10 Ways to Avoid Being ‘that Guy’ at a New Gym

Man Taking a Selfie
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There are a million reasons to change gyms. Maybe your workout has grown beyond the capabilities of your current joint. Maybe your present gym plays “Party Rock Anthem” on continuous loop. Or maybe you’re new to the fitness game entirely, in which case, welcome. But, regardless of your skill level, you’ll enjoy your new environment a lot more if you avoid a few common lapses in etiquette. Here are a few tips to keep you from raising ire along with barbells.

1. Don’t show up in brand new gear

Emerging from the locker room for your first workout in gear that’s 15 minutes removed from its price tags screams that you’re new, and you’ll likely find that everything wears better after having been broken in anyway. Everyone has experienced the pain of a new pair of sneakers feasting on the backs of their heels—new clothes can be just as brutal.

Advice: Wear and wash your clothes a few times beforehand, walk some miles in your shoes before pounding out any running, and invest in a good fabric softener. Your nipples will thank you.

2. Can the unsolicited advice

It’s been a longstanding rule on the golf course, but the ban on unsought input is just as applicable in the gym. You might be trying to help, but you never know how a person will greet your good intentions.

Advice: What do you do if someone’s deadlifting form makes your spine cry with vicarious pain? Find a trainer and point out what’s going on. The logo on their polo shirt will make it easier for them to intervene.

3. If you need a spot, just ask

Requesting a spot isn’t easy. You’re not only soliciting a stranger, but you’re asking him to spend his gym time to help you with yours. But considering the alternatives—go lighter and get a lesser workout or go for a personal record and bail spectacularly—you’re better off sucking it up and asking for help.

Advice: Find a gym employee who’s happy to help. If you can’t, look for someone who’s not in the midst of an intense workout.

4. Don’t keep too many spotters

There are disadvantages to the lone wolf workout, but rolling around the gym with a posse can also be counterproductive. It’s understandable to want some support, but if there’s an audience for every exercise, you’re likely spending a lot of time standing around and tying up stations instead of putting in work.

Advice: Want a group environment? Try a class. The motivation that comes from working out with others can be great, and there are plenty of options out there if you do your research. (If you end up in a Zumba class, it’s your fault.)

5. Be courteous with your camera

A camera can be a valuable workout tool. You can use it to check your form or just to provide video proof of a hard-fought PR for later inspiration. Unfortunately, it’s really easy to start getting all Scorsese with it.

Advice: If you’re videoing a lift, start recording during set up and stop recording when it’s done. If you’re going to take a picture—which is still pushing it—turn your flash off, Maplethorpe.

6. Leave your cell phone at home

Just about every gym bans cell phones in the locker room—no one wants to be surrounded by cameras while changing—but, if we had our way, cell phones would be banned from the building altogether. If you’re texting or talking, you’re not working, and that’s bad for everyone’s business.

Advice: Some will argue that their phone is also their music player, in which case it’s worth getting a workout-specific MP3 player. For $50 or less, you can buy one that’ll play Slipknot without tempting you to check Facebook between deadlifts.

7. Know the climate of the gym before joining

If you’re coming from a cookie-cutter gym to an old-school powerlifting plant, the atmosphere is going to be very different. Where grunting and weight dropping were once forbidden, they’re now the norm. That transition’s easier to make if you’re ready for it. And if you’re going the other way, know that throwing any kind of serious weight overhead is going to get you deemed a “lunk”.

Advice: Hang around the gym before you make a commitment. Go when you’ll actually be working out, and talk to the staff. Be honest about what you’re looking for.

8. Resist the lure of the speed bag

With every discipline, you have to start somewhere. No one expects to step into the rack and squat six plates his first time out, but most exercises allow you to work without bothering anyone. Learning to hit the speed bag is not one of those exercises.

Advice: We know why you want to hit it. It’s just dangling there, asking for a beating. And watching someone skilled work the bag is borderline hypnotizing. But listening to a novice poke away at it can produce a racket that even the best headphones can’t filter. If you’re dead set on getting good, have someone show you the right way to do it and work on your rhythm. Keep your sessions short.

9. Label your gear

Whether it’s a lifting belt, a blender bottle or a kettle bell, it’s best to make sure everything you use in the gym is easily identifiable as yours. Ever picked up someone else’s bottle and taken a swig because they have the exact same one as you? Not a good feeling.

Advice: Invest in a Sharpie. Use it.

10. Wash your stuff

Wiping up messes you make and giving people enough room when they’re mid-movement are givens, but it bears mentioning as often as possible—your gnarly gym clothes can affect everyone around you.

Advice: Not only is it smelly, but it’s unsanitary and can lead to infection if you let it get bad enough. While disinfectant sprays might help cover up some of the funk, it can’t hold a candle to a good wash. Your clothes will likely last longer and you won’t be the subject of anonymous reports to the gym manager.