There are certain things you should do in the gym, and certain things you should not.
Everybody’s rules differ (and nobody was born knowing them), so here are some humorous (but serious) rules that might keep you righteous and steer you clear of “Who’s That Jerk?” status among the other members.
The totally unofficial and never-approved-by-anyone 11 Commandments of the Gym:
1.) Thou Shall Not Drop an Unloaded Bar
Just the sound of a dropped empty barbell is enough to make a gym owner’s head spin like this. Dropping an unloaded bar is not just inconsiderate, but the drop could also damage the barbell. (The bar is made to be dropped with bumpers on the end to absorb the shock, not to be dropped by itself. Read more here.)
Also, don’t drop barbells with metal plates on the ends, or with 10-lb. bumpers on them. Lower them to the ground and Save the Tens!
2.) Thou Shall Not Short the Rep
Do the full range of motion, no matter if it’s a squat, a push press, a pull-up, a sit-up, whatever. You’ll get more benefits from doing the full range of motion—and you’ll get the respect of your gym mates. Ever see the eye-rolls in the room when someone is continually not hitting depth just so they can say they did more squats? Don’t be that person. Nobody likes them. Do your reps the old-fashioned way: Earn them.
Also, don’t fudge your numbers when counting reps. Shaving is something done in the bathroom, not in the gym. (Be extra alert if you are a CI-FAM sufferer.)
3.) Thou Shall Not Starve Thyself
If you want to get stronger, you have to eat. If you want to keep living, you have to eat. Starving yourself is counterproductive to health and fitness. Simply fuel your engine for the trip you’re taking, not for the trip you’re planning to take, or for sitting on blocks in the garage.
Also, the “I forgot to eat!” giggle with the hair flip might seem cute in your head, but it doesn’t seem as cute to hungry people. You’ve been warned …
4.) Honor the Week
Work out more than once per week if you want to see and feel a difference in your body and your life. If you want results, you need to put in the effort. Hit the gym, hit the trail, hit the pool, whatever—but don’t get your sweat on only once per week and expect to see great growth of strength or reduction of bodyfat. This doesn’t mean you have to work out five or seven times per week or go 21 days without a rest day, but find what works for you and your goals and do that.
Simply put, you can’t exercise once a week and expect to have a 5-times-a-week body.
5.) Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s RX
There’s no shame in scaling a workout. NONE. So get over that nonsense. (Read “Scaling Is Not an Apology.”)
Just because someone else is using a heavier weight or doing a more advanced version of a movement doesn’t mean you should do that, too. We’re not in the first-grade and this isn’t Follow-the-Leader. Do what works for you, and toss any feelings of inadequacies out the flipping window. Don’t shame yourself, don’t shame anyone else, and don’t allow shaming to go on in your presence. Do your thing and fall in love with your fabulous, badass self. It’s a lot more fun than hating yourself! (Read “5 Lessons Scaled Athletes Live By” and “I Am a Scaled Athlete.”)
6.) Thou Shall Not Earn Thy Food in the Gym
The flip side of not starving yourself is not overfeeding yourself. See, one (unfortunate) side-effect of going to the gym is that sometimes we start thinking like this: “I went to the gym today. I earned this sandwich/dessert/second breakfast/lupper/etc.” And we use food to reward ourselves. It’s a concept baked into our lives at an early age, and we revert to it as adults. We treat our pets this way, too: “Who’s been a good boy? Here’s a biscuit.”
But you’re not a dog dancing for treats, or a hungry monkey in a circus. (Ok, wait. I have felt exactly like that monkey.) Seriously, though, you are a person working out. Your right to eat is wholly and totally separate from your actions in the gym. Delink them in this destructive chain. Uncouple those train cars. Fuel your performance, but don’t use the gym as a reward center where you earn tickets for kitchen prizes.
What’s a big reason that some people don’t see greater fat loss from their exercise programs? They eat more because they feel like they earned it in the gym. Solution? Stop earning your food in the gym. Reprogram your head, if you have to. This one is important, so it bears repeating. (Read “Don’t Earn Your Food in the Gym (And Six Other Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Sooner).”)
7.) Thou Shall Put Away Thy Equipment (But Maybe Not While Someone Else in Class Is Working)
Don’t be a slob. Pick up after yourself. (Make your mom proud!) But also, remember that if you’re in a group workout, not everyone will think you’re cool if you finish first and then immediately pack away your gear while people are still working. Read “Old School Rule: Stay and Cheer” for more on why it might be a good idea to stay and encourage your classmates.
8.) Thou Shall Not Steal Thy Neighbor’s Spot at the Pull-up Bar
You know how this goes: everybody stakes out their spot at the pull-up bar before the workout. “3-2-1-Go!” and you’re all deep in the workout. You return to your spot to hit your pull-ups and suddenly there’s someone else on that section of bar. It’s not a big deal, but it’s enough to throw you for a moment as you have to find a new spot.
Or a similar thing happens with where you’ve been doing your double-unders, your ring rows, etc. (I’ve even returned to my kettlebell in a workout and found someone else using it.) What happened? Are these people trying to be jerks? No. They just got lost in the fog of what they’re doing. (Read “WOD Drunk.”) This can happen to you too, so just remember not to be those people. Find your spots and stick with them. Your gym mates appreciate respect for their spaces.
9.) Thou Shall Not Abuse the Chalk (Or Leave Thy Blood on a Bar)
“A little goes a long way”: Mrs. Towle (my art teacher in the second grade) used to issue this warning at St. John’s Elementary School before arming us with glue and paper, but her words apply to chalk usage as well. I’ve rarely seen athletes under-use chalk, but I’ve certainly seen numerous athletes abuse chalk. Remember, a little goes a long way. And there’s really no need to do that immerse-and-clap routine. Making it rain chalk in the gym is not cool or artsy; it’s a party foul.
Also, if you bleed on anything, clean it up. There are few things more disgusting in the gym than picking up a barbell to use it and seeing blood there. That’s unhealthy and wrong. Get a bleach wipe and clean up your mess. On behalf of everyone in the gym, thank you!
10.) Thou Shall Not Coach If Thou Is Not the Coach
That seems elementary, right? But the instinct to help can be overwhelming, especially in the gym setting. Whether it’s borne out of some bodacious braggadacio, or it’s merely our inner Girl Scout/Boy Scout run amuck, drive-by coaching is annoying to the coach, confusing to those being coached, and possibly dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
But what to do if you really want to share your knowledge? You have two options: Become a professional coach or bite your lip. That’s it, really. I was a coach for ten years so I have a good deal of knowledge, but when I step into the gym today I bite my lip and do not offer advice unless I am asked. Why? To do otherwise would be both impolite and a distraction.
Be a professional student or a professional coach: don’t try to be both at the same time.
Okay, so that’s 10 commandments, but I dislike ending with a “not” so here’s an eleventh commandment!
11.) Give Everything You Have and Then Find More Within Yourself
This is one of my favorite mindset mantras. I love it so much that it’s #9 in my original “Mindset” published back in 2008: “I will give everything I have. And then I will find more within myself.”
We often think of ourselves and our efforts as finite, but they’re usually not. We are endlessly renewing resources if we choose to think of ourselves that way. Often, we can go super-hard, and then keep going.
So, go find more and keep going!
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