Gym Etiquette Rant/List for Beginners (and Others) and How to Spot

The voices in my head have been asking me to make this post for a while, so now that I have a few moments, I will oblige them.   A couple of notes before I procede.  These complaints/points apply to beginners–and regulars who should know better.  If you’re new to the gym and you are unsure about something, be it etiquette or technique, ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing.  They’re usually happy to help.

List of Don’ts
1.  Don’t curl in the got tam squat rack or power rack.  This is simple.  The squat rack is for squatting and most gyms don’t have enough of them.  You can do your beach-muscle curls anywhere–anywhere but in the squat rack…which is for squatting.  That’s why it’s called the squat rack.

Other permissible lifts in the squat/power rack:  Dead lifts, lunges (if using the olympic bar), cleans, clean and jerk.

2.  Don’t put your got tam water bottle and towel on benches or equipment you aren’t using.  Yeah, I know, “Boohoo hoo! But there are germs on the floor!”  Shut up you big baby!  (a) There are also germs on the bench–probably more than on the floor since everybody’s been leaving their sweat on it; (b) by putting your crap on the otherwise unused bench, you’re taking up 2 pieces of equipment and slowing down everyone’s workout.

Oh! What’s that?  No one was using the bench?  Maybe.  But that’s not a permanent state of affairs.  Now someone has to ask you “are you using this bench” to appear polite in the face of your disregard for basic gym etiquette.

3.  Don’t sit on the equipment and talk or text on your got tam phone.  Once again, now I have to look like the bad guy when I sweetly ask “do you mind if I work in?” or “how many more sets do you have?”.  No, you idiot, you’re the one who’s showing disregard for your fellow gym users.  If you want to be an idiot and can’t even put yur got tam phone away for 45min to do a workout, you should be thankful I don’t wring your neck.   

Why don’t you just sashay your way over to the juice bar and drink a double latte mochaccino while you’re at it.  Wait, I know, you need your phone to take “selfies” of you training.  And to post on facebook that you’re working out.  Like I said.  You’re an idiot. 

4.  Don’t leave the dumbbells lying around.  Your mother doesn’t work at the gym.  Put that shit away so the rest of us don’t have to spend the majority of our workout trying to find the got tam dumbbells.

5.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Everyone is really friendly.   🙂 

6.  Don’t stand directly in front of the dumbbell rack so that you’re blocking everyone from accessing the weights.  Yeah, I know.  You can’t see your muscles when you stand 2 more paces back, but this should incentivize you to work out harder.  In the meantime, get the hell out of the way so other people can use/put away the dumbbells. 

7.  Don’t stand in someone’s sightline to the mirror.  If someone is on a piece of equipment or is doing a free weight exercise that has a reasonable sightline to the mirror, don’t stand in it.  If they were there first and you do this, you are an idiot.  If you were there first, it’s polite to move slightly to one side if possible.  Be polite if possible.  Idiot.  🙂 

Things I’m Usure About
It’s considered good gym etiquette to not offer unsolicited advice; so, what should I do when (a) I see someone doing something so wrong it’s not even wrong or (b) I see someone doing something wrong in a way that will cause serious injury?  

I’m not sure what the correct etiquette is, but here’s how I usually handle it.  First of all, before giving any advice in the gym you better be absolutely sure that you are more fit than the person you are giving advice to otherwise they’ll look at you like a doctor looks at a homeopath.  I don’t care if you’ve read every book on fitness.  Theory carries very little weight in the gym if not backed up by a body that looks like it has good results.

Edit: There’s an exception to the “fit” rule, which is if you are an experienced power/olympic lifter.  Sure you probably don’t have abs, but you know your stuff.  You are probably the most knowledgeable person in the gym.  Most of my technique I’ve learned from asking powerlifters.

A second general rule I follow is the age rule.  If the person looks at least 10 years younger than me, then I feel like my seniority gives me some moral authority to provide guidance.  Usually if I see high school kids lifting with incorrect technique, I go over and ask if they’d like to learn “a variation” that will give them really good gains…or something like that.

Basically, you want to find a way to offer advice that allows the recipient to save a face a little.  Once you start to help them, they’re usually grateful you helped out.  In most gyms I’ve trained at, I eventually have a small cadre of high school kids or kids in their early 20s that voluntarily come to me to check on their technique.

Regarding situation (b), if the person is my age or older, unless they’re destroying themselves right next to me, I generally don’t say anything.  If they’re on a machine next to me, I’ll try to find a way to offer advice that allows them to save face.  Usually, I’ll use the same line that I use for the high school kids or I’ll say that I used to do it the same way but a friend of mine showed by a variation that saves my back (or whatever body part they are destroying).

Things You Should Know
Spotting:  Spotting is an art and doing it wrong will make most experienced lifters wish they’d never asked for your help.  

General tips on Spotting: As spotter, your job is not to lift the weight, but primarily to be there as a safety.  DO NOT TOUCH THE BAR unless you see that the bar has almost stopped moving.  Hover your hands underneath, but allow the lifter to fight through.  Once forward momentum almost stops, help only enough to allow the lifter to regain forward momentum, then let him/her finish the rest of the movement if it seems they can.  

There’s an exception.  If the lifter says (verbally or with body language) “help me do a few more at the end,” then you can help for those last reps.  But again, only help out enough so that there is minimum forward momentum.  Make the lifter fight for each rep.  That’s where the gains are made.  Don’t steal his gains. 

Spotting Bench Press:  Stand back far enough away so your balls or lady parts aren’t hanging directly over the lifter’s face.  Do not even attempt to “hover spot” until you see the lifter begin to fight for the reps.  When this happens, bend your knees, hover your hands under the bar, and only help as necessary (as previously described).  Remember, don’t touch the bar until it’s necessary.  Just don’t. 

Spotting Dumbbell Press:  Similar to bench press, but when it comes time to spot, cup your hands under the lifters elbows. 

Spotting Shoulder Press (aka Military Press):  Set yourself up behind the lifter.  Spot either the bar with palms up, or cup the elbows.

Spotting Dumbbell Shoulder Press:  Cup under the elbows. 

Spotting Squat:  Method 1 is to stand behind your partner and place your hands on his/her ribs (on the sides) and bend your knees to move up and down with the lifter.   Methode 2 is to stand behind your partner and place your hands on his/her hips, and bend your knees to move up and down with the lifter.  In both cases, stay at least arm’s length away until you see your partner start to struggle, at which point you will move into position, but not necessarily put your hands on them yet, or begin to spot. 

Those are the main exercises you’ll spot.  The rest I’m sure you can figure out.  But whatever exercise you are doing, don’t do anything until you see the momentum start to slow in each rep, then move into position, but don’t actually spot until the momentum almost completely stops.  And only help enough to get them through the sticking point.  They may not need you for the entire movement. 

Conclusion:  Like any social activity there are many unspoken and assumed rules of etiquette.  Sometimes they are posted somewhere on a wall, but often many of them are not.  

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