etiquette that I know of but I think these rules work.

Gym Etiquette

Sharing Equipment

If people are sitting on a machine or standing in front of it and talking, you can ask them to move. If someone is sitting on a machine and clearly not just resting between sets, certainly you can ask if you can use the machine. They’ll either say, “oh, I’m almost finished” and wrap it up and let you use it or they’ll just say “no problem” and let you have it.

Usually if people are standing by a machine and talking, they’ll simply move aside if you ask to use the equipment.Conversely, if you’re sitting on a machine and someone asks if you’re finished, either wrap it up or let them use it.Sharing equipment at the gym shouldn’t be a stressful thing.

Working In

What is working in? Sometimes you want to use a machine while someone is using it too. Typically people rest between sets so you can ask if you can work in which means use the machine for a set while the other person is resting. You basically end up alternating using the equipment. If a gym is busy, this is more common. If the gym is not busy, I find it’s better just to go use a different piece of equipment and then come back to this when the person finishes with it. There is nothing wrong with someone asking to work in. You can ask and don’t be offended if someone asks you. The best answer is “sure” or “I have one more set and then this is all yours.”

Clean Up

Put away your equipment. If you’re using free weights, it’s frustrating not to have the weight you want because somebody has stockpiled every dumbbell in the joint. Use the dumbbells and then put them back on the rack, even if you’re going to use them again. Obviously, if there are five sets of 12 pound dumbbells, this isn’t such a big issue, but if all of the 20 pound dumbbells are being used, don’t leave a set lying on the ground while you use something else.

If you’re looking for a set of dumbbells and someone has a set lying on the ground, it’s ok to ask to use them. The person may say sure or they may say they’re almost finished but at least you’ve let them know that you need those dumbbells.

Similarly, if you put plates on a bar, put the plates away when you’ve finished. Be considerate of the next person.

If you want to use a bar and someone has left the plates on, you may have to just put the plates away. It’s frustrating but that’s the only way you’re going to use the bar. I’ve seen young guys leave 100-pound plates on a bar which is probably more than I can easily remove. If that happens to you, you may have to ask someone for help. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that.  The people who work at the gym will help you if nobody else is around.

gym etiquette

Wipe the Equipment

Wipe off the equipment when you finish. If you’re using a machine or a mat or a bench, wipe it off when you are finished. Most gyms have some kind of anti-bacterial spray and towels or paper towels available. Be considerate of others and clean the equipment before leaving it.

Talking to People

It’s ok to talk to people and to ask for help if you need it. If someone is wearing headphones, don’t try to strike up a conversation. It’s still ok to ask if you can work in but it’s not the time to ask someone detailed questions.The flip side of that is not to tell people they’re doing something wrong. We all get irritated when a stranger starts to correct our form.  If you need help or advice, consider asking someone who works at the gym.


A basic tenet of gym etiquette is that people spot each other. If you need someone to spot you, ask someone for help, but try to choose someone who is not intently focusing on their own workout. I notice that few people ask me to spot because I’m an older woman and I think they assume I’m not going to be a good spotter. That is probably true, especially for the guys lifting heavy weight.  Sometimes when I’m doing a chest press with dumb bells, I’ll ask someone to hand me a weight. Once the dumb bell is in my raised hand, I can do the exercise but getting started is sometimes a challenge.

Safety Concern

One additional point. If someone is rude to you or threatening or super critical, let a gym staff person know. They’ll deal with it. Don’t get into an altercation.

Basically, life in a gym is like life anywhere. Treat others in the way you want to be treated. Clean up after yourself, don’t hassle others, and be willing to share.



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