Pretty much everyone knows the basic rules of the gym and gym etiquette: tidy up after yourself, take care of the equipment, support and help out others when required, and so on and so forth.
But what constitutes the unwritten rules of the gym environment? The ones that, whilst may not make a difference to the smooth operation and running of an establishment, provide users with the best outcomes and results and are things that people most often ignore, or at least forget.
Safe and reliable spotting is paramount to training, especially with heavy weights. This works both ways.
If you ask me to spot for you, it’ll help an awful lot if you tell me exactly how you wish to be spotted. This is self-explanatory on certain exercises, but even for them it’s always nice to know approximately how many reps you’re going for. On lifts such as the bench press, knowing your lift-out call beforehand is imperative to receiving a smooth load from a spotter. Casually mumbling “yeah” does nothing but hinder your attempts at the set.
In regards to being the spotter, just do as the lifter says. If they want a few extra spotted reps, by all means help them out. However, if they want to be left alone when lifting and you’re there just for safety, make sure you don’t start rowing the bar off their chest. Yes, I’ve had this happen. And yes, I’ve also had one half of a two-man side spot team, on the squat, hold onto the bar as I’ve squatted down. And it wasn’t pretty.
Bodybuilders like achieve results using a technique known as ‘time under tension’, where they contract the muscle for a longer period of time during each rep of a particular exercise.
As for the rest of us – powerlifters and general gym goers – lifting a weight as fast as you possibly can is incredibly beneficial to both the amount you can lift and the development of the involved muscle groups.
I often see this most pronounced when people are deadlifting. At the gym I attend, the amount of people I see attempting a deadlift pull too casually and subsequently wondering why they couldn’t lock out is, frankly, astonishing. When lifting, irrelevant to what exercise it is, there has to be a real drive to move the bar (and its accompanied weight) as fast as possible.
Belts, straps, wraps, gloves and all other miscellaneous equipment that accompanies the majority of gym goers is perfectly valid to use (well, apart from gloves – the increased circumference of your grip will make it more difficult to hold onto the bar).
However, people should concern themselves with why they are using this equipment and whether they should. For example, there is certainly no need to wear a belt when doing lat pull-downs. If you’re aiming to pull a new personal best on the deadlift, however, then you’re more than welcome to belt up. I see way too many people wearing belts, wrist straps and gloves when they simply aren’t necessary.
And yet, like I say, they are perfectly valid pieces of equipment when utilised properly.
Seeing people gloss over this can be infuriating. Some people assume that because they’ve achieved a certain level of strength, they can bypass warming up properly. I’m not referring to 10 minutes on a treadmill (although that can certainly be beneficial), but in regards to the actual resistance training component.
It is paramount that you perform enough warm-up sets that your joints, muscles and general body has warmed up, and that your CNS (central nervous system) is firing. Start by warming up with just the bar (except on the deadlift where this can be difficult and unnecessary as long as you have obtained a reasonable level of strength) and do numerous sets with low reps, building up the weight as one progresses.
Simple and easy, it just takes patience to work your way up through the weights – so you’re primed and ready to tackle the big numbers.
Whilst this last point isn’t strictly true in terms of strength and muscle development, it’s worth treating every set as if it’s a work set.
This means that your body should be set up correctly on the bench press, for example, and breathing should be done correctly for every attempt at a lift – be it easy or difficult. Repeating this movement pattern will allow you to focus on moving the weight itself, when it comes to max effort lifts, rather than worrying about tightening your scapula, breaking at the hips or the like. Your technique will become instinctive.
So there we have it, the top 5 unwritten rules of the gym that should help you perform at your peak, each and everytime you set foot in the dungeon. If you have any personal tips or rules to add to the list, get involved in the comments section below…