The way you treat the equipment in your gym says a lot about you, not just as an athlete, but as a person. Whether or not you know it, you’re being judged, and if it’s by me, it’s probably harshly. For those of you with good hearts, but not enough experience to know proper facility etiquette yet, here is a handy list of rules to help you take care of the gym you train in, show the people around you that you care, and be safe.
Back Away from the Squat Rack
If you’re doing an exercise using a squat rack, whether it’s squatting, jerking, or anything else, take more than half a step back from the squat rack. It’s not a lot of effort, and if you miss a lift, you won’t drop the bar on the base of the rack. When bumper plates land on racks, it will often chip pieces of the rubber away and the rack can be dented or certain plastic parts broken completely (for some perspective, the Werksan bumper plates we use at Catalyst Athletics range in price from $210/pair for 10kg to $410/pair for 25kg and Werksan squat racks are $565 each). You also won’t have a near-death experience getting yourself tangled up with the bar and rack.
If You’re Sketchy, Use Collars
We weightlifters often train without collars on our bars. That’s because we lift them straight up and put them straight down, so there’s no sliding of plates on the bar. If you’re new, unsure, or otherwise sketchy when you lift, use collars. Weights sliding on your bar can be disastrous—the shift in weight magnifies whatever imbalance caused it, and your attempts to correct are usually too little, too much, or too late. Spare us all the fear of seeing you die and protect the rest of us and the equipment by keeping your weights secured safely on your bar with collars. If you don’t know whether or not you’re a sketchy lifter, you’re a sketchy lifter.
Contain Yourself in Your Lifting Area
This is usually a platform, but it may also just be a designated space on rubber flooring. If you’re fighting a bad lift, and the only way you think you can save it is to chase the bar off your platform or outside of your lifting area, it’s already over—drop the bar (under your control) inside your lifting area. Not only are you putting yourself at risk, but you’re putting the people around you in danger, and that’s not cool. If you want to do irresponsible things that risk injury to your person that don’t threaten the safety of others, knock yourself out. Do not do those things in a public place where you’re around people who don’t share your lack of regard for personal physical wellbeing. If you’re not sure you can contain yourself in your designated lifting area, you shouldn’t be doing whatever you’re doing. Just because someone or something wasn’t somewhere before your lift went sideways doesn’t mean that remains true afterward—someone may have wandered into the space you think is clear, and may very well not be paying attention to you, operating under the assumption that you know what you’re doing and you’re not going to be running around the gym throwing barbells.
Keep Your Lifting Area Clear
Whatever your lifting area is, whether a platform or a nice cozy spot of floor, keep it clear. Don’t leave change plates, collars, bumper plates, clothing, training journals, or ANYTHING on the floor in that lifting area. Hard, solid objects are things that a dropped bar can bounce unpredictably off of, causing a loaded bar to collide with you or someone near, or go crashing into other equipment. Soft items (clothing, towels, journals) are trip hazards, whether during a lift or not.
Don’t Use Nice Bars in the Rack
Quality weightlifting barbells are expensive. The Werksan barbells our weightlifting team trains on are $900 each. These bars need to perform very well and safely, and in order to do that, they need to be taken care of (like everything else, but especially these). Using barbells in squat or power racks, even when lifters are careful, over time results in the knurling being worn down where the bar rests in the rack. This means less secure grips on the bar during any exercise with a snatch-width grip, and this is not a problem that can be fixed. Use less expensive bars when doing rack work—especially squats.
Don’t Spin or Slide Bars in Racks
Related to the previous rule, when using a bar in a rack—whether it’s the best or worst bar in the gym—don’t spin it or slide it side to side in the cradles. If the bar is off center in the rack, it’s your own fault for putting it back that way after your last set (see the next rule). If you got it in there that way, you can get it out from the same place—there’s no way the bar is so off-center that you can’t possibly lift it out of the rack. And I promise that the entire circumference of the barbell is the same—don’t spin it looking for some magical alignment of the surface with your hand. If you spin the bar in the rack when setting your rack position for jerks or pressing exercises, stop. Get your grip set loosely and let your hands spin around the bar as needed to get into position. You don’t need to be choking the bar to death before you’re even in position to lift it out of the rack. This sliding and spinning wears down the knurling and ruins the barbell, and adding insult to injury, is completely unnecessary.
Set Your Bar Down in the Rack
When using a barbell from a squat rack, replace it under control when you’re finished with your set. Don’t throw the bar back into the rack, or slam it down into the cradles. This is either a sign of laziness, a lack of respect for the gym, or attention-seeking. If your set was so incredibly difficult that you can’t possibly set the barbell down into the rack the way you should, you shouldn’t be putting it into the rack—drop it on the platform like you would a snatch or clean & jerk. Even after the most difficult set of squats, it’s not hard to lower a bar a few inches down into a rack until you feel it supported and can move out from under it. Aside from taking care of the equipment (both the bar and the rack), this is also an issue of safety. When dropping or throwing a bar into a rack, it’s easy to miss the cradles, especially on one side only, resulting in a potentially injurious explosion of bar, rack and plates. (As an extension of this, move out from under the bar cautiously at first until you’re sure it’s actually in the rack completely.)
Don’t Drop Empty Bars on the Floor
I know you see all the cool European lifter on the IronMind training hall videos dropping their empty barbells right onto the platform after doing some warm-up exercises, but you’re not those guys and their gym, coach, federation or competition host isn’t paying for the bar you’re dropping. Bars are meant to be dropped on the floor when loaded with bumper plates—dropping an empty bar directly onto a platform is unnecessary stress on an expensive piece of equipment that already has to survive a great deal of stress day to day. If you’re not strong enough to set an empty bar down when you’re done with it, you’re not a weightlifter and you have zero chance of ever becoming one.
Don’t Put More Than 10 kg of Change on One Side of a Bar
If you have more than 10 kg of metal plates on one side of a barbell outside the bumper plates, you need to put another or a heavier bumper plate on instead. This is especially true when there is only a single bumper plate on each side, and even more especially when that single bumper plate is a light one, like a 10 kg plate. Dropping a bar loaded this way puts undue stress on the bumper plate: first, it’s absorbing more force than it’s meant to, but more importantly, it likely will not land perfectly evenly between the two sides, which means the bumpers are hitting at an angle and being torqued sideways by the additional weight. This can cause plates to crack and/or bend, and the hubs to deform so they don’t fit onto the barbell as well. Suck it up and throw the right bumpers on the bar (and don’t load heavier plates outside lighter plates in most cases).
Reset Squat Racks
If you adjust the uprights of a squat rack to be narrower or wider, return them to the position they’re supposed to be in before you put the rack away. If you don’t know how to do this or where they’re supposed to be set, you shouldn’t be adjusting them in the first place. You more than likely never need to adjust a rack this way. The only time the width of squat racks at Catalyst Athletics need to be adjusted is to use them as dip bars. If you’re not using the rack for such a purpose, leave it alone. Don’t be the guy who narrows the rack so you can grip the bar directly for your overhead squat (outside the uprights)—do what you should and adjust your hands wider after you take the bar out of the rack on your back. It’s unnecessary, and it’s dangerous to load and unload a barbell with such a narrow base of support (See the loading/unloading rule below).
Keep Chalk Where it Belongs
You’re not flocking Christmas trees—you’re lifting weights. Chalk all over the floor and elsewhere in the gym is not helping you hold onto your bar. Stick your hands in the chalk bucket and keep them in there while you rub the chalk in. Don’t grab a handful of powder or a chunk and then proceed to rub it in outside the bucket, and don’t slap your freshly-chalked hands together like an emotional slow-motion montage in a Lifetime original gymnastics movie. Yes, some chalk is going to end up on the floor in lifting areas—let it get there in unavoidable manners—don’t be lame and lazy and spread it around. Not only is it a pain in the ass to clean up, it clogs HVAC filters and forces more frequent replacement, and it’s a slipping hazard for lifters on the platform.
Don’t Mix Bumper Plates
Use matching bumper plates on each side of the bar. Different brands and models (and even the same model manufactured in different time periods) can be different widths, different diameters, and different durometers (hardness). This means that when dropped, the two sides of the bar bounce differently and different points of the bar receive the impact, and the bumper plates are torqued sideways. This can mean anything from a dangerously unpredictable bounce of the bar into you or a neighboring lifter, to damage to the barbell and the bumpers from hitting at odd angles.
Control Your Bar When You Drop It
After a snatch, clean or jerk, return the bar under control to the platform. This doesn’t mean you can’t drop it—it means keep your hands connected to it until it’s fairly close to the floor, and pay attention to it until it’s done moving. Don’t be the moron who lets go of the bar from overhead and walks away, letting it bounce across the platform into another lifter, off of something back into your own legs, or into other equipment. This is just common sense and a low threshold of respect and awareness.
Don’t Stand on Bumper Plates
I realize you think bumper plates are indestructible because you drop them when you lift, but they’re meant to be durable for exactly one thing—being dropped on an evenly loaded barbell on a proper lifting surface. Many times a bumper will be lying partially on top of something (a change plate, another bumper plate, or the edge of a platform, for example), and by standing on it, you’re stressing the plate in a way it’s not meant to be stressed—like being folded in half. Which leads us nicely into the next rule:
Lay Bumpers Flat on the Floor or Stand Them Up
If you need to lay a bumper plate on the floor, lay it flat so it’s evenly supported by the floor in case someone isn’t paying attention and breaks the previous rule or drops more weights on top of it. You can also lean them up against something if they’re close enough to vertical to not be stepped on or end up on the bottom of a stack. Otherwise, put them away where they belong.
Don’t Step on Barbells
Yes, they’re strong, and yes, I get it, they’re surprisingly springy and this entertains you, but barbells are not meant to be stood on. If you’re curious about how elastic the bar is, load some weight on it and lift it. Don’t put your foot on the middle of the bar and step on it to see how much it gives. Don’t slam your foot down on it to spin it before you lift, don’t kick it after you miss that lift, and don’t sit on it between lifts. Want to know if the bar spins? Do it with your hand. Want to express your rage after proving to the world you suck at lifting? Buy a punching bag. Want to sit down and rest? Find a bench or a chair or a box or anything else that’s build to keep your big butt from hitting the floor.
Load/Unload One Plate Per Side at a Time
When you’re loading or unloading a barbell in a rack, do it one plate on one side, then one plate on the other side, and alternate in this way until all of the plates are on or off. Don’t take multiple plates off the same side first, as this leaves the bar unbalanced and creates the potential for tipping out of the rack. Even if you’re a world class physicist and are convinced that the relative weights and the positions of the rack supporting the bar prohibit such tipping, it’s still possible when, for example, you bump the unloaded or less-loaded end with your shoulder or a plate, and suddenly your safely balanced system is flying through the air. The whipping end of a 6-7-foot long barbell will do very serious damage to whatever it comes into contact with, especially human tissue. I’ve seen someone nearly lose an eye from this—instead he got lucky with just a lot stitches to seal up a 2-inch wide gash just below his eye. Don’t make yourself a one-eyed asshole, and don’t be the asshole who made someone else one-eyed.
Don’t Throw Plates into Plate Racks
Set your plates into the racks they belong in—don’t throw them or drop them. Even if those racks are made of metal and you think they’re the toughest things on Earth, it’s just being lazy and will likely bounce the rack around on the floor, shifting it from where it’s supposed to be and pissing off the person who put it where it belongs and has to continue putting it back there. If you’re a weak little baby who can’t lower a plate to the ground, roll it in from the side, or don’t lift it in the first place.
Don’t Drop Bars into Vertical Racks
If your gym stores barbells in vertical storage racks, slide them in gently. Don’t stick the end of the bar into the top of the hole and then drop it—slamming a bar on its end damages the snap rings, the bearings, and the end cap. How hard is it to hold onto the bar and lower it under your control until it’s all the way down into the rack? I promise it’s a lot easier than whatever you were doing with the barbell before, so don’t make excuses.
Don’t Throw Your Stuff Against Walls
Unless you train in an unpainted, cement-walled shithole (especially one that you own yourself), use some common sense and don’t slam heavy, hard items like bumper plates or squat racks into sheetrock walls. Set them down where they belong like someone who cares about the place he/she trains in.
Don’t Drop Dumbbells
Rubber hex head dumbbells are great, but they’re not indestructible, and every time you throw or drop them because you don’t have enough energy to lean down and set them on the floor (but you somehow still have enough energy to start doing burpees immediately), you’re bringing that dumbbell one step closer to breaking. The heads of these dumbbells will eventually shake loose on the handles with enough trauma. If you can’t be bothered to concern yourself with taking care of the equipment in the gym, then consider the safety of yourself and those around you—these things will bounce unpredictably and people can get injured, whether from the actual collision, by suddenly encountering a trip hazard, or through the course of their trying to avoid a collision or tripping.
Clean up Your Blood
Sharing can be great, but not when it comes to blood borne pathogens. If you bleed on a bar from a torn callus, accidentally hooking your shin, or in any other way get your disgusting internal fluids on any other public surface, clean it up properly, such as with Clorox, Lysol or a similar cleaning agent. If it’s a bar or another metal surface, dry it off immediately after using any cleaning solution and put some chalk on the cleaned area to help prevent it from oxidizing.
Clean up Your Spills
Accidentally kicked your water or coffee or favorite pre-workout muscle-swelling beverage? Clean it up—this isn’t astrophysics. If you don’t know how to clean it up or what to clean it up with, find a responsible adult and ask. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen and leave it for that responsible adult to find later when it’s sticky, nasty and staining.
Put Away Whatever You Use
You went over this in kindergarten—put your shit away. You got it from somewhere. If the person who used it before you was not a slob, that place was where it belongs, and that’s exactly—I mean EXACTLY—where and how you should be returning it when you’re finished. It doesn’t mean nearby, it doesn’t mean in a different way, and it certainly doesn’t mean you choose a new place to store it that you like better for some reason. If you want to decide where things go, you can build your own gym and go wild. If the person before you didn’t put it away where it belongs, be the better person and do it right because it’s the right thing to do, then tell the offender to do it right next time when you get the chance.
Every single time you do something in the gym, you’re a model for other members. Set a good example and help others follow it. Be a contributor, not a drain; be safe and respectful and courteous. Take a moment and think about what your actions tell everyone around you, and if you like your gym and respect its owners, staff and members, prove it with the way you treat the facility.