Let me backtrack. It’s 8:37pm in the gym and raining outside. There are loads of people milling about dancing but only 4 on the gym floor (7000 sq2). We rent the studios to a salsa company every night to make some extra cash and keep the energy up in the gym. My client finishes her mobility and foam rolling and smashes her deadlifts. Next up the plan was to do some rowing paired with trap 3 raises. After finishing her first set of seated rows we walked over to the dumbbell rack hoping to pick up the 5lbs weights and all hell breaks loose.
Ok. Maybe that’s an overstatement but I was upset and rightfully so. One of the biggest gym etiquette no-nos was happening. A member was doing standing dumbbell curls inches away from the rack effectively closing it off for anybody else to pick up weights. So my client and I waited in an empty gym for the member to finish their set. He finished, put his weights back, and started adjusting the music on his ipod. STILL IN FRONT OF THE RACK. I gently tapped his shoulder and asked him to move so we could grab the 5lbs weights.
Maybe this is normal for you. I’ve heard gym etiquette horror stories from trainers who work in commercial gyms. Not at my club. We’re a small boutique gym where almost every member works in some capacity with a trainer. People do things right! That’s why I was so upset.
It all starts with us
There’s no excuse for bad gym etiquette but this article isn’t a rant (I said no rants on thePTDC ever remember?). Instead, I’m going to highlight the most common mistakes clients make in the gym but instead of blaming them I’m blaming you. You’re the example they follow (even if you don’t have six pack abs) and the person they look up to. They emulate you consciously and sub-consciously.
In the story above no harm was done. There were 4 people working out in the gym. I knew the client and he wasn’t embarrassed. I realize though that I work in a unique environment. Most gyms are much busier which means that:
1. There’s more potential for etiquette no-nos
2. There’s a bigger chance that other members will get upset at whoever is getting in the way
3. The member making the mistake will feel ostracized as they’re usually new and inexperienced.
I want to focus on point #3 because that’s what affects you the most. People will fail to respect the rules of the iron. It just shouldn’t be your clients and it’s a often missed aspect of what makes a trainer great.
Before getting into the meat of the article I want to also note that it’s up to you to teach and empower folks even if they aren’t your clients. Don’t make fun of the idiots in the gym. Approach them softly and help them.
It’s hard enough to get a client into the gym
You’ve spent lots of time, effort, and money getting a new client in the gym. The client has finally built up the nerve to join a club and for the first while is hanging on by a thread. The littlest incident (perceived or not) might have them leave never to come back. Even if you find it funny. If they get yelled or glared at by an established member of the gym it could embarrass them enough to leave. You’ve lost a client or member that you worked dearly to get.
On the other hand if you teach your client gym etiquette early on their confidence in the gym will soar. The “I can actually do this” self-talk increases because they won’t second guess themselves. Better yet, they may even start to notice other gym goers ignoring etiquette and feel empowered that they aren’t making the same mistake.
I’m going to lay out a chosen few. They’re not the only ones clients make but are the most prevalent and also the easiest to avoid with a trainer whose on the ball.
1. Respect the no-lift zone – Don’t ever lift a weight within 5 feet of the dumbbell rack. Ever. I don’t care if it’s shoulder press, split squat, biceps curls, or goblet squats. Pick up your weights and take 5 giant steps back.
2. Avoid the “Ab zone” – Most gyms have a designated area for mats, balls, bosu balls etc. Don’t bring heavy weights into that area. It’s designated for stretching and ab work (if you still do ab work). By taking up their space you force them to take up your space (see the next point)
3. Keep your mats out of the way! – This one irks me the most. Why does anybody set up a mat in between two benches in the free weight zone and do crunches? Do they want to get a weight on the head? Even if the gym is empty set up your mat out of the way. Either stick to the “ab zone” or place your mat in a corner out of the way. Think proactively. Where might somebody want to work out over the course of your set? Don’t set up there.
4. Walking in front of somebody – If somebody is in the middle of their set NEVER cross their field of vision. Take the long way around if you have to.
5. Put your weights away – ‘Nuff said.
I take 10 minutes with new clients and teach them gym etiquette. Just the basics but have found it makes a huge difference. I remember going to New York for the first time. I was so uncomfortable in my surroundings that I bumped into things, got in peoples way, didn’t hold the door open for strangers, I even put recycling in the garbage can. I’m sure I pissed off New Yorkers but it wasn’t my fault. I was out of my element and didn’t know how things worked.
Us trainers are comfortable in the gym. It’s our second home. New members of the gym are overwhelmed with information. The cable crossover is like a Trump Tower, the dumbbell rack is times square, and the pin loading leg press is the stock exchange. Members don’t know where to walk, where to put their things down, or where to set up their mats. They’ve yet to hear of the no-lift zone. I give every new member a 10 minute etiquette talk as part of their introduction to the iron.
In this 10 minute talk I give my clients 4 rules:
1. Always put your equipment back – No exceptions.
2. Take at least 5 big steps back from the dumbbell rack after you get your weights
3. Even if the gym is empty, place your mat down in a corner and out of the way - you never know who may come and want to use the space and it’s a good example for other exercisers.
4. Never walk in front of somebody training – If another member is in the middle of their set take the long way around. Give them space and never cross their field of view.
Be an example
The 10 min talk is a good start but we all know habits take longer to build than 10 minutes. Your best tool is to follow the etiquette yourself.
There’s a trainer I work with that’s clients do core work. Fine. To each their own. Problem is that he sets them up right in the middle of our gyms open space. If kept empty we have two lanes 11m long that can be used. Once he’s in the middle nobody can use either.
I went to a gym last week and watched the trainers (I do that often). Three times the trainer didn’t put the weights away or unload the bar after the client finished their set.
My client today was doing a seated neutral grip shoulder press. They were focused on their 40×1 (4s eccentric, 0s pause, explosive concentric, 1s pause) tempo and killing the set. On the 7th rep a trainer walked in front, grabbed weights and handed them to her client. The set stopped at 8 reps. It was slated for 10.
What kind of an example are these trainers setting?
If you set a mat for your client off to the side while saying “I’m going to put this here to make sure we’re out of the way” I’m sure your client will think of that when they’re doing their own workout.
If you go out of your way to re-rack all of your weights and unload all of your bars I’m sure your client will follow suit. Better yet, ask them to help you put the weights away.
If you take the long way around to avoid crossing a members field of vision while saying “Let’s go the long way to make sure we don’t obstruct the vision and focus of that member” — I’m sure your client will be aware next time they’re in the same situation.
If a client in the gym has bad etiquette it’s your fault, not theirs. They’re not wanting to interfere with others workouts they simply don’t the etiquette to follow. Educate, empower, and set the precedent. Maybe then people will learn to avoid the no lift zone.
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