15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Talking on the phone? Chatting someone up? Curling right in front of the god damn dumbbell rack? Our man in the know, lays out the definitive rules of gym etiquette

“Dignity. Always dignity.” Gene Kelly’s much-mimicked motto is never a bad rule to live by – but in the confines of a local gym or a boxercise class, where so much social decorum’s traditionally left at the door, it’s even more paramount.

Sure, you’re about to don a pair of fetching compression shorts and exert yourself to your limits (right?), but that’s no excuse for setting civilised behaviour aside. What’s more, by conducting yourself with a bit of class, you’ll also ensure that your workouts, well, work.

With that in mind, Joel Snape — Men’s Fitness editor-at-large and motivational alchemist for the Gentleman’s Journal — presents your one-stop guide to the cardinal sins of the workout life.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Talk on the phone

Apart from it being a distraction, a sure-fire way to ruin your carefully-monitored rest periods and a waste of precious time, nobody else needs to hear about your plans for another big weekend in Cowes while they’re trying to isolate their quadratus lumborum.

Put it on airplane mode before you enter, and don’t check your notifications until you’re done with your shower.

Curl right in front of the dumbbell rack

Yes, dumbbells are heavy – that’s the point – but that’s no excuse for the man who does his entire biceps routine inches from the rack, forcing everyone else to squirm themselves around him just to grab hold of a weight or two. Taking a few steps back will, at worst, give you a tiny bit more grip work.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Try to chat someone up

That’s what Tinder’s for. And, to some extent, Bumble. And LinkedIn, if you’re a genuine lunatic. And wine bars, for the old-school. The gym is a purer place, where everyone should be free to lift, jump and sprint unmolested, however beguiling their compression-wear.  Seriously, don’t do this.

That thing where you pretend to use the hem of your shirt to wipe your brow but actually sneak a glance at your (flexed) abs to see if you’re looking jacked

They all know. Everyone knows.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Leave a bench moist

Yes, you’re working hard, but leaving a Rorschach-blot-like imprint of your back on the incline bench is unacceptable. If they’d had gyms in medieval times, this sort of behaviour would have undoubtedly lead some sort of public flogging. Thankfully, it’s now the 21st Century, and good gyms provide tiny towels. Use them.

Offer unsolicited advice

It’s tempting…good grief, it can be tempting. But unless you’re specifically asked, it’s bad form to comment on other people’s exercise selection, technique, or rest periods, even if what they’re doing (lat raises with a brace of miniature dumbbells) clearly isn’t appropriate for their likely goals (losing a bit of timber).

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Swear aloud

A loud grunt, especially during a one-rep max or a set done to failure, is fine, even encouraged, a sign of effort and intent. But nobody needs to hear you f-ing it up like a docker, unless you’re at the sort of grimy, Iron-Maiden-posters-on-the-walls establishment that genuinely encourages that sort of thing. If that’s your speed, find one.

Go barefoot

Yes, minimalist footwear lets you transfer more force to the ground than heavily-cushioned trainers, but this isn’t Ancient Greece. Get some Inov-8s.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Leave his weights lying around

Despicable. Dumbbells are the easiest to put back, but you should also be unloading barbells and machines – it’s not the roaming trainers’ job. Leaving a deadlift bar or leg press laden with twenty-kilo plates is, in particular, the mark of a scoundrel – unless, in a rare treat, the person waiting to use the kit gives you the ‘Don’t worry about it’ wave. Otherwise, treat it like your cooldown.

Talk to someone who’s getting psyched

Let’s assume you aren’t talking to anyone while they’re mid-lift – because that would be madness – but can we please confirm that you also don’t interrupt when your fellow iron-fans are stomping around pre-squat, just like you wouldn’t pop in with a ‘quick question’ when someone’s getting ready for an importance performance review. Because you wouldn’t, would you? No.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Stretch underneath the rings/TRX/pull-up bars

Yes, stretching spots is at a premium, but no amount of blank floorspace is worth a shoe in the face from some calisthenics bod. Stick to the corners (and the mats).

Compete with the person on the next treadmill

Oh, the appeal’s obvious. Six-minute miles at a two percent incline, you say? How about five-thirty at a two point five?

Listen, though: boorishness of constantly glancing at someone else’s digits aside, you’ve got no idea what that person’s doing, be it a 10k slog, recovery day, or their first cardio session in months. Besides: you’ve come armed with your own plan – right? – and deviating from it is going to hamper your progress. Tunnel vision.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Be afraid to ask for a spotter

There are entire articles to be written about the etiquette of spotting, but – as in so much of life – communication is key.

If you’re asking someone to spot you on the bench, for example, let the other person know a) Whether you want help getting the bar out of the rack, b) How many reps you’re aiming for and c) How much assistance you want if things get spicy. A quick ‘Don’t help me unless I ask for it’ now might seem brusque, but if it saves you from a set-ruining ‘save’, it’s well worth it.

Refuse a request to ‘work in’

…to use the vernacular. The golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated, and don’t be an arse about it. If someone asks to work in, the polite thing to do is allow it, even if the difference in weight you’re using is ridiculous – just think of the loading and unloading (which your new best friend should help with) as extra conditioning.

15 things no gentleman should ever do in the gym

Or use a hairdryer on anything but his head

No. Just…no. 

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Further Reading