7 Steps to Barbell Etiquette


The gym is just like a classroom or an office—there are important rules you need to follow in order to keep everyone safe and to ensure it runs efficiently. Rules are also there to stop you from looking like a rookie in the gym who isn’t sure what’s going on.

This is especially true when it comes to the barbell.

If you’re doing any of the following, chances are you look a bit like a rookie (bless your heart), and might also be causing a ruckus by putting yourself or another lifter in danger. Or at the very least, you’re probably mildly annoying those lifting around you.

1. Plates On Plates On Plates

Are you the person who has a barbell loaded with a set of 15lb plates, two sets of 10s, three sets of 5s and 2 sets of 2.5s? Not only are you hogging all the small plates in the gym, but you also look a little ignorant.

Here’s the rule: If you can put on a larger denomination of plates, do so. In the latter case, you have 50lb on the bar, so you should replace the 15s and 10s and 5s with one set of 45lb plates, and then finish off with a set of 2.5s.

2. You Don’t Step Up to The Bar

This might be my biggest pet peeve as a coach. Are you the athlete who bends down to do a deadlift or a clean before you have stepped up to the bar? If you don’t approach the bar properly, then you have to pull the bar towards you while you’re all bent and hunched over—and then you automatically end up out of position before you even start the lift.

Instead, step up to the bar until your shins are touching the bar and then take a breath before hinging on down in a perfect position to set up for your lift. Not only will you be in a better position, but you’ll look a little bit more bad ass. Almost like you know what you’re doing.

3. You Drop Stuff

Three things that should never be dropped:

  1. Empty barbells (or barbells without rubber plates)
  2. Dumbbells (at least not from above the knee)
  3. Kettlebells

Not only is it hard on the equipment, but it’s also loud and obnoxious when you drop a barbell full of steel.

4. You Ignore Your Surroundings

If your gym has platforms, you probably know not to stand on the platform when someone else is lifting. But if you don’t have platforms, it’s less obvious how far away you need to be, so I often see people walk right in front or right behind someone who is setting up for a lift, putting you both at risk for a human on human, or human on barbell collision.

Bottom line: Be aware of your surroundings and be deliberate about the space you give others when they have a barbell in their hands.

5. Improper Barbell Unloading

Nothing says I’m oblivious to barbell etiquette more than letting your barbell smash to the ground as you aggressively strip the 45lb plate from it. Instead, place a hand on the barbell and lower it to the floor nicely as you strip the weight.

6. You Don’t Ask For a Spotter

If you’re even remotely close to potentially failing the lift don’t be shy, ask for a spotter.

This rule especially applies to the bench press. If you’re comfortable ditching the bar off your back during a back squat, then just make extra sure you have tons of space behind you.

7. You Don’t Respect the Programming

If you’re following a program that prescribed percentages, respect the exact percentages programmed for you each day.

There’s probably a reason for them, even if they seem too light. Don’t just go heavier because you think you know better, or round up or down on your weight because you’re too lazy to take the time to change the weights to adhere to the percentages.

You Have to Follow the Rules

The saying “rules are meant to be broken” isn’t the case when it comes to the barbell. Broken rules can lead to broken bodies in this setting, or at the very least lead to rookie mistakes that will subject you to mocking.

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