Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)

The “10 Commandments” of Workout Safety and Gym Etiquette.


Over the years of working out, I’ve seen some truly thoughtless & dangerous activities unfold in the gym. These events bugged me so much that I’ve been waiting to write about safety tips, gym etiquette, and how NOT to be an idiot and get yourself hurt or killed. So here are the “10 Commandments” to keep yourself and others in the gym safe and happy because it’s clear that not everyone knows them.

Rule #1: Use Weights that You can Properly Handle.

The picture above is from an actual guy that comes into my gym… I won’t release his name to protect the guilty. I mean, just look at this nonsense… dude, SERIOUSLY??? He has 16 plates (45 pounds each) stacked on the Smith Machine bench press, which comes to like 765 pounds including the weight of the machine… if he was truly this strong, I would bow down to the guy, but the problem is that I estimate he is only doing ~250 pounds of it himself, while his 3 spotters are doing the remaining 500+ pounds (1 guy in the middle + 2 on the sides). I mean, this is not a peeing contest… if you want to develop your chest or any other body part, you should use heavy weights, but WEIGHTS THAT YOU CAN HANDLE PROPERLY! This guy is asking to be seriously injured or killed, AND he is not building his muscles because his spotters are doing all the work. He needs to lower the weights down to say, 250 pounds, and either do it himself or ALMOST do it himself with a spotter. This is just plain STUPID. FYI, I’ve had the serious displeasure of spotting him on one occasion, and I had a sore lower back for several days afterwards because this guy insisted on doing like 15 reps too, which made his spotters really work their lower backs intensely (and it wasn’t even my back workout day). By the way, this guy above BROKE the only Smith Machine at one of my gyms in the area by doing this nonsense, so he’s on my craplist.

Rule #2: Use Good Form before You Go Heavy.

Using good form not only helps you to maximize your gains, but it helps prevent serious injuries. Always learn and practice proper form before trying to go too heavy.

Rule #3: Be Alert and Aware in the Gym.

Lifting weights is usually safe, but not if you’re not paying attention or unaware of your surroundings. I know of a guy who needed to surgically re-attach one of his fingers because someone had rolled a dumbbell close to his bench while he was doing dumbbell flys, and when he finished his set and put the weights down beside him, he caught his fingers between the dumbbells. Always be aware of what’s going on around you, so that you don’t get hurt, and just as importantly, don’t hurt others. Watch the video below. Be careful of morons like this, and definitely DON’T BE THAT MORON.

Rule #4: Re-rack your weights!

This is a common-sense rule related to cleaning up after yourself and being considerate to others. When you are done with an equipment, strip it down and rack it where it’s supposed to go. Leaving lots of weights on equipment is very rude, as it’s difficult for people, especially women, to use the weights after you’re done. Leaving your workout area looking like a grenade exploded at a quarry or a metal fabrication shop is NOT acceptable either. Would you like to work out in an environment like the one below? The answer is no, and neither would I.

Rule #5: Let others “Work In” with You.

Nobody likes or appreciates a “Gym Hog.” You don’t own the machines, and others need to get their workouts too. As such, be good about letting others work in on “your” machine while you are resting. I’ve known quite a few people who annoyingly monopolize a piece of equipment for 15+ minutes while resting for 3+ minutes at a time… and they give you the death stare when you ask to work in. This is extremely rude and is usually done by newbies who just don’t know the rules and very selfish people who don’t care about the rules. When you see this behavior, go tell the club manager, and the manager should lay down the law.

Rule #6: Towel Down Your Equipment After Use!

It’s never cool or sanitary to be slipping and sliding all over a piece of equipment that someone else just used. Be courteous and sanitary by bringing a towel to wipe down whatever equipment you used. If you don’t have a towel, use your shirt to wipe it off.

Rule #7: Manage Your Personal Hygiene!

I don’t need to explain this one. We all know the guy that leaves his scent all over the gym and the equipment. I remember my brother and I used to call this one super-stinky yet flirtatious dude in the gym “Pepe Le Pew” (the romantic French skunk on Looney Tunes) because he stunk up the entire gym and made me want to vomit with his aroma. Don’t be him. Take showers, use deodorant if you must, and bring a towel to wipe off your scent after use.

Rule #8: Don’t Loiter ON or AROUND Equipment.

It’s okay to chat with people, but be courteous to others and do your chatting away from the equipment. Getting on a long cell phone conversation while hogging up the bench press or treadmill during peak hours can result in death stares from other members. Also, it’s fine to flirt and get your mack on if you want, but let others use the equipment while you practice your pick-up lines.

Rule #9: Listen to Your Body.

Your body is really good about “talking” to you, and you need to get better at listening. Sometimes your body tells you that you should stop working out for the day because your muscles, ligaments, or organs are straining, and injury is imminent. Other times, your body requires you to take an extended time off from working out because you’ve “over-trained” for an extended period of time, and you’re better off resting for 1~2 weeks. Of course, the challenge here is to discern whether you really need to stop working out, or whether you’re just being lazy and inventing excuses to go home to ESPN and glazed donuts.

I’ll give you a personal example. When I was in my mid-20’s (a long time ago), I didn’t listen to my body very often… One day, I was bench pressing, and my body felt strange. Throughout several light warm-up sets, my muscles felt super tight and felt like they were being over-stretched. I considered stopping my workout, but I thought that I’d be a “man” about it and work through the weird discomfort. So I decided to use 405 pounds (my 1-rep max bench press at the time) and do super heavy negative reps, which is where you take the barbell and let the weight down onto your chest very slowly over 10 seconds while struggling against the weight the whole way. I also had a random, novice guy at the gym spotting me because I thought it would be simple, just like most other days. But on my way down, I felt the muscle fibers in my pecs separate, and I sustained micro-tears. In addition, the guy spotting me was not very strong, so I had to pick the weight back up and rack it mostly on my own with a damaged pec, which made the injury worse. Overall, this injury set me back for months. In contrast, I’m much older and a little bit wiser today, so I’m very sensitive about what my body tells me. For example, last week, I felt a pinch in my rotator cuff while trying to bench press… I immediately recognized the signs of imminent injury, and I decided to take some time off from working out, especially since I had been working out so hard for the last 4~5 months. Actually, yesterday was my first full day back to training, since taking a break 1.5 weeks ago.

Rule #10: Be Courteous and Friendly!

Open the door for other members, provide a spot for others, smile at people, let others work in, help ladies rack their weights (if they ask you), etc… these are all common sense rules, right? Please follow them, as it makes the gym a much more pleasant experience for everyone and allows you to make friends.

Following these 10 rules will help keep you safe, give you the results you are seeking, and continue to let your gym experiences be positive. Ping me if you any funny or ridiculous stories of people violating these 10 commandments above!


Author: Paul Kim

I'm a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Certified Personal Trainer who is passionate about fitness! Come join my blog, as I deal with topics that are most pertinent to fitness for working professionals and homemakers. Follow me on Twitter @paulkimpk

2 thoughts on “The “10 Commandments” of Workout Safety and Gym Etiquette.

  1. That loitering rule is a good one. Also, there was a guy who was hogging 4-5 equipment at once as he rotated through them. He wouldn’t let anyone on any of them. Thankfully, that’s pretty rare.

  2. I know what you mean. I usually reason with guys like that and just work in with them while they are not on the machine. If it becomes a real problem and the guy is a jerk about it, I will go talk to the club manager.

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