Gym etiquette for newbies: Don't break these 10 important rules

Learn the basic fitness code of conduct to navigate the gym with confidence.

Amanda Capritto
5 min read

Starting a gym routine is intimidating, but these tips can help you navigate with confidence.

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I remember the first time I stepped foot into a weight room. It was just what I'd expected. Jacked guys threw around heavy barbells, hip-hop music bellowed from the speakers, everyone grunted and yelled and cheered. And I was utterly terrified. 

Navigating the chaos of a gym as a beginner isn't easy. You might have questions: How long is too long to stay on a machine? Can I use more than one piece of equipment at a time? Is it OK to ask that guy when he'll be done? 

To bring some order to the mayhem and feel more confident at the gym, it's helpful to know the basic code of conduct for gym-goers -- easy but important things you can do to keep everyone, including yourself, safe and happy. 

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Gym etiquette 


Very important: Don't be an equipment hog.

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The rules of the gym are the same as the general rules of life: Clean up after yourself, share when necessary and don't be obnoxious. 

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Put everything back where it belongs

This might be the number-one gym etiquette rule. Don't leave a trail of equipment behind you: If you use something, put it back. You learned this in kindergarten. 

Don't hog the equipment

In crowded gyms, equipment is like gold. This is especially true for limited equipment, such as squat racks and bench press racks. If you're going to squat, then squat -- don't make people wait for you to take the perfect selfie or finish talking with a friend. 

If there's no one around, feel free to use what you want. But the minute people start piling in, be willing to share.

Wipe things down after you use them

Everyone else at the gym is begging you. Please wipe your sweat off of machines, barbells, floor mats and anything else you use. Even if you "didn't sweat that much," wipe it down. This is basic gym etiquette and reduces the smear of sweaty germs all across the equipment.

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Respect personal space

Gyms get crowded, especially during the first few months of the year. But no matter how many people you're battling, you should still make an effort to respect everyone's personal space. 

Not only is it uncomfortable to exercise in close proximity with a stranger, but it's dangerous -- one failed attempt at an overhead press could spell broken feet for both of you. 

Be flexible about your routine if the gym is crowded

Can't get into the squat rack first thing? Instead of hovering two inches away from the person who's currently using it, figure out a way to modify your routine. You'll save time and avoid awkwardness, and you might end up challenging yourself in a new way (it's too easy to get stuck in the same workout routine). 

You can always ask the person how much longer they'll use the squat rack. If they say five minutes, great: Do some warmup moves and wait. If they say 30 minutes, don't waste your time and do something else first.  

Try to avoid using two pieces of equipment that are far away. Supersets and circuits are great, but don't run from the chin-up bar to the bench press rack over and over again. Trust me, few things are as frustrating as setting up a piece of workout equipment, only to have someone fly in from across the gym and say they were using that. 

For your own good


Claim your space and equipment.

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You should definitely follow guidelines to keep the gym an enjoyable place for other gym-goers, but don't forget about making your own experience pleasant. These guidelines can keep you from wanting to shout curse words from the top of the squat rack.

Bring your own towel

Just… do this. If you do nothing else on your list, bring your own towel to the gym. It might not sound like a big deal now, but you'll realize how big of a deal it is when Sweaty McSweat finally leaves the machine you wanted but the tub of antimicrobial wipes is bone dry. In fact, you might want to bring two hand towels -- one to wipe your own sweat and one to wipe up other people's. It's gross, but it's unfortunately a fact of most commercial gyms. 

Claim your space

Make it clear to others where you are working out and what equipment you are using. If you need to swing a kettlebell, run in place or stretch out on the floor, claim enough space to do that. You'll thank yourself and so will the person next to you.

If you have to leave to use the restroom or get water, place some sort of marker on the equipment you're using. A pretty universal sign that says "Hey, I'm coming back to this" is draping your towel over the equipment -- the towel proving its handiness yet again.

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And don't be afraid to ask for more

You might make an effort to protect your fellow gym-goers' personal space, but that doesn't mean they'll all do the same. If you feel like someone is encroaching upon your area, let them know. You shouldn't have to endure the discomfort. 

Plan your workouts

Make things so, so much easier for yourself by planning your workouts before you go to the gym. Knowing what you're doing before you start will save you a lot of fiddling around and make your workouts go by much quicker. 

Instead of spending 10 minutes flipping through YouTube workout channels to find out what exercise goes best with a deadlift, you'll already know because you did your research ahead of time.

Be mindful of your surroundings

The gym can be a dangerous place if you aren't alert. Just as you should stay aware of your surroundings during outdoor workouts, stay aware in the weight room, too. For example, don't start a set of kettlebell swings without first making sure you have adequate space -- and look out for anyone else swinging a kettlebell or other weight when walking from one place to another. 

Make sure walkways are clear before moving stations and keep an eye out for machines that have plate-loaded arms. Sometimes, in poorly laid-out gyms, those machines can swing out at you from what seems like a safe place to stand.

One more thing


Quick chats at the gym are fine, but don't take up 20 minutes of someone's precious gym time.

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Respect people's time. People go to the gym to get a workout in, and most people are limited on time. Don't chat someone's ear off -- even if they're your buddy -- because there's a good chance that you are intruding on the few precious moments they can dedicate to working out. 

Likewise, let people know when they're talking too much. If someone is taking up your time at the gym, it's OK to say, "It was great talking to you, but I've really got to get back to my workout." 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.