Group fitness classes and running on the treadmill are pretty safe options at the gym (barring a Taylor Swift-style wipeout.) When someone's telling you exactly what to do and what equipment to use, things stay relatively under control.
But moving onto the gym floor is uncharted territory. When someone asks if they can "work in" or if you have no effing clue how to adjust the seat height on a machine, it's fair to want to sneak over to the stretching area and call it a day. And it can be even more intimidating when you're in a sea of burly macho men bench-pressing three times your body weight.
Before you slink back to the cardio area, hear us out. We asked professional trainers to give their best advice on venturing onto the floor. Equipped with these must-know rules and helpful hints, you'll be ready to take on the gym floor—and look like a pro while doing so.
1. "Work in" as you work out.
"Working in" means letting someone else use a piece of equipment while you rest between sets, says Xio Colon, fitness manager at Crunch in New York City. See someone using a machine you want? Just say, "Hey, would I be able to work in with you?"—and be gracious if someone asks you the same thing. You don't want to be a machine hog.
Just be sure you both are doing the same exercise. Trying to work in on the squat rack to do squats while the other person is doing deadlifts can be too time-consuming, says Amanda Butler, a personal trainer in New York City. To be extra polite, readjust the weight back to what they were using before their turn.
2. Safety first.
If you're using a machine with stacked weights, make sure you push the weight pin in all the way so it's secure, Butler says. And on barbells, don't forget to add weight collars. (No one wants weights crashing down on their feet.)
Another quick but important step: Adjust the seat or bench so it's appropriate for your height, Butler says. It's an easy fix that can make a huge difference in the effectiveness—and safety—of certain moves. For example, if the seat's too low on the chest press machine, the action will be in your shoulders instead of your chest. And on the leg press, you can move it forward or backward to determine how far your legs will extend. If you're not sure which height is best, ask a trainer to show you (when they're not working with a client) or find a friendly fellow exerciser.
3. Keep it neat.
Don't leave free weights or other equipment lying on the floor. Others may not see them and could trip or injure themselves, Colon says. "If you un-rack it, re-rack it."
Same goes for foam rollers, medicine balls, resistance bands, and any other random equipment. One exception: If you're using a set of free weights, you can leave them nearby as you do a superset of another exercise (think weighted rows and push-ups), Butler says. Just set them somewhere where people won't trip and don't walk to the other side of the gym while they're out. (If free weights are your thing, here are 30 dumbbell exercises to try.)
4. Put the phone down.
We get it: Everyone is busy and hyperconnected, but unless you're a doctor or dealing with an emergency situation, you can afford to turn your phone to silent or airplane mode during a workout. "Give yourself those 30 or 45 minutes to simply do something for yourself," Butler says.
Plus, you don't want to be that person hogging a machine or bench as you scroll through Instagram for 10 minutes. "Be mindful of others who may want to use the space or piece of equipment you're using up to talk or text," says John Cianca, a certified trainer at Equinox.
5. Find some space.
Every gym is designed differently, but if you're doing dynamic moves like jumping lunges, kettlebell swings, jump rope, or one of these 19 awesome plyo exercises, find an out-of-the-way space—not the middle of the floor. One good spot: an empty classroom if it's an off-peak time, Colon notes.
"But if the gym is super packed one day, you might have to hold off on big moves and modify your workout," Butler says. (Time for a workout in the park!)
The bottom line here: Be mindful of people's personal space, Cianca says. Keep a comfortable distance between you and others for any move or stretch you want to do, or else wait for a clear space to open up.
6. Don't be gross.
Do we have to remind you how germy gyms are? Hope not, but just so you know, there are 362 times more bacteria on a free weight than on a toilet seat. So for your health and that of others, wipe down the equipment!
"Be proud of the effort you put in, but don't let other gym goers sit in your sweat," Colon says. We know carrying around a towel or antibacterial wipe on your weight circuit isn't ideal, but it will literally take 10 seconds to wipe down a bench or handlebar. Just do it.
A Few Final Tips:
- It's tempting to follow around a trainer and client and
stealget inspired by their moves. But the client has paid for the session and the moves are designed for his or her body—not yours. If you see someone doing a move you want to do, do your research to understand the purpose of the move and how to do it right, Cianca says.
- Don't let your ego get the best of you. Adding a ton of weight to the machine right off the bat could lead to injury, Cianca says. Learn the movement with a challenging but not too punishing amount of weight, and as you get stronger, you can add more. (Here's how to know when you should be lifting heavier.)
- Go in with a plan. The last thing you want to do is wander aimlessly around the gym floor, Butler says. Decide whether you're going to work your upper body, legs, or do a full-body workout, and know what you're going to do before you go. This handy guide to creating your own total-body workout plan (no personal training degree required!) is an easy place to start.