The (Updated) Rules Of The Gym

My trip to the gym last night reminded me of one of the most popular posts I've ever written, explaining the rules of the gym.

Apparently, it's still relevant. And, as far as I could tell from looking at all the idiots at the gym last night, it's not being shared by as many folks as it should be. Meaning, it's not being read by everyone who should read it (which, if my demographics are correct, is everyone, ever).

So please, do me a huge favor - link this post everywhere. Print it out and post it at your gym. Rent a sky-writing plane and share it far and wide with everyone. Because with all the New Years Resolution folks at the gym, I saw at least 15 flagrant fouls in the first 10 minutes alone (and as far as that goes, no, I do not hate or resent New Years Resolution people at the gym. I celebrate any and all opportunities for people to put a pin in a map and say "I want to be here." The people I do resent are the ones who won't be showing up in February and beyond. Those are the folks who I wish would just decide to stop NOW and free up the treadmills for those of us who actually take this stuff seriously).

This list has been updated for 2012, with a few new rules and some rewrites of older ones. Seven (!) years after its original publication, it needed some sprucing up. And for those of you looking for honest, direct advice for beginning a workout routine for the first time, here you go. My program has been touted by thousands of folks the past six years as being the only program they ever stuck with. And there'll be a 2012 refresh of the workout program coming tomorrow, so watch for that.

So without further ado:


Joe The Peacock's Official Rules Of The Gym.

I have come up with some fairly simple and VERY necessary guidelines for those of you who have decided to pay your membership dues and head to the gym. These rules are not hard to follow, and most cover first-time foibles. However, a great many of them come from people who simply need to stop sniffing their own fumes and get real.

This list is compiled from discussions with and observations of hundreds of people during my 20+ years of working out, and I think that anyone and everyone who's ever stepped inside a gym -- even to deliver a newspaper -- would agree with me on all of them.

First, For The Guys:

1. Stop oogling the girls. It is human nature to look at beautiful things. We men are genetically predisposed to admire the female figure (unless you're one of those backwards people who think sexual preference is a choice, in which case, you checked the "chicks" box on your survey at birth). But come on - show some respect. Get a look, take a mental picture, and go back to whatever it is you were doing. Trust me, they know you checked them out and have long ago gotten used to it. But the staring and drooling? That's something they haven't accepted (and shouldn't have to). So knock it off.

2. No, seriously, stop oogling the girls. Yes, it's THAT bad a problem that I have to say it again. Seriously. Stop. You're making them uncomfortable.

She's trying to work out. Leave her alone. 

3. Quit with the eyeballing. I know you love buying Tapout and Affliction shirts at Target, but you're NOT in the UFC. You're not hardcore. There's no need to stare anyone down or act like you are a badass. You're not. If you were, I'd have seen you at the MMA gym, and you'd know better, because no one who takes any form of martial arts seriously does that shit. We're not in competition. You can nod and smile, it's okay - no one will think any less of you, I promise.

4. Flex in the mirror at home. Sure, you need the mirror to watch your performance as you lift. And yeah, it's really cool to see yourself as you are all pumped and stuff... but must you do a full pose-down in the presence of everyone there?

5. If you sweat a lot, carry a towel. Wipe down the equipment you use. It's just respectful. No one wants to lay in your salty perspiration - if we did, we'd just walk up to you, turn around, and rub our backs on you like a bear would a tree.

6. Wash your clothes once in a while. Please.

7. If you cannot bench 405 lbs, don't get your buddy to sit there and "spot" you while the ladies pass by just so you can rattle the plates. Really, this one isn't too huge a deal - you want to damage yourself, fine by me - you're an idiot and deserve the pain. It's just frustrating to need a bench and have to stand around watching you attempt to look cool. Everyone sees your buddy standing on his tiptoes, dead lifting the weight off you. You don't look cool, you look like you need a hug and some reinforcing emotional platitudes.

Want to see what I'm talking about in action? Go to 1:50 in the above video. Don't be like Aleksey Vayner.

8. If you don't know how to use a machine or do a certain exercise - ask a staff member or someone experienced to teach you a bit about the equipment and routine. This isn't about you looking silly, its about staying healthy. You can injure yourself if you add weight to an incorrect movement. There's no shame in asking for advice and direction. Believe me -- it's actually something people respect.

9. However, don't go asking in the middle of a set. It's called "lane courtesy" and it's a term borrowed from bowling. While someone is concentrating on working out, don't go bugging them.

10. Unless your name is Lee Haney, Arnold Schwarzenegger or Joe Weider, don't give unsolicited lifting advice - Unless you see someone who's risking SERIOUSLY hurting themselves. And even then, be polite about it.

11. Just because she's female does NOT mean she needs or wants you to spot her. Some women refuse to visit the free weight area of a gym simply because guys insist on coming up to them and bugging them about needing a spot. If you wouldn't ask a guy, don't ask the girl. Leave her alone and go back to your machine, Randy Pan.

12. The treadmill isn't the place for a race, and no one wants to race you. Neither is the elliptical, stationary bike or stair climber. Focus on your own workout. Let other people have what little privacy is afforded them by line-of-sight displays.

13. The Urinal Rule applies to machines too. Let's say there's 5 exercise machines (say, treadmills) in a group. For the purposes of this discussion, assume the leftmost is #1 and the rightmost is #5, with #2, #3 and #4 falling where you'd logically assume they would. If I am on machine #1 and there is NO ONE ELSE ON ANY OTHER MACHINE, do NOT get on machine #2. Especially if you haven't been following rule #6.

14. Wear a shirt, you puffed-up prima donna.


15. To clarify: Shirts consist of a torso and a neckline. If you've cut off half the torso to show your abs, you've failed at rule 14. And sure, sleeveless shirts are okay, but if you've EVER spent money on a spaghetti-thin single strip of cloth that goes over each shoulder and meets a 2" wide piece of fabric around your waist, you're a disgrace to humanity and aren't much of a man.

16. SHUT THE FUCK UP. No one cares what you bench, used to bench, will be benching, etc. and so forth. Write it in a journal at the gym, and if you really need to talk about it, read it aloud to yourself when you get home.

17. Grunting is understandable and OK - yelling is not. Come on, man. There's the natural sounds of exertion, and then there's barking and yelping like you're lifting a car off of a trapped child. Quit trying to draw attention to your Herculean efforts by screaming like a banshee. Again, you're not a badass.

Don't be these guys 
(credit: Arthur Gould)

18. You may be comfortable with your nakedness, but I'm not comfortable with your nakedness. This isn't homophobia, it's not wanting to see your twig and berries dangling everywhere, especially if you're not a "shaver." You're a man. You're ugly and hairy and gross. Cover yourself up with a towel at least, especially in the sauna / steam room.


Now, because I am not one, I don't really know much about the rules for women as they apply to other women. But I do have a few guidelines for you gals from an experienced guy's point of view. So, For the Girls:

1. QUIT ENCOURAGING THE GUYS. This has been a touchy subject since this list was first published, so let me be as clear as I can: you have a choice in gym clothing, and when you choose to look like a Pussycat Doll, you will be stared at like a Pussycat Doll. Now, some guys are just plain without couth and will stare at anything, but you can certainly control the extent to which you encourage that behavior.

I'm especially talking to those of you who laugh and flirt and flip your hair all over the place and blatantly poke your ass out when there's a guy present, and then get all pissy and angry when his eyes become glued to it. Wonder why the guys break rules # 1 and 2 in their list, making you feel so gosh darned uncomfortable? It's in part because you broke this rule (and to be clear: I am not in any way stating that this is a "she was asking for it" situation for sexual harassment or, as has been accused in the past, rape. There's huge difference between that and what I'm talking about, and you know it).

You get what you ask for. So don't ask for it.

2. On makeup: Now, I understand going to the gym after work or hanging with friends, and you have makeup on from that activity. That makes sense. I'm referring more to those who get all dolled up just to come to the gym - you come here specifically to get sweaty, and the last I checked, Mabelline has not a single product geared toward gym use.

3. Closed-toed shoes only, please. I know you're a girl, and as such, you're not supposed to stink, but your toes sweat just like mine do. And I've seen more than one woman (and a few guys) wearing open toed footwear who have had serious accidents involving dropped weights or stubbed toes. For your own safety, wear gym shoes.

4. Wear appropriately fitting workout clothing. It's one thing to wear form-fitting workout-specific clothing and spandex. In fact, it's very encouraged -- cotton is a terrible fabric to wear when you sweat. It's another thing entirely to wear those clothes one size too small because you think they tighten your flab and make you look like J-Lo from the back. They don't - if your ass and legs looks like a chewed wad of bubblegum out of spandex, they look that way IN spandex.


And then, there are a few things that really apply to everyone in general.

For everyone:

1. Stop comparing yourself to everyone in the building. You are there for YOU. Who cares if you lift more or less than anyone else, if you run slower or faster, if you can swim farther and faster, etc? If you're an athlete, relish in your own performance and quit grandstanding for those smaller / weaker / less fit than you. If you're a beginner or are just starting out, quit giving a shit about what other people may or may not be thinking about you right now - get in there and work your hardest.

2. Don't laugh at the "fat" guy / girl. They're there just like you are, they're working just as hard as you are. In almost every way possible, they're 10x the athlete you are - not only did they show up to the gym to get better, they did it amidst snickering and comments from assholes like you - and that takes more guts than you'll EVER have.

3. Don't spit in the water fountain - it's gross.  Spit in the sink in the locker room sink or in the trashcan.

4. Passing wind is a natural occurrence, especially if you are exerting yourself. If someone lets one or 2 fly, or burps a little while running, just grow up and let it slide. That said,

5. Don't go farting all over the place. If you ate something last night that didn't agree with you and your intestines are blowing like the foghorn of an icecutter, stay home and jog around the block. If you're in the gym and a toot is building up, try to hit the restroom, or at the very least, sneak off to the corner no one uses (look for a climbing rope -- no one ever uses that thing).

6. Wipe down the equipment when you're done with it. You need to wipe off the control panel of the cardio equipment. You need to wipe off the handle grips. You need to wipe off the bench / seat of whatever you were sitting on. You sweat on it. You wouldn't knowingly enjoy touching stuff with people's sweat on it, so don't make them have to do the same.

7. Be courteous with "working in".  It goes like this:

  • If you are alone (without a workout partner) and you see another solo person working out on equipment you need to use, wait until they are done with the set and ask nicely if they mind if you work in.
  • If you are alone and there are 2 people on your needed equipment, it's a bit less kosher to work in. If you can help it, wait.
  • If you are alone and there's 3 or more folks, just wait or use something else.
  • If you are not alone (you have a workout partner), you don't work in unless invited. Do not ask. Not even if it's just one guy and every other piece of equipment is taken. It's one thing to be by yourself and work into a team's routine, but it's just wrong to impose a 2-person waiting period into someone's workout.

  • If there's space, give space

    8. When you need to wait on equipment - do so at a close enough distance to indicate you're waiting on that machine but a far enough distance that you are not crowding whoever's currently on it. And don't stare at the person on it currently - it's uncomfortable enough knowing you're holding someone up, so don't make them feel like more of a jerk by making them think you mind.

    9. When someone else is waiting on your machine - cut down on the lollygagging. If you're with a buddy, don't clown around between sets and make the person / people wait on your goofy ass. It's just rude.

    10. Eat somewhere else. Don't eat your energy bar / granola nut cluster / peanut-butter-coated-pinecone-rolled-in-birdseed when you're on the equipment. Not only is it unsanitary for you to eat around other peoples' excretions, but whether you realize it or not, you're leaving crumbs and sticky crap everywhere.

    11. Don't sing along with your Walkman. If you're singing along with whatever shitty music they're piping over the speakers in the club, that's kinda annoying. But there's NOTHING more annoying than some dipshit trying to be the next Lil' Wayne while listening to the song over their headphones. Real life doesn't include auto tune, and you sound ridiculous.

    12. Try to find a less-trafficked spot to do your calisthenics. Nothing's more frustratingly guilt-inducing than walking too close to (or over) someone trying to do sit-ups, pushups, air squats and the like. You feel like a jerk, but you also feel like the person you just inconvenienced could have helped themselves not be inconvenienced by going someplace you didn't have to walk through. So please find an empty out of the way place to do your jazzercise.

    13. Clanging: A little clank or clang is normal, expected and OK. But rep after rep of *CLANG*CLANG*CLANG* is not only annoying, it's abusing the equipment and causing unnecessary wear. Plus, you're not really working out at peak efficiency for proper muscle development, but that's another post.

    14. Only assholes track mud into a gym. You know better. Don't wear your construction-job work boots into the gym, and wipe the mud (or worse, doggy doo) off your shoes before walking around the floor. People use the floor for any number of purposes, including pushups, sit-ups and such. But even if they didn't, you've just dirtied up a place shared by hundreds of people a day. Treat the gym like your home and show a little respect (but don't lounge around in your underwear).

    Your shoes go through all kinds of dirt, mud, litter, trash and sometimes even dog poo. Try not to track it into the gym. And while we're at it, Vibram Five-Fingers look retarded, as do you when you wear them. Just saying.

    15. Replace the weights. And the bar you just used to do your deadlifts, and the kettle bell you just swung around, and the jump rope... It's not only courteous to keep areas tidy, it also helps those who want to use the equipment next to find it where they expect it instead of hunting around everywhere.

    16. The water fountain: If you're filling up a water bottle, use the "short" water fountain. If there's only one fountain, step aside when people want a drink. And just like elementary school, if you're drinking from the fountain, don't put your mouth all over the faucet.

    17. If someone has gone through the trouble of setting up a specialty station (dead lifts, power cleans, kettle bell swings), don't just step up and use it. You can ask, when they're done, if they would mind leaving the stuff there for you to use, but don't just step into their stuff. They took the time to set it all up, they are probably on a mission. You have no right.

    18. Try not to chat trainers up while they're with their clients. Even if you've been super best pals since elementary school. Really, this one is up to the trainer to enforce, but if you're not aware or haven't had that discussion with them yet: if a trainer has a client, the client paid good money to have the focus and attention of that trainer. Don't rob them of their paid-for time.

    19. Don't litter. It seriously galls me that I have to say this as an adult, in a place filled with adults. Throw your paper towels in the trash. Throw your gum wrappers in the trash. Throw your candy and energy bar wrappers in the trash. Throw your empty Redline bottles in the trash. If you don't want it anymore and it's not something you'd donate to Goodwill, throw it in the trash.

    It's nice when a gym is clean. It's not nice when you're a litterbug with no manners and terrible parenting.

    20. Wear flip-flops / sandals in the shower. I don't want Athlete's Foot. You don't want Athlete's Foot. Not even masochists who pay to be abused want Athlete's Foot. The best way to prevent getting it: wear flip flops in the shower. The best way to prevent giving it: wear flip flops in the shower. They're cheap. You can get a pair for less than five bucks at Wal-Mart. If you can afford Under Armor clothes for the gym, you can definitely afford flip flops.

    21. Flush the toilet. Again, being an adult surrounded by adults, it's just plain disappointing to have to say this. I fear for the future of our gene pool when I see an unflushed toilet.


    I think everyone will agree that these rules are not out of line. In fact, I think everyone would agree that they are really very simple and direct. AND NECESSARY. Please share them with anyone you know that attends a gym or otherwise works out. And if I forgot one, please leave it in the comments.

    Thank you.