How to Not Be an A-Hole at the Gym, According to 11 Fitness Pros

On the ‘alpha male,’ phone etiquette and not being stinky

September 14, 2018 9:00 am

In most of the places we frequent each day, the code of conduct is well-known.

Know your order before you get to the coffee-shop counter. Merge every other car during your commute. Don’t hit on people at the office.

But there are other places where the rules seem … Unsettled? Forgotten? Null and void?

At the top of the list: the loud, sweaty, animalistic twilight zone we call the gym.

In service of making sure you’re not the resident a-hole at your studio of choice, we spoke with 11 fitness pros about what is (and isn’t) acceptable behavior.

The final word on gym pickups included.

Tracy Green
Part-time Pilates instructor and full-time PR Account Executive

1. Inverting? Make sure you’re covered up.
“I would suggest to men doing Pilates or yoga to wear fitted pants or shorts. We might be upside down or on our side, and nobody wants to get a flash up your shorts. Even running-style shorts with brief liners make me a little nervous … There have been several instances where I had the class on their sides and ended up switching the exercises we were doing because of some wardrobe failures by male participants!”

2. Do not hit on people, and definitely do not stalk them
“A few years ago — and at a different gym — I was on the treadmill in a long row of machines, most of them open. A man a little older than me got on the treadmill right next to me … He proceeded to run next to me for about 20 minutes, and he kept trying to go faster than me. When he finished running, he stopped and stood on the treadmill watching me. It was awkward but I chose to ignore him and just keep going with my workout. Later, when I was done with my run, I was walking through the gym to do some stretches. The same guy noticed me and started walking my way, so I decided to stretch at home and beelined to the locker room instead. That’s probably the time I felt the most uncomfortable.”

Ben Trapp
Fitness Director at Trilogy Fitness and Wellbeing in Los Gatos, CA

3. Be proactive in offering a chance to work in
“Nothing is worse than someone who is hoarding a small section of the gym to themselves and utters the words ‘I’m still using that’ every time you touch something in their sacred corner. Let others work in. In fact, offer to let them work in if it appears they are waiting for something you are using.”

4. Don’t be the stinky guy
“Personal hygiene matters! Wear extra layers if you have to, wear deodorant, shower after your workout. Every gym I have ever worked at has had that stinky guy (or guys). On several occasions, our staff has had to address the person in private to inform them of the multiple complaints about the foul stench that wafts behind them. If you walk into a room or hop on a treadmill and find the people around you seem to magically disappear, guess what? You are the stinky guy. Don’t be the stinky guy.”

Anonymous Female Gym-goer
Which tells you just how bad women have it at the gym

5. If you’re sick, stay home or sanitize
“Guys who come to the gym with a cold or flu, blow their nose, fail to clean their hands and then handle the free weights and touch the equipment. Thanks, guys, for sharing your germs with everyone.”

6. “Beasting out” is no excuse to act like an animal
“The worst thing I’ve ever witnessed? A guy did a farmer’s blow into a trash can (and part of it missed). There was a tissue box on the wall right above the trash can. Was the guy trying to save trees? In my book, the farmer’s blow should be outlawed, even outdoors. It definitely has no place in a fitness facility. Yuck.”

7. Know when (and when not) to ask for a spot
“Don’t ask a patron far smaller than you to spot. If they say yes, you’ve put both them and yourself in danger. Plus, unless you know them, you have no idea whether they have any clue how to spot properly. If you need help, ask a staff member at the gym.”

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Erin Wathen
Group exercise instructor, life and weight-loss coach, food addiction counselor and author of Why Can’t I Stick To My Diet?

8. Ditch the “alpha male” charade (or face the consequences)
“Men tend to talk a great deal in classes when there is a female instructor. They also would heckle me, and when I would respond by making the class harder or ignoring them, they would complain loudly. Very much old-school, sexist, alpha-male nonsense. Over time, they started to be scared of me because my classes were so hard cardiovascularly (an area a lot of men are weak at) that they couldn’t keep up. They didn’t dare say a word, as the women were doing fine.”

Bruce Kelly
Trainer and coach for 35+ years, MS, CSCS and CFSC certified

9. Keep the grunting to a minimum
“I don’t object to people grunting, yelling, etc. as long as it’s within reason. Grunting on 25-lb. curls is obviously ridiculous and unnecessary. Unless you’re a world-class lifter, strongman competitor or the Mountain, most grunting isn’t warranted by the actual effort or weight being lifted, in my opinion.”

10. If you’re out of control, you need less weight or a spotter
“Don’t drop or throw the weights, especially if you’re not on a lifting platform. Even dumbbells and floors aren’t indestructible, so treat them as if they belonged to you. They can also rebound, and then you’re endangering others as well as yourself. If you can’t put the weight down under control, maybe you’re using too much weight or need a spotter.”

James Shapiro
NYC-based trainer, MS in Exercise Science, NASM CPT, CES and PES certified

11. Spend less (or no) time on your phone
“When I’ve gone to get my own workout in, I plan for a workout with minimal interference or interruptions. Your goal should be to come in, beast during your workout and get out. When I have to ask how many sets you have left and your response is followed by you staring at your phone for longer than the sufficient ATP recovery time of 1 minute 30 seconds, we have a problem. Your workout shouldn’t include your thumbs.”

12. Remember, slamming weights doesn’t impress anyone
“I had a female friend who works for the DEA (and is an absolute beast) almost walk on her first day at the gym across the free-weight section to a guy who was dropping a 135-lb. deadlift with no eccentric control. I had to stop her because I knew she would rip him a new one. You, sir, are an asshole. Control your eccentric motion and you’d probably be much stronger than 135 lbs.”

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Mike Liera
General Manager at The Arena Gym in San Diego, CA

13. Clean up your equipment (and perspiration)
“The number-one rule of being respectful in the gym is to always clean up after yourself. Put back any equipment you were using, rack your weights and wipe down your machines. Not only does this help out the employees at the gym, but everybody else trying to get their work in will agree it’s common courtesy. There is nothing worse than someone who acts like a hurricane in the gym, leaving a trail of debris behind them.”

14. Double-check before taking over a machine, apparatus or area
“It can get hectic in the gym during peak hours, and this can make it difficult to know when some pieces of equipment or areas are in use. Always make a reasonable check to make sure that what you are about to do isn’t interrupting somebody else’s workout. You would hate it if somebody stole your bench after your first set while you were getting a drink of water, so try to always be considerate.”

Pat Gilles
Owner of Pat’s Gym in Madison, Wisconsin. Named “America’s Most Inspiring Trainer.”

15. Don’t make people tell you to use your indoor voice
“On one occasion, I recall an athlete having a conversation with his buddy. The problem was the athlete had his Dre earphones on, and was shouting throughout the entire session. Surprisingly, his buddy didn’t tell him to take them off or talk with a lower voice.”

16. Don’t dole out advice, even to friends (unless you’re a professional)
“Just like on a golf course, I see friends in the gym giving advice on how to improve. Generally, the advice is wrong and will put the athlete in a worse position than if he listened to his body and reacted to the feeling. It’s well meaning, I am sure, but from what I’ve seen, it’s generally detrimental.”

17. Never rewear clothes that have been sitting in your gym bag
“There are those athletes who sweat up a storm in the gym, change and just stuff their workout clothes back into their bag for their next workout. When they come into the gym, the clothes are ripe smelling, but they are oblivious to it. Surprisingly, these are the athletes who then go around the gym looking to hit on other athletes.”

18. Treat everyone equally and forget the hierarchy
“Gyms can be intimidating, especially for beginners. People who have been training for years don’t automatically get seniority over how everyone else uses the gym. The easiest thing is to be kind and respectful to everyone, because ultimately everyone there is trying to better themselves.”

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Robert S. Herbst
Personal trainer, weight-loss and wellness coach, and champion powerlifter

19. Don’t assume people need help
“I was doing the JM Press, a heavy triceps movement done with a barbell on a bench. It was a heavy set scheduled for four reps. I was working very hard to lock out the third rep when out of nowhere some guy comes over and yanks the bar up. I told him to f-ing let go. I kept trying to lower it but he kept holding it up. Finally, I just racked it because the set was shot. I stood up and swore at him asking what he was doing and that I had not asked for or needed a spot. He was clueless and not at all contrite. I have run over and pulled a bar off people in an emergency, but they should mind their own business if not asked in advance to spot.”

Keith Stafford
Nashville Fit Body Boot Camp owner, MS, NASM and CPT certified

20. Don’t assume people don’t know what they’re doing
“Unless you’re a trainer at the gym, tread carefully giving out advice to others. Keep in mind you may not know what a person is going through. I remember a time when I started working out after shoulder surgery, and a guy not knowing my medical history starting schooling me on what I should be doing.”

21. Looking to pick up women? Go somewhere else.
“Don’t treat the gym as a pickup bar. Keep your eyes to yourself and keep any conversation related to the gym (i.e., ‘Are you done with that equipment?’). Any attempt at a pickup line, or comment like, ‘You’re hot,’ is inappropriate.”

Alysa Boan
NASM Certified Personal Trainer at and RealFitnessMaven

22. That said, acquaintances can be made — so long as it happens naturally
“It’s okay to work in sets with someone else, even a girl. Be courteous and reset the weight to how you found it and they should do the same. Sharing a machine shouldn’t mean losing time on your workout, and can often result in a gym acquaintance with a similar workout style and training time.”

Main image via DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story

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