T Nation

Commercial Gym Etiquette


I have been training at a crossfit gym for the past couple of years and despite loving it it’s time for a change. Starting next week I plan on joining a commercial gym for the first time to run Wendler 5/3/1 on my own. I was fortunate enough to go to one of the better crossfit gyms and received great coaching, so I do know my way around a barbell.

I have never been to a commercial gym however, any advice would be appreciated. For instance if the squat rack is being used is a appropriate to ask to work in?



I think basic common courtesy applies, and should’t be that different from a Crossfit Box (which I have never been in). However, for people who aren’t accustomed to a gym, here are some common ones I see missed…

-Always re-rack your weights. Always. Put everything back where you found it.
-You can keep to yourself of course, I do usually, but I think smiling and just nodding at folks goes a long way in a gym. Don’t walk around like a pretentious douchebag.
-Ask if someone is using a piece of equipment if they are standing next to it. Even if they are not, you never know.
-Keep unsolicited advice to yourself. Unless someone is literally about to seriously hurt someone or themselves, just ignore it.
-Dont stand in-front of the dumbbell rack. I see a lot of folks do this, or they use the dumbbell rack as a prop to do rows. Always leave the rack open so others can get to the dumbbells too.
-If you sweat on a bench, wipe it down.
-NEVER take up a bunch of equipment. Doesn’t matter if it is part of your workout plan and this is the only way you know how to train. Go home to do that. One sure way to get the Asshole Badge is to be the guy who is using three barbells, a set of dumbbells, and the dip belt for 20 minutes.
-Wear appropriate stuff. I know in some gyms, guys and girls get away with skimpy stuff… but in most commercial gyms, no one wants to see that.
-You can ask to work-in on equipment if it is real busy, if someone says No, just be patient. Some people are that way. Generally speaking, most people are cool with that type of thing.

I never have an issue with someone asking to work-in with me in the squat rack. Now, I guess there is some courtesy here. Such as, don’t request to change the bar, move the j-cups, etcetera… common sense. Most guys don’t mind moving weight on and off the bar, I know I don’t. I understand how frustrating it is to not be able to use a rack when that is the only piece of equipment you need.

To me, it is just like being in someone else’s house or sharing any type of space with others. Common courtesy. This goes for any small club type gyms, University gym, high-school gym, or your run of the mill Gold’s. I see the same courtesies exercised everywhere. I think if you’re a nice person and practice courtesy, people get along just fine.


Excellent tips from Evolv up there. I train at a small local but “commercial” gym (mostly old guys trying to lose some weight, college kids looking for some gainz, and ladies working with the pink dumbbells after Zumba class). Here are my general thoughts on etiquette - much will echo what Evolv has already said.

  • Smile and say hello to people you see there more than once. You don’t have to become pals with everyone or ask the name of their dog, but it’s nice to acknowledge people around the gym and will build a little bit of cred that you’re a good guy, which may come in handy down the line if someone complains that you’re “dropping the weights” when you’re really just deadlifting a little heavier than the person is used to seeing. If everyone else in the gym knows you’re a good guy, management is less likely to take that complaint seriously.

  • It’s also a good idea to be friendly to the gym staff and trainers (no matter how hard you think the trainers suck; yes, there are plenty of crappy personal trainers out there, but they’re also probably under pressure from the gym to make sure the clients keep coming back above all else and, as such, they may well be doing stuff that they KNOW is suboptimal just because it makes their client happy).

  • Don’t be an asshole. If you’re stomping around between sets and yelling at yourself with your headphones blasting so loud people can hear it 15 feet away, and creating a cloud of chalk and ammonia caps…you probably should find a gym that’s more suited to the hardcore / powerlifting crowd.

There is room for some intensity, sure, but just have some awareness of how others around you are reacting. There’s one guy at my gym - relatively big and developed, but nothing that special - who talks (out loud) to himself during workouts with his headphones blaring. Frankly, he looks like a huge asshole when he slams down the T-bar row, yells “LIGHT WEIGHT” then struts over to the Smith machine for his set of shrugs and mutters to himself “12 reps, you fucking pussy.” Don’t be that guy. Imagine how other people will see you - if they’d admire you as the strong, but friendly and polite guy, you’re doing it right.

  • I’ll second the call for re-racking the weights, and just generally keeping the place in order. It drives me absolutely nuts to see people just leaving dumbbells lying around in the middle of the floor, or leaving all their plates on whatever machine/barbell they were using instead of taking the 2 minutes to put them back. Also, there is a special circle of hell reserved for people that just mindlessly throw 10’s back onto the plate tree where 45’s are obviously supposed to go, or vice versa.

  • Agree on “working in” for equipment. Politely ask, but don’t make a stink if someone says no, and if they say yes, you shouldn’t be doing anything other than changing weights or other things that can be done easily (i.e. if you’re sharing the lat pulldown and want to pop a different handle on, that’s OK).

  • Don’t just swipe equipment from someone because they walked away for a second, but do understand that if it’s crowded and you walk away from something - even if just to get a drink at the water fountain - you’re basically forfeiting the claim to it. Don’t expect to do all of your squat warmups, load 405 on the bar, walk away for 5 minutes to go back into the locker room for some ammonia caps and come back to find the bar exactly how you left it.

Once I walked over to a barbell on the floor with a pair of 45’s loaded, looked around and saw no one there, waited a moment or two, asked the girl on the leg press if she saw anyone using it, and when she said no, I proceeded to start my workout…and after I did my third or fourth set someone walked up and said “Dude, I was on this.” Well, maybe you were at one point, but you were gone for at least 10 minutes by now.

Not much here that Evolv didn’t say already, but I’ll second it all again.


I’ll 3rd everything the guys already said. An unfortunately surprising amount of it is/should be common sense.

To re-reiterate a few points: Asking to work in if racks are limited is totally fine. 90% of the time, if the exercises and weight you’ll be doing is similar, you “should” get a yes, but if the dude says no, don’t go off in a huff.

My gym has three squat racks, all different models/brands. One time, I went so far as to offer to switch racks with a group of dudes who were doing reverse band squats even though I had several sets left because the rack I was using had better band attachment points. They declined, but it never hurts to play nice with some of the strongest dudes in the gym.

Don’t do any exercises right in front of the dumbbell rack. Take your pair of DBs at least a few steps away and do whatever you’re doing at a bench or free space, even if it’s “just” 1-arm rows. There should be an extra circle in hell (one level below the different plate-rackers) for people who do lateral raises standing at the dumbbell rack.

If it’s a gym you’ll be going to from now on, like AG said, take a half-second to get to know the names of people you notice training at the same time as you. Or if someone asks you to spot their bench, a quick “Sure, no prob. How many reps? By the way, I’m dgever. You’re?”

Deciding to stop wearing headphones and actually be civil/relatively social in the gym to make a few gym acquiantances-not-quite-friends-since-I-see-them-2-or-3-hours-per-week-total-and-rarely-talk-for-more-than-2-uninterrupted-minutes was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Because now I’m on good terms with a new real estate agent, lawyer, landscaper, cop, etc.


Just like in middle school, the first guy who talks to you will be someone of low status in the gym.

The real O.G.'s will just ignore you, while they watch everything you do critically. Handle your business for a couple weeks. Don’t miss any lifts! Don’t look like some joker trying to show off.

Once you show up for a while, and move the weights skillfully, everyone will be more friendly.


Do NOT grab plates off a power rack as someone is mid rep on a heavy squat… I had someone bump into the end of the barbell as I came up from a squat and had to dump the bar because it threw me off balance.

Meanwhile there’s a plate tree 25’ away they can grab from.


Great thread so far. These are good observations I’d like to build on.

I work out in a pretty average commercial gym that has a wide spectrum of customers. Newcomers like you come and go all of the time. ALL THE TIME.

Don’t try to impress anyone. Do good work with your time at the gym. Don’t worry about your poundages or how you stack up to anyone else in the gym. I recall one fellow who was around for maybe two months. He did a lot of stupid stuff. At the time I was squatting 3/week, so I’d start every workout by working up to at least 405x3. I don’t find that particularly special, it was just the weight I was working with at the time, but it was probably the biggest lift done at that gym most of those days.

What does this fellow do? He loads the bar up to 365. On the Smith Machine. With no warmup. Then he puts his feet way out in front and bends his knees a little bit, moving the bar about four inches before somehow moving it back up to where it started. I was watching him do this and he looked at me and nodded, as if to say “yeah bro, I squat”. One rep and that was it.

Perhaps that was a deliberate and controlled movement with a specific goal in mind, but it sure looked like he was just trying to show how strong he was. Except he didn’t really demonstrate any great strength. He just demonstrated his questionable judgement and a fragile ego.

A few weeks ago a very skinny teenager watched me do a set of deadlifts. I got 475x8. My partner got 475x11. He asked me to leave 135 on the bar and he did his deads right afterwards. He worked up to a very nice looking set of 225x5 with good form but I could still tell it was a challenging weight.

He got a high five and I complimented him on a very nice set of deadlifts. I like to see someone doing it right and it clearly didn’t bother him that two big guys had just moved a lot more weight than he did. That gets my respect.

Like everyone else is saying, just show up, do good work and be respectful. Once the regulars see that you aren’t just another chump they will warm up to you a bit. Or just keep your head down and do your work if you don’t want to socialize. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I like to get to know the guys I spend so much time around. Lots of good times and laughs to be had while still getting good work done.

Good luck! This shit ain’t rocket science.


Best Times to go to commercial gym;

-Before lunch, so you’re gone by the time the lunch break crowd gets to the gym.

-After 1:30pm, so you avoid the lunch break crowd, but you get out before the 5:30 crowd arrives.

-After 7, but early enough that you’re out of there well before closing time.

-Everyone benches on Monday. And everybody does lots of dumbbell assistance when they bench. Monday is a good day to do other stuff.

-Don’t fill your water bottle up at the drinking fountain if there is a line.

I don’t know too much about cross fit. But I know some cross fitters drop their deadlifts, like no-hands from the top. Many gyms won’t be cool with somebody dropping deadlifts like that.


Don’t bench in the power rack unless there is literally no one else there and you need the pins as a spot.


Yeah exactly this.

Do not be intimidated by accomplished lifters. They are more than willing to pass on knowledge they have acquired and will respect you if you look like you are busting your ass regardless of the weight you are lifting. There is no “big boy’s club” laughing at noobs for being weak.