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What’s the correct etiquette around gym machines?

Very often when I go to my local gym, I have a ‘workout’ in mind – one day I’ll do a circuit of upper body machines, on another a circuit of lower body machines etc to give myself a bit of variety and so as not to over-exercise the same muscles.

More and more, my ‘circuit’ gets interrupted, not by other people using the machines (which is what they’re intended for) but sitting on them playing games on their mobile phones or accessing email etc while they take a break. Sometimes this ‘break’ can last for 5 minutes or more, which seriously screws my workout. It’s complicated a bit by the fact that there are only a few lower intensity upper and lower body machines in the gym. As a women of (ahem) more mature years and (double ahem) considerably rounder physique than most of the other gym people, hanging around the gym isn’t really my idea of a good time. I want to get my workout done and go home (and lie down).

Would I be displaying hugely bad manners to ask them if they intend using the machine any time soon so that I can get on with my workout and go home? Or should I just suck it up and change my workout or miss those machines? I haven’t raised it with the gym manager yet. 1008-13

Gym machines are no different than any other piece of mechanical equipment humans use daily.   If someone has parked their behind on it in a manner which is not consistent with the machine’s intended use, it is quite polite to ask, “May I use that?  I’d like to finish my circuit.”   You don’t ask, “Are you finished with that?”,  because obviously the person is not since he/she continues to “use” it to play games on their iPhone.


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  • Rebecca October 16, 2013, 2:28 am

    Any gym I’ve ever been to, the rules have been, “No camping out on the machines” (ie unless you’re working out on this machine, don’t sit on it” and that it’s perfectly OK to say to these people, “Excuse me, can I use this?”

    I’ve said this to people and they usually say, “Sure, no problem!” as they leap up to get out of the way.

  • NostalgicGal October 16, 2013, 2:51 am

    I agree, a nice ask with a nice smile. Otherwise you might have to shift to a less used time of day to make it possible to do your circuit… or have a personal trainer assist you in a less demanding (less stringently timed) routine that still covers what you need to do to accomplish what you want.

    I agree, if you aren’t using the machine for purpose intended, you should yield to someone that wants to use it.

  • Lex October 16, 2013, 3:35 am

    I encountered this when I attended a gym before I moved house and usually an ‘Excuse me, I’d like to use this machine please’ would be enough to move them on.

    Many places have rules posted on walls and doors that state that unless you are actively using a piece of equipment, you should not be sat on it. They also state that you should wipe down the equipment when you’re done and sometimes reset the weights to an arbitrary default level.

    I don’t think it is rude to ask someone NOT working out or using the weights on the machine to move. If they give you hassle or abuse report them to reception as their terms of service will likely forbid them or penalise them for such behaviours. Don’t let yourself get involved in an argument or row as the testosterone and adrenalin levels of people in the gym can make them unpredictable.

  • Timothy October 16, 2013, 3:50 am

    Simply ask “may I work in?” Only once in 10 years have I ever had someone say no.

  • Angeldrac October 16, 2013, 6:22 am

    Agree heartily with admin!
    And I’m glad you brought up the topic, because I think gym etiquette is a seriously overlooked thing!
    Putting your towel on a machine to “reserve” it and disappearing for 20 minutes – bad!
    Staying on a machine longer than the specified time – bad!
    Not wiping the machine down after you’ve finished – bad! (And no, sir, I don’t believe it when you say you “don’t sweat”).
    Having said that – people do get funny about their gym, don’t they?
    My sister has a gym in her apartment block. There are NO RULES written anywhere about how long one can spend on a particular machine.
    One day, she was the only person there, asides from one other lady, and was happily doing a nice hour on the treadmill (one of five treadmills, I need to add). Well, after 40 minutes the other lady comes up to her and says “You’ve been on there longer than 30 minutes, don’t you think you should let someone else have a turn?”. My sister looked over the empty gym and said “Uh, no I’m actually wanting to do a long one today. And as far as I can see there are no rules about how long I can spend on one machine”. The woman snapped back “it’s KNOWN you just can’t spend more than 30 minutes on a machine – everyone knows that”. My sister says “Well, there are 4 other treadmills you can use if you like. Thank you”. And put her headphones back on.

  • Melnick October 16, 2013, 6:52 am

    Actually, just ask them “How many more sets have you got left?” or “Do you mind if I do a quick set while you rest?” At my gym, if someone is genuinely almost through their rest and about to do their next set, they’ll tell you otherwise they’ll happily jump off the machine. The exception is the Smith machine or deadlift machine which take a long time to load with weights and require bigger rest times between sets. It’s a shared facility so everyone’s pretty obliging. Asking how many sets left usually hurries someone along. And if someone’s just hanging on a machine talking a “Is there any chance I could jump on there?” usually works followed by swift apologies by those who were chatting. I live in Australia and it’s all pretty chilled over here.

  • Dominic October 16, 2013, 7:06 am

    The gym phrase is, “Do you mind if I work in?” And you could perhaps add that you’d like to finish your circuit. The gym I go to is not set up specifically for circuit training, though there are individuals and groups who try to use it that way, which invariably results in conflicts between the circuit trainers and those who are using a machine for multiple sets before moving on. The worst is when a group of two or more who are working on a specific muscle set commandeer a machine for half an hour while they run through theirs sets sequentially.
    There are gyms in some areas specifically set up for circuit training, though perhaps OP doesn’t have such a one in her area.

  • ferretrick October 16, 2013, 7:30 am

    I see this at my gym as well, and it’s very annoying. I usually try to let it go and just vary the order of my routine, but if it’s the only machine I have left and the person is hogging it doing something other than exercising, I will ask them to use it. I only add the “for it’s actual purpose” part in my head….

  • Abby October 16, 2013, 7:43 am

    Occasionally, someone will use their phone to track their workouts, so it’s possible when you see someone on their phone, they are still “working out”. However, that shouldn’t take more than a minute, so if it’s been five minutes, yeah, they’re probably wasting time.

    I would bet 90% of people would jump to move if you indicated you were wanting to use the machine, or at the bare minimum, put their phone away, and finish up their set quickly.

    And yes, gym etiquette is a huge issue. One only needs to go on fitness message boards to read many heated discussions about how gym patrons have been wronged, and many debates about proper gym behavior.

  • Miss-E October 16, 2013, 7:44 am

    …but they have to check into Faceboom or else no one will know they worked out!

  • Miss-E October 16, 2013, 7:45 am

    Facebook…ironically I’m typing this in on my phone (not at the gum though!) and the damn autocorrect got me!

  • Jinx October 16, 2013, 8:33 am

    Agree with the above: “Mind if I work in”?

    I think if someone’s rest period is substantial (1min+), you should probably stand up and to let someone else use the machine during the rest.

    At my old gym, even worse than the “campers” described by OP, were what I walled “the water coolers”. There wasn’t a ton of free space in my gym around the weights and machines. The water coolers would gather in groups of 4 or more and just stand and talk in the midst of everything, without any intention of using equipment for the next 20 minutes. Instead of standing off to the side, where there was tons of room, they would always park in the busiest area.

    This drove me more crazy than the campers, because, ok, I can totally believe that your rest period is 5 minutes (you’re rude for camping, but at least I’ve likely seen you use the machine). The water coolers seemed to go to the gym for the sole reason of chatting (and possibly enjoyed being in other people’s way).

  • Melissa October 16, 2013, 8:47 am

    I’m a running coach and trainer. When I am in the gym with a client and there is someone else resting on a machine that we need, I simply ask if we can “work in”. It’s common, polite, and simple to do. Often, people will rest on machines during set breaks unless they know someone else is in need of it. Gyms are places people tend to get into their own little worlds. No need to make a complicated case of it….just ask to work in….(and wipe it off when you’re done).

  • ImpossibleGirl October 16, 2013, 9:06 am

    Chiming in to echo the “mind if I work in?” chorus. It’s commonly done and polite. Unless someone’s a jerk, they should get up and say ‘sure’.

  • Allie October 16, 2013, 9:47 am

    Absolutely ask them politely to move their keister. Also, I would mention it to the gym staff as this is really their job. I’m guessing you pay a not insubstantial fee to use the gym and the gym staff should be alert to this kind of thing and ensuring patrons are obeying the rules and not making an already difficult commitment more difficult for you.

  • Little Mac October 16, 2013, 10:02 am

    Yep, I gotta agree with the other posters here: simply ask “may I work in?”. It’s common gym etiquette, and not once have I seen somebody denied their request when they ask politely. I’m a figure competitor, and to build the mass I need for competition I must lift extremely heavy weights for a low number of reps, and require a 60-90 second break in between sets AT MAX. Five minutes for a rest between sets is excessive, and clearly these people are wasting their time (and yours!) rather than focusing on their workout. I wouldn’t dream of not allowing somebody to work in during my break, unless I were using a difficult/lengthy to load piece of equipment such as the squat rack. However, if you are ever denied your request by one of these time-wasters, definitely bring it up to the gym manager as most gyms do not tolerate the monopolization of equipment.

  • Little Mac October 16, 2013, 10:05 am

    I forgot to mention, OP: it’s wonderful to see other ladies hitting the weights, it’s a far too rare occurrence. Keep up the good work!

  • Shalamar October 16, 2013, 10:07 am

    I swear, there are some people who think that exercycles/elliptical trainers/etc. are funny-looking chairs on which to sit and watch TV or talk to their friends.

  • just4kicks October 16, 2013, 10:51 am

    As a lady of a mature age and not svelte of figure, I have encountered the same thing at my gym. I have found when this situation occurs, sometimes a little white lie (sorry, Miss Jeanne!) and a BIG friendly smile works most of the time. Example: “I am SO sorry to bother you, but may I please jump on if you don’t mind? I have to: pick my kid up at school soon/I am running late for my dentist appointment/I just got a text asking me to come into work a little early today”….etc, you get the idea. Now, I have no problem waiting my turn and so forth, I don’t do it every time I’m there. But, in the situation you described in your post, most people are very kind and “snap out of it” and move aside. I make sure to thank them when I’m finished. Of course, there is always somebody who DOES mind, and I just thank them anyway, and move on myself.

  • kingsrings October 16, 2013, 10:53 am

    I belonged to a gym for five years, and my mom has taught at one for a while, so I could fill this board with many gym etiquette stories ; )

    In this case, these members aren’t using the equipment for it’s intended purpose, so there isn’t anything at all wrong with politely bringing this up to them. They have no leg to stand on, as the machines are for use, not camping out. However, if one is resting a short bit between workout sets, that is okay. For instance, my personal trainer instructed me to rest 30 seconds between sets on the weight machines. If someone were to see me resting like that, they might assume that I am “camping out” when I’m not. All they would have to do is politely ask me, and I would politely inform them.

    As for wiping the machines down, I believe that only needs to be done if a member has sweated on them. I don’t sweat much at all, and have rarely gotten the machines wet. When I have, I have wiped them down, but I’m not going to wipe them down when I haven’t. We don’t wipe down chairs or similar before we sit on them, do we?

    I’ve got a couple etiquette questions for myself: my apt. complex has a small on-site gym. There is only one elliptical, which happens to be the one machine I use. Since there’s only one, should residents limit their time on it? I don’t use it for more than 35 minutes, but some residents will use it for an hour or more. However, if nobody else is using it when they begin, how could they assume that myself or another resident will be coming along soon, wanting to use it? If I get there and there’s a resident on it, is it okay if I politely ask how much longer they’re going to be on it? I am not in any way trying to get them to get off of it, I’m simply wanting to know so I can make other plans for my workout if necessary. Also, if they’re one of the residents who wants to use it for an hour or more, should they then shorten their workout to be considerate of the person who also wants to use it?

  • Lynne October 16, 2013, 11:21 am

    It’s perfectly acceptable at every gym I’ve been to. You just ask the person if they mind you doing your set 🙂

  • Glitter October 16, 2013, 11:23 am

    What the others said of “May I work in”, I went a long time not knowing this phrase and just waiting for someone to free up the space until I went with a friend who kindly tapped someone (they had headphones on) who was resting between reps, and said “Can I work in?”, the person smiled and said “Sure no problem!” and got up. I was amazed! There was a phrase for this! Of course now I usually go when it’s dead and it’s a non-issue but I have the phrase!

    There are signs up actually at my gym near weight machines that say “If you’re resting between sets, give someone else a turn on the machine”, my rest time is small if I rest too long I just stop doing it. The cardio machines even have “20 minute limit if others are waiting” signs. There are tons of cardio machines so I’ve never seen it be an issue, but it is nice to have the policy in place and right where everyone can see it.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith October 16, 2013, 12:45 pm

    It sounds like the institutional culture and set-up of gyms is really diverse- so what seems cloddish or selfish to one might be sensible and normal to another. This is where the gym’s management needs to be on top of their game in setting the tone for their facility so that clients know what to expect, what is tolerated but not encouraged, and what is completely unacceptable for the type of facility. Larger gyms sometimes offer more options in terms of having more machines of a single type and more sets of machines designed to work a specific area of the body. Otherwise your concerns should be addressed to staff or management if it’s a pattern- it becomes an issue of substandard quality in the delivery of a service (reasonable access under the terms of your gym membership).. Avoids the trap of trying to police other patrons on a case by case basis and possibly being in error as to “correct” behavior. (With the obvious exception of “may I work in?” and similar requests…)

  • AnnaMontana October 16, 2013, 1:05 pm

    I go to a gym at least 3 times a week. There are rarely any attendants and as yet, I have to witness this ‘phenomenon’ of people between workouts. For me, there is no ‘between’. I move from machine to machine (cross trainer, upper arms, cycle, lower arms, treadmill, chest, lower legs) then finish up with some stomach crunches and a few lunges.
    Then I get outta there to go home, shower and eat a cream cake!
    When you sign up, OP, do the instructors not give you a ‘diversified workout’, and let you know what you ‘ideally’ need to be doing?
    This is what happens at my gym, and it works well. Everyone walks in, grabs their ‘workout card’ which is updated once a week, then proceeds with their workout. All of our workouts are targeted, so that if you cannot use a machine, you have the option of floor/mat work and free weight work, which will achieve the same ends. Maybe you should think about how you organize your workout, OP, and ask them casually, ‘hey, are you finished? I’d like to complete my laps’ or whatever.

  • ImJustSaying October 16, 2013, 3:25 pm

    ~As for wiping the machines down, I believe that only needs to be done if a member has sweated on them. I don’t sweat much at all, and have rarely gotten the machines wet. When I have, I have wiped them down, but I’m not going to wipe them down when I haven’t. We don’t wipe down chairs or similar before we sit on them, do we?~

    People don’t do vigorous activity that automatically causes one to sweat in normal sitting situations. You cannot use this logic for the gym. When you work out you sweat whether it’s dripping off your nose sweat or light glisten on your delicate brow sweat. You should always wipe down machines as a polite courtesy to your fellow gym mates not as a improper judging of whether you “got the machine wet”. Also you might not be working out that hard or you’ve possibly plateau’d in you work out f you don’t sweat at all but I understand that this is a generalization.

    This is more equivalent to putting a dish back in the cabinet after you’ve eaten because it doesn’t “look” dirty. Just because you licked the plate clean doesn’t mean it is. Your germs are all over it. Same goes at the gym your germs are on the machine so please wipe it down for the next person.

  • Marozia October 16, 2013, 3:28 pm

    While I’m not really a gym person, I agree with Admin’s advice.

  • Library Diva October 16, 2013, 3:39 pm

    At my old gym, there was one lady who I swear wasn’t that interested in working out and just wanted a place to go and read on her Kindle. She’d pick out something like the hip abductor machine, which has you sitting in a relatively standard position, and she’d do one rep every five minutes, while reading the whole time. I’d be done with my workout and she’d still be on the machine where she started. My old gym also had lots of friends who went together and would spend more time talking than working out. I never went and asked if they could move, but I don’t see anything wrong with doing so as long as you ask politely. Don’t even need to give a reason.

    My new gym is much quieter…and a lot less colorful. I kind of miss my old place, to tell you the truth!

  • NostalgicGal October 16, 2013, 11:11 pm

    @ kingsrings, it doesn’t matter if you never sweat; it’s being polite to wipe down afterwards. No we normally don’t wipe off a chair before sitting on it; but. Just be polite and do it anyways. It usually doesn’t take long to swipe across the handles, holds, rests, and pads on most equipment.

  • EchoGirl October 17, 2013, 12:53 am

    AnnaMontana, most gyms aren’t that sophisticated, and most people don’t work out with instructors. I don’t frequent gyms anymore for a variety of reasons, but the one I used to use, unless you were taking a specific class, it was all on you, they just didn’t have the staff for what you’re suggesting.

  • Rebecca October 17, 2013, 1:22 am

    I have to admit, the wiping the machines thing always seems kind of pointless to me, except in the case of sweaty people lying on benches and so on. When I do cardio, I sweat, but the only part of me touching the machine is my hands on the handles. And my hands don’t sweat, so it strikes me that the handle is no dirtier than your average escalator railing or bus handle (and yes, those are likely dirty, which is why I wash my hands when I get home, just like I wash my hands after the gym). I don’t sweat when I do weights, and when I get up, that surface is bone dry.

    But I wipe the machines only because I know there are otherwise going to be people looking at me saying “Eww! She didn’t wipe the machine!” It also wouldn’t bother me if someone else didn’t wipe it, unless they had left a sweaty and gross mess.

  • Ruby October 17, 2013, 6:07 am

    “…but they have to check into Faceboom or else no one will know they worked out!”

    If a person works out in the forest and does not post it on Facebook, did the workout really happen?

  • kingsrings October 17, 2013, 11:24 am

    I don’t belong to a gym anymore for a while now, so in my case, it’s not a current issue anyway. However, I will stick to my stance that it’s pointless to wipe down any machine when I haven’t sweated on it at all in the least. I very rarely sweated when I used the machines, I only sweated when I was doing machine-less cardio. And I was wearing workout clothes that covered me up really well (no torso-baring hootchie workout clothes for me, lol!), so my bare skin wasn’t touching the machines much (only my hands). What Rebecca said. Some of us simply don’t sweat a lot, and it has nothing to do with not getting a tough enough workout. Everyone’s body is different, and sweating has nothing to do with the workout strength level. I was doing the workout level that my personal trainer assigned to me.

    Library Diva – there are indeed people who frequent the gym for the purpose of only socializing! My mom is a gym instructor, and she refuses to substitute teach one certain class anymore because her teaching kept getting interrupted by a group of members who wouldn’t stop chatting and socializing with one another. When she would politely ask them to stop so that the class could happen, they would get angry at her and tell her that they are there in that class to socialize with each other and she was wrong to tell them to stop it!

  • Anonymous October 17, 2013, 11:32 am

    To all the people who mentioned gyms specifically set up for circuit training (like Curves, for example), I actually used to belong to a gym that included that, in ADDITION to all the things you’d expect to find at a traditional gym. There was a cardio area, a room filled with strength training machines and free weights, and in between, there was a row of circuit-training machines. There was also a gymnasium, two different studios for exercise classes, a few squash/racquetball courts, and outside, there was a pool, tennis court, and soccer field. I don’t go to that gym anymore, because I’ve since moved away (and also, it cost a fortune to be a member there, and they didn’t have good yoga classes), but the circuit row within the regular gym definitely made it easier for the circuit-trainers to coexist peacefully with the “traditional workout” crowd. I’m not saying that the OP was rude, because clearly, the people who camp out on machines, or rest for a really long time in between sets, are rude, because they’re monopolizing exercise machines for non-exercise purposes, but I’m just saying that there are a LOT of gym options out there.

  • grumpy_otter October 17, 2013, 3:36 pm

    One small addition to the “May I work in?” request.

    I used to be a bodybuilder, and on weight-lifting apparatus, I might be resting in the middle of a series of reps. But those waits shouldn’t be more than 15-30 seconds.

    So if you ask to work in and are denied, don’t be upset–you might just have stepped up during a set. But that’s usually only 3-6 sequences of lifting with short breaks between, so it shouldn’t be too long.

  • HonorH October 17, 2013, 6:22 pm

    “Excuse me, may I do a set?” is absolutely proper gym etiquette. The gym probably does have rules about camping out on equipment, so if someone gives you trouble, you can report them to a trainer. I doubt anyone will, though.

  • Angel October 18, 2013, 1:23 pm

    I hate when people do this. I agree that if they are resting for longer than a minute they should not do it on the machine. I myself do a lot with free weights and not so much with machines, but I can’t imagine anyone saying no if you ask to use it while they are taking a break. If they are on their iphone they could be a while.

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