I trained at a big box gym on Saturday, and while my training was awesome, my overall experience was awful. I’ve been lucky enough to work and train myself at small, independent gyms for the last several years where community is prioritized, and for this reason I absolutely DREAD training at bigger, commercial gyms. While some of this relates to equipment availability, placement and space restrictions, MOST relates to the behaviour of other gym members. It occurred to me on Saturday while I was trying to doing Glute bridges and had a teenage boy step over top of me (literally) to get to a nearby machine, that many members at these gyms may not realize they are doing anything ‘wrong’. I thought back on my ‘introduction’ to this specific gym and realized that there was absolutely no information related to safety and etiquette around equipment at all. Thus, I present to you, 5 Fitness Faux Pas you do NOT want to make at the gym! #1: Watch Where You’re Walking! Lifting heavy weights requires a great deal of concentration — not only focus on the movement pattern, but also on maintaining intra-abdominal pressure and proper bracing. A small error in motor control, due to distraction or an accidental bump can have huge implications not only when it comes to making a lift, but also related to injury. In fact, one of the most famous studies on low back health by Stuart McGill (renowned Canadian spinal biomechanist) focusing on lifting, featured critical findings based on the fact that one participant was accidentally bumped by laboratory staff member. A small glitch in muscle recruitment lead to low back injury and pain, despite the fact that the lifter was able to regain his composure and complete the remainder of the lift properly. For this reason, it is customary to allow someone to finish their lift, whether it be a squat, deadlift, bench press, clean and jerk or snatch, before you walk in front of them. Because most big box gyms have mirrors, you also want to avoid walking or standing behind them where once again you could distract the individual lifting. Stand off to the side, out of eye-shot for the 5-20 seconds it takes the lifter to finish their rep or set. Most experienced lifters will actually give you a nod or smile if you do this, because they’re in on the language of lifting. I know its probably not necessary, but just to quickly expand on this point – do NOT grab plates off someone’s rack (or barbell) while they’re in the middle of a lift! #2: Don’t be a (sexist) Lurker! As you can see from the subtitle, this one has a little bit of a gender bias. There have been numerous times when I’ve been training at a commercial gym, and being the only female in the squat rack section, have been approached to ask how much longer I’m going to be by a male (funnily enough, women have never done this to me). What bothers me about this, is that most of these times, there has been a scrawny guy 3 racks down who is bicep curling the bar while I’m squatting double body weight. To add insult to injury, some gym goers will simply stand at the squat racks, behind the people who are lifting, waiting for someone to finish their sets (see point one). Seeing someone just standing behind my rack, shooting me the hairy eyeball as I rest between sets, or physically being in the way while I’m trying to lift is one of the most frustrating parts of going to a commercial gym. And believe me, it doesn’t make to lift any faster. I realize there is no simple way to get around this short of having sign up sheets on the racks, but here is my suggestion: Ask the lifter how many sets they have left and if they can flag you down when they’re done…then GO AWAY! And its probably best to approach the person who is bicep curling light weight or deadlifting (thus not requiring a rack), rather than the first female you see! #3: Put Your Phone Down! (Bluetooth is not okay either). If I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen someone at the gym endanger themselves, or other gym goers because they were talking on their phone, I could at the very least buy myself a new belt or pair of lifting straps. Emergencies come up, I get it, but if that is the case, put your weights down, step to the side, and stay stationary while you take your call. During my last session, I watched a gentleman take two calls on his bluetooth while “training”. I saw him walk in front of other people lifting, cut people off, he stepped over my feet while I was in a plank, and almost knocked over a guy practicing inversions.… I don’t actually remember seeing him doing any real physical work. If you’re at the gym to socialize, work with a partner or take a class. If you’re at the gym to work hard, do it and chat on your phone once you leave. If you’re at the gym to take calls, most have massage chairs in the lobby — this is where you should be to avoid compromising the safety and enjoyment of other people. #4: No one needs to HEAR how hard you’re working! I’m not talking about a single grunt here, or the ‘pop’ type sound the occurs when you take in or let out a breath before/after a heavy lift. I’m talking about the people who are groaning through concentric, pause, eccentric and even the rest portion of their lift; every lift in the entire set. In my experience and that of my coaches’, these types of noises really only happen with higher intensity lifts…if you’re doing multiple sets of 15 reps at this intensity, you may need to have a look at your program. If you’re working at 60% and doing this just to make yourself feel macho… you probably want to consider toning it down. #5: Clean Up! Unless you work out with a personal servant or your mum, no one else at the gym wants to clean up after you; nor do they want to look around the gym for the dumbbell, plate or collars that they need when it hasn’t been put back in the right place. Take the plates off your bar and put them back on the rack pegs; grab your dumbbells and put them back (in the right place) on the rack, and for the love of all that is holy, WIPE your mat or bench down, even if you don’t think that you were sweating while you used it. I know of at least two people who have gotten ring worm from using exercise mats at a commercial gym. I’m assuming you probably don’t want to catch ring worm while you’re trying to do something good for your body, and no one else at the gym does either. Do it right, give it a wipe.. it will only take 5 seconds of your time!