It was 8:37pm in the gym and raining outside.
I got angry at a client — visibly angry. But then I realized that it wasn’t the client’s fault, it was the trainers.
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 that’s when it happened.
One of the biggest gym etiquette no-nos was happening.
A member was doing standing dumbbell curls inches away from the rack — closing it off for anybody else to pick up weights. My client and I waited in an empty gym for the member to finish his 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. I worked in a small boutique gym where almost every member worked in some capacity with a trainer.
It all starts with us
There’s no excuse for bad gym etiquette. 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. 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 worked in a unique environment. Most gyms are much busier which means that:
- There’s more potential for etiquette no-nos
- There’s a bigger chance that other members will get upset at whoever is getting in the way
- 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! – 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.
Take 10 minutes with new clients and teach them gym etiquette.
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, and didn’t hold the door open for strangers (us Canadians do that).
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.
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. The trainer is the example in the gym that members follow.
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 he or she is working out without you.
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 all 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 he or she is in the same situation.
If a client in the gym has bad etiquette it’s your fault, not theirs. Teach. Support. Empower.