In my gym, the bench presses are close together: when moving weights on and off the bar, it’s easy to bump one’s neighbour. Normally, this would never happen—it takes only a moment to see whether somebody’s there. But in the gym it seems to happen all the time: I don’t go more than a few days before hearing one member inadvertently striking the others’ bar. Usually this result in an apology, but I’ve seen a heavy bar get knocked onto a bench-presser, knocking the wind out of him and resulting in a trip to the hospital. Ouch.

Few environments match the gym (and other athletic facilities—pools, racket courts, etc.) in the necessity for codes of conduct. So while gyms inherit their culture’s usual etiquette rules, from salutory conduct to physical contact, they also have rules to ensure the safety and health of attendees. How can we be good gym, pool, tennis court, or track-circuit citizens? Foremost: by being observant!

Ignore others in a cafe, and at most you’ll bump into them and incur their ire. Ignore others in a gym, and you may end up being struck by their weights. And consider: the stronger the man and woman and the more weight they’re throwing around, the higher the damage to themselves and others. So if you intend on spending a lot of time in the gym, you’ll need to be commensurately attentive!

Unfortunately, when at a gym, we often find ourselves doing exactly the opposite: instead of being more attentive, we become less so. This is the natural result of being more tired and in lacking the concentration required. How can we do better?

  • If you’re going to hoard dumbbells or other equipment (and deserve everybody’s glares), don’t let the equipment range beyond your immediate purview. If your dumbbells are running away from you, chances are it wasn’t meant to be anyway. This is the second most common injury I’ve seen.
  • Unless you’re in a specific power-lifting zone, don’t drop your weights. On most gym floors, they’ll bounce. Usually not in the direction you expect. This is the third most common injury I’ve seen.
  • Play, but don’t blast, your music. Most inadvertent gym injuries could easily have been avoided if one were to hear the warnings of those around. Listening to music at a gym is normative, but there’s no need to strain your eardrums. Moreover, if listening to music, use ear-buds instead of full-cover headphones. These make external noises easier to slip through.
  • Do a two-point check before pushing weights. When starting a set of dumbbell presses, I always look behing and to the left, then to the right. This prevents me from dropping weight on a too-close neighbour, as I wouldn’t see them during the set.
  • Avoid exercising in the middle of open spaces. While other members might be attentive in equipment areas, they’ll be less so when in transit. You’re more likely to be run into if doing crunches in a corridor than in a corner, or an area otherwise designated for floor exercises.

These rules of thumb will help you from weight-related accidents, but there’s another factor at work: health. While strenuously exercising, not only do we perspire more, we’re also more prone to infection from others. Thus, it’s important to clean up after oneself, especially if not feeling well already.

  • Bring a small towel with you. This may be annoying, but it’s as much for yourself as for whomever used a machine before you.
  • Most gyms provide disinfectant: if you sweat heavily, wipe down the machine afterward. You would want whomever was there before you to do the same, right?
  • When swimming, be sure to shower before entering the pool!

With these rules in mind—beyond the usual rules of conduct from everyday life—you’ll be both a good gym citizen and hopefully one without a track record of accidental-injury recovery!