January came early at my gym this year. The weirdness started in early December. Or at least that’s when I noticed it.

The first sign was the older man blocking the dumbbell rack to do lateral raises with five pounds in each hand. I’ll call him Jedi Guy because of the way he cloaked his head, torso, and arms in an oversized hoodie.

There’s nothing original about blocking a dumbbell rack. But Jedi Guy took it to a new level by standing just far enough from the rack that he not only blocked the weights in front of him, he made everyone behind him scoot their benches back.

And I haven’t even told you the weird part. Jedi Guy had a gym wipe in each hand to avoid touching the iron with his skin. Except that was already impossible because he was wearing thick weightlifting gloves.

Then there was Officious Woman. I wouldn’t have noticed her at all if she hadn’t demanded that one of the gym’s trainers tell her where to find the barbell she likes. No, not the Olympic bar in the rack. In fact, she wanted the trainer to move that one out of her way. She was looking for the other one.

The 15-pound training bar she wanted was a few feet away, stowed vertically in a sleeve attached to the back of the rack. “How am I supposed to know that’s where you keep it?” she barked.

He politely said she wasn’t supposed to know, but for future reference, that’s where they keep the non-Olympic bars.

Once she’d called attention to herself, it was impossible not to notice everything she did. Especially when she stood between two benches to do side lunges, thrusting her hips over the guy who was using one of the benches for presses.

To be clear, I don’t say any of this to make fun of people who’re trying to get in a good workout. Calling out people who don’t know any better is a bad look for fitness pros, as Tony Gentilcore explains here:

“Understand that you too were once a newbie. While it's easy to roll our eyes at the influx of resolutionaries* performing for AMRAP, it's a nice reminder that everyone started somewhere.


“If you had a time machine and revisited some of the things you did in the gym when you first started, I'm sure you'd have to resist the urge to throw your face into a brick wall.”

* Tony used “resoluters,” but I like my word better.

My problem isn’t people who don’t know what they’re doing. It’s people who do things that disrupt, annoy, or otherwise inconvenience everyone else trying to work out at the same time, in the same space.

If somebody doesn’t understand the basic rules of gym etiquette, it’s up to the people who work in the gym to tell them.

I know it’s not fun, especially when your club’s equivalent of Officious Woman has already gotten a little too loud with one of the trainers. And nobody wants to talk to someone like Jedi Guy unless they have to. If he’s broadcasting a mental disorder like germaphobia, who knows what he’d unleash on one of your employees if given the opportunity.

But if you don’t do it, who will?

The same question applies to the woman who talks on her phone for 15 minutes while standing on a treadmill, raising her voice so her friend can hear her over the din of people actually using machines to exercise.

And it applies to the guy who brings his phone into the shower so he can listen to political talk shows. His politics aren’t any of your business, of course. But when he turns the volume up so high that everyone in the locker room has to listen to his favorite Dothraki pundit, his behavior is very much your business.

READ ALSO: Gym Etiquette: I’m Blaming You.

How to master your domain

So how do you address these problems? We know two things for sure:

  • Customers who’re new to your gym, or new to gyms altogether, will already feel self-conscious. Correcting their behavior will only make them more uncomfortable.
  • If they see other people doing what they’ve just been told not to do, they’ll feel singled out.

Someone who feels uncomfortable or singled out isn’t likely to return.

It’s much better to head these problems off before they occur.

1. Post your gym’s rules where everyone can see them

Put equal emphasis on safety and courtesy. “Don’t block equipment you aren’t using” and “please be considerate of other members” should be near the top of the list.

2. Post a “don’t block the dumbbell rack” sign on or near the actual rack

Put it at eye level, so no one can say they didn’t know.

READ ALSO: How to Change Your Workout on the Fly in a Crowded Gym

3. Explain basic gym etiquette on day one

When you’re showing a new member how to adjust the workout machines, it’s easy enough to work phrases like these into the conversation:

  • “We ask that members mute their cell phones and keep their conversations private.”
  • “The gym gets really crowded this time of year, so we ask everyone not to sit on machines when they aren’t using them.”

4. Personal trainers need to model courteous behavior

The first time I encountered a personal trainer, he stuck his butt in my face while training his client. I’ve seen trainers coach clients to do curls and lateral raises in front of the dumbbell rack. I’ve seen them leave equipment scattered around as they moved from station to station, never circling back to put it away.

If trainers can’t be bothered to follow the rules, how can we expect better manners from rank and file customers?

I understand it’s hard to police your clientele, especially when so many of them are plugged into their own devices and oblivious to their surroundings. But you most certainly can keep your fellow trainers from exacerbating the problems you’re trying to solve.

All these issues affect your gym’s environment, and your gym’s environment affects your bottom line. That’s just as true for independent trainers as it is for owners and managers. You can’t let any individual’s choices change it for the worse.