If you've recently joined a gym, then it's important to recognise that this is more than just a place that you work out. For many people the gym is a sacred place – it's where they come to think, where they come to get away from the stresses of life, and where they come to exercise their will power and determination like a metaphor for the challenges they face outside in the 'real world'.
All of this means that you need to show a certain respect as you go around your business: just as you would show respect going into a church or someone's home. Don't be one of those people who ruins the experience for everyone else, and make sure that whatever you do, you are avoiding these particularly annoying habits…
Using Machinery Incorrectly
*cough* CrossFitters! *cough*
I actually don't have a problem with this in theory. Using equipment in creative ways actually demonstrates creativity and results in more effective, varied and interesting workouts. However it's not cool if you're 'unique' way of training is potentially going to damage the machinery, or if it's designed simply to call attention to yourself. And it's also not cool to create circuits that use up every piece of equipment in the gym so no one else can have a go.
Be creative yes, but remember that there are other people training here and they aren't impressed by your antics.
The first and most unsettling thing that a lot of newcomers to the gym will do is to simply stare at others who are busy working out. There are all sorts of possible reasons for this: perhaps you're trying to learn, perhaps you're impressed, or perhaps you're waiting to see if the equipment is free. Either way though, working out is quite a personal experience and it's easy to make someone feel quite self-conscious if they feel your eyes on the back of their head the whole time.
Now I say this as an un-appealing guy. I can only imagine what a nuisance this is for attractive women who probably get eyeballed the entire time they're in the gym. I get that it can be hard not to look when they're squatting in cycle-shorts, but remember that they're quite possibly feeling self-conscious and you're probably putting them off their game.
Trying to Force People Off of Equipment
Sometimes this staring is done with malicious intent. This happens when you're using a piece of equipment only for someone to ask if you're finished yet. That's fair enough, except when you tell them you're not done yet, they then decide to sit and stare at you so that you feel uncomfortable until you go somewhere else. Or they repeatedly keep coming back to ask how many sets you have left.
While it may be inconvenient that someone else is using the machine or weight you want to use, that is also their prerogative if they got their first. You might not understand why someone is doing 10 sets on the same machine, but there's a good chance that it's all part of a complex training program they've created to reach a specific goal.
And what are you doing hanging around anyway? All you're doing is losing the pump you've built up thus far and wasting time. For almost any piece of equipment there is an equivalent exercise you can do that doesn't use it, so just keep up your momentum. And the variation will be good for you anyway. Someone using the squat rack? Then squat with a light barbell, or use the leg press!
Not Putting Stuff Back
This is irritating to the extreme. It's one thing to leave weight plates on a barbell, because you don't know what weight the next person is going to want anyway. But if you are leaving piles of dumbbells on the floor then you're forcing someone to bend over awkwardly to pick them up, you're potentially going to cause an accident and you're making the staff's job harder. You're already holding the weight, so would it be that hard to just carry it back to the rack? I had a bad knee for a while and physically couldn't bend over to pick weights up off the floor. Think about other people in that situation and be a little less selfish.
Loud banging seems to be another way that some gym members try to get attention. Why you think dropping weights impresses anyone is beyond me, but nevertheless it's something a lot of people will do presumably to show off just how heavy what they're lifting is (regardless of the fact that they're also demonstrating clearly that they can't handle it). Again this damages equipment, but it also disturbs other people from their workouts.
Positioning Yourself in the Mirror in Front of People
Watching ourselves in the mirror at the gym seems vain, so most people tend not to admit to it. Actually though, watching yourself workout can improve motivation and help you to identify problems with technique so it's a perfectly legitimate thing to try and do. That's why it's so annoying when you're lifting weights only for someone to come and stand right in front of you and do the same thing so that they get the view. Meanwhile you're left with the view of their behind which is decidedly less motivating (unless it's one of those women in cycle shorts again… in which case you're perfectly entitled to stare).
Being Overly Chummy
You might be coming to the gym to make friends, but some of us are in a hurry/are here to get away from people. Chatting is nice in the right circumstances, but try to read the situation and avoid wasting people's time. I actually went through a phase where I would be stealthily sneaking around the gym like Solid Snake to avoid one guy who I didn't want to offend. Don't be that guy!
Being Overly Nude
This one refers to the changing rooms more than the gym (though you also shouldn't be nude in the gym), but it's an important consideration. You maybe are very comfortable in your own body and perfectly happy to get changed in front of other dudes or dudets. That's fine. But that also doesn't mean that everyone else wants to see you in your birthday suit wiggling around in front of their locker. It's awkward and it's gross.
I once shared a sauna with a guy who decided to come in naked and then start doing lunges. Not cool. Not cool at all.
This is the absolute worst thing you can do in my eyes. Correcting a person's technique or giving someone advice when they haven't asked for it is presumptuous, arrogant and frustrating. Not only does it waste that person's time, but it also implies that you know better than them. What's more, that person will then have to do what you suggest or endure an awkward conversation.
The point to bear in mind is that a) there are thousands of different approaches to training, b) there are thousands of different opinions on optimal ways to burn fat/build muscle and c) people's goals vary drastically too. You may know a better way to curl dumbbells, but perhaps that person is just exercising for fun and likes doing it that way. Perhaps they have a bad elbow. Perhaps they've read a more cutting-edge study than you and their way is actually better. Perhaps you should just keep your opinions to yourself…
Asking If Clearly Empty Equipment Is Free
This is an unusual mistake in that it doesn't come from a lack of respect, but rather from having too much respect. In this case it's from having the kind of respect that will make you cross the expanse of the gym to ask someone if they're using a piece of equipment that they haven't so much as looked at in the last 20 minutes. It's nice that you don't want to butt in, but at the same time it's just weird to interrupt someone who's clearly in the middle of an exercise in order to ask such an inane and pointless question…
Drooling on the Water Fountain
What is up with that? It's disgusting. And while we're on the topic, hogging the water fountain also isn't much better.
Being a Bully
It's not just the new guys and girls who can ruin the gym experience though. Just as irritating are the 'pros' who think they have the right to monopolise gym equipment and force you off of it rudely when clearly you were using it first. The job of the gym veterans is not to intimidate and bully the new members, but rather to guide them, to set an example, and to help develop them into perfect gym citizens for the good of us all.