The gym is a great place to lose weight, gain muscle or meet your other fitness goals. But for the beginner, the first day at the gym can be an intimidating experience. This article will let you know the ground rules in advance, so that you can have great gym etiquette from your first day at the gym.

Rules for your first day at the gym
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Use It or Lose It (the Equipment, That Is!)

It's important to only use a machine, bench, weight or even a patch of floor for as long as you are actively using it to exercise. Believe it or not, just sitting down between exercises is considered quite rude, particularly if you're sitting on a weight bench or a machine. When you think about it, you may actually be the only thing stopping someone else from doing their exercises!

From your first day at the gym, remember at all times that this is a shared space, where everyone is equally entitled to each piece of equipment or area. No one person's workout is more important than another. If you are weightlifting (by a machine or free weights), be sure to allow people to use the machine, weight bench or weights themselves while you're resting in between your sets. It's considered very rude to simply sit on the machine or weight bench, regardless if you're just taking a break for a few moments before restarting your exercise or chatting with a friend.

If you are using an cardio machine, such as a bicycle or treadmill, it's polite to only use the machine within posted time limits, and to give up the machine as soon as you have finished your workout. If you need to take a break of more than half a minute or so, it's only fair that you give up your access and wait your turn at the back of any line.

The one person no one likes is the “camper”, or the individual who tries to take up an area for an extended period of time. If you're setting up a personalized workout zone, possibly with several pieces of equipment or weights for yourself, chances are you're being awfully rude. And even though its your first day at the gym, if you're being a bit selfish, chances are someone is going to let you know.

No Saving

On the same theme as not keeping others from equipment you're not using, it helps if you try to remember that you don't have a right to hold on to an area or equipment when you’re not there. You probably do not want to be that person who tries to save a machine, weight bench or space with a towel, water bottle or anything else: this is a sure fire way to have an unhappy conversation at your first day at the gym. Share and share-alike is a good motto for the newcomer to the gym environment if you're respectful of others, people should be respectful of you.

Rules for your first day at the gym
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Sweat Removal is Always Appreciated

With the exception of the floor itself (and in some limited cases probably even then), if you're sweating profusely in the gym, you should clean it up. Most gyms will have towels, disposable or otherwise, and some will have a spray bottle of disinfectant. There's no need to clean a machine, bench or mat to pristine levels, but it's considered very polite to clean off any particular sweat you may have left. Even from your first day in the gym, try hard to avoid giving someone such an unpleasant experience as sitting on a sweaty bench or mat!

Minimal Impairment, Right from Your First Day at the Gym

This rule of etiquette is a little bit hard for the newcomer, but as a general rule you should do your best to impair others as little as possible. The main idea is if someone can really only do their exercise in one area (like barbell squats in the squat rack, or bench presses on a weightlifting bench), you shouldn't take up that area if you can do your exercise somewhere else.

The classic case, which has become a cliché among fitness professionals, is “curls in the squat rack”.[1] As there are generally not many squat racks in a gym, doing an exercise like a barbell bicep curl (which can truly be done at any open space, with the weights simply put on the ground between sets) is considered the height of rudeness. Which isn't to say that you wont see people doing these things, but you should try to avoid this as well as possible out of respect for your co-exercisers.

Of course, if your gym isn't very busy, you can try and use whatever equipment you think best. But, just do so with the knowledge that you could be being a bit rude, so a bit more awareness for others who may wish to share your space will go a long way to keeping your gym a happy, productive place.

Food and Drink

Pretty much all gym-citizens agree: eating in a gym is about as rude as you can get. There are occasionally a few people who feel the need to do so (often these will be people breaking a few other rules at the same time), but in general, eating in the gym is viewed as both a bit disgusting and a tad unnecessary. Food in a gym is also awfully unsanitary and potentially creates a mess that other patrons will have to deal with. In any event, eating is explicitly against the rules of almost every commercial gym.[2][3]

Drinking in a gym is a bit of a different animal. Most exercisers will like to drink some water at some point during their routines,  and most gyms will also have a water fountain or even cooler for use during your workout, so there's no need to over-prepare for your first day at the gym. Bringing a container of water is perfectly fine, but it's generally considered polite to have a bottle with a sealed lid, to avoid any unsafe spills. It's also fine to have an energy drink, protein shake or something else in your water bottle, but it's a bit inconsiderate to mix your beverage on the gym floor, only because you will be tying up the water fountain or perhaps making a mess. Most people will prepare their drinks in the locker room or at home.

Rules for your first day at the gym
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Appropriate Clothing

Even on your first day in the gym, you'll notice any inappropriate clothing in a hurry. In short, common sense towards what is appropriate clothing should generally apply. There are a few more specific rules towards clothing you can follow[4] that will be much appreciated by your new friends in the gym, and you'll soon appreciate in others, including the tips below:

  • Keep it Clean: gym clothes should be washed before each workout and odor-free. There's enough interesting and difficult smells in a gym without rolling them over to a new workout!

  • Child Friendly: while your clothes should allow you to workout well, and not restrict you in any major way, you should probably not wear anything to the gym that you wouldn't feel comfortable wearing in an elementary school classroom. If it's too much or little for the kids, it's too much or too little for the gym! And for the gents, people really do find muscle shirts, armless shirts or no shirt at all as a bad call, regardless of how well you think those pipes are coming along.

  • Holes are a Bit Much: while by no means do you need to have any form of fancy clothing (a cotton t-shirt and basic shorts are pretty darned great), try to avoid worn-out, holed or torn outfits.

  • Proper Footwear: you will need to have proper shoes, right from your first day at the gym. Check with your gym rules, but in general, closed-toed (or at least covered toed) athletic shoes are a must.

Unsolicited Advice

While not as big a problem on your first day at the gym as perhaps later, many people are awfully darned confident that they have the secret knowledge that everyone must know to succeed in the gym. It's a universal constant that there's always one person in each gym who thinks that they can tell someone else to do it better. These often seem like really well-intentioned folks! Sometimes this is even a great thing, and can really be a great help to a person in need.

But most of the time, unsolicited advice comes off as a bit rude. As a general rule, please feel free to let other people workout without interruption and as they see fit. If someone asks you for assistance, you can, of course, share your knowledge or help out as best you can. Still, be cautious in providing any unsolicited advice and, at the very least, always ask first if the person would like your thoughts.

Rules for your first day at the gym
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Grunting: The Debate that Probably Started On the First Day in the First Gym

Should you grunt while lifting weights? Well, scientific studies have shown that sharply expelling breath will add power to muscular movements, including weightlifting.[6] Many martial arts and even Olympic sports are conducted with a short yell to try and increase power in a short motion or time period.[7] So, there's a potential benefit to the ol' weightlifting grunt.

Still, to many people, this is considered a bit rude (and is actually against the rules of some major gym chains[5]). It's a bit of a mixed bag of opinions on this front, but try to keep your noises to the absolute minimum on the first day of the gym. Get a feel for the nature of your gym environment and try to determine what's allowed and what's frowned upon by your co-exercisers.

As an upper limit, consider this video of the the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger coaching the equally huge Ed Corney in a grueling workout:

Some grunting, at the apex of your workout is probably just fine. But, perhaps you had better be awfully sure that you're at the limit of your body, and that your grunt is required to get you past that barrier. If not, perhaps just try to stay calm, focus on your exercise form and save the grunt until it's absolutely necessary.

Don't Be Scared of your First Day at the Gym!

As a closing thought, don't let fear (of fitness, rules or failure) keep you from meeting your goals and keeping you from your first day at the gym. Anyone who has gone to the gym has had moments where they've felt amazing, and a few where they have felt a bit silly or realized they've been a bit rude. Just stay positive, try to be considerate of others whenever possible and realize you'll be better for the experience.

Happy training and good luck!