Gym Basics: Know What Is What

We’ve all seen it before, a student really has to go to pee so they raises their hand and say “Can I use the bathroom?”. The teacher says “I don’t know, can you?”.

I don’t know what it is but our brains seem to be wired to get caught up in semantics and be a jerk when someone uses the wrong word but we know exactly what they mean. The teacher knows darn well that the student is asking for permission to go to the restroom and not asking if they have the physical capability to do so. But people like to be difficult. For this reason I want to take some time to go over the basics of the gym so you don’t have to deal with people calling you out when you misuse a gym term.

I will go over the basics of the gym ranging from what sets and reps are to the names of equipment in the gym. I’ll even show you ways to display proper gym etiquette so you can be more comfortable in the gym.

Gym Etiquette

Gym etiquette is a great place to start since its one of the most important aspects of being comfortable in the gym. The last thing you want is to be uncomfortable in the gym. And you don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable. Here are some ways you can behave in the gym to make it better for everyone:

Respects Others 

The rules of life also apply to the gym, you gotta be respectful. Guys, don’t get caught staring at the ladies and making them feel uncomfortable. Ladies, don’t get caught staring at the hundreds of guys actually working legs on a Monday.

Everyone in the gym has equal rights to everything thats in the gym. Don’t spend too much time on a piece of cardio equipment, the limits are there for a reason. If you have 20 sets of curls to do in the squat rack maybe your garage is a better place to do them.

Don’t rush others or make them feel uncomfortable

Even if someone is using the piece of equipment you want and may be taking longer than you should, you still shouldn’t rush them or make them feel uncomfortable. Simply go up to them while they are clearly between sets (never talk to someone in the middle of a set!) and ask them politely how many sets they have left. That is the international way of letting them know that you want to use the equipments they’re using. They’ll know exactly why you’re asking.

If they say they have more sets than you would like to wait around for and you don’t mind, ask them if you could “work in”. This means that while they are taking a break between sets you use the equipment. Then they work while you rest. If you do agree to “work in” make sure that you are helpful in adjusting the weight for your momentary gym partner.

Put it back

The last thing you want is to go to where something is supposed to be and have it not be there. Not because it doesn't exist and not because someone is using it but because someone didn't put it back where it belongs. If you use anything in the gym make sure it goes back where it belongs, even if you found it somewhere it didn’t belong.

Don’t stand in front of the dumbbell rack

It’s extremely rude to stand closer than five feet from the dumbbell rack. If you’re standing too close to the rack you’ll prevent people from getting the dumbbells they need. Find somewhere else to stand. You can still see your beautiful self in the mirror if you back up a little.

Claim a space

If you want to claim a space because you need to go get a weight or get a drink of water leave something behind to indicate you will be right back. A towel hanging on a machine or bench is a universal sign that it is in use. Hang your towel and come right back, if you won’t be right back don’t claim the equipment.

Smell good and dress appropriately

Don’t be a distraction in the gym. Don’t wear clothes that will draw undue attention to yourself. Dress appropriately. If you go to the gym wearing only a sports bra and yoga pants, it’s your fault people are staring at you, not theirs.

Another important thing is not to smell bad in the gym. Bad smells and hard breathing don’t go together. That doesn’t mean that you should be doused in cologne or perfume, it means that you should be clean. Sweat itself doesn’t stink, sweat mixed with dirts and oils does. Sometimes it’s good to shower before and after the gym.

Stay off of your phone

Nobody wants to hear your phone conversation at the gym and no one wants you to take up space and equipment at the gym just so you can talk on the phone. You’re there to workout, not to talk. If you have a call that you need to take, go to a non workout area of the gym and take it. Most gyms these days have wifi and seating.

Gym Equipment


Dumbbells are handheld weights, one for each hand.



Barbells are weight bars. You usually hold onto one barbell with both hands. There are fixed barbell that already have the weight on them and olympic/standard bars that you put weight plates on.

Fixed barbell
Fixed barbell



Olympic Barbell
Olympic Barbell



Weight Plates

Weight plates are round weights that you add to barbells.



Weight clips are used to keep weight plates on barbells.



There are several different types of weight benches. There are weight benches attached to bench press and incline bench press benches. There are also flat benches and adjustable benches used for various lifts. Another type of bench is a seat, often used for military presses.


Racks and Cages

Weight racks are used for things like squats and standing presses. There are free standing weight racks that are adjustable and there are squat cages.


Squat Rack
Squat Rack
Squat Cage or Power Rack
Squat Cage or Power Rack



Cable machines are often adjustable in height and position and provide a steady resistance that is not dependent on gravity the way free weights are. Since cable don’t rely on gravity they can be used to do various exercises, especially for the core.



Bands are a portable and inexpensive alternative to cables. They too do not rely on gravity and allow you to work different angles.



There are several types of exercise balls that can be used during your workouts. Swiss balls (which are also referred to as physio-balls and other names) are large inflatable balls often used to create an unstable surface to work your core and other muscles.


Bosu balls are half ball and half flat surface and allow you to work (even stand) on an unstable surface. Working on an unstable surface can help with balance and some core work but it sacrifices strength due to lack of stability. Strength is always key so they should rarely be used and never be prioritized.


Medicine balls are used for core and explosive exercises. Again rarely used and never prioritized.


Smith Machines

Smith machines look like squat racks but they have a barbell connected to a rail system that forces the barbell to go straight up and down. This is usually not ideal for most people since our bodies are unique and shouldn’t be restricted to that type of movement plane. Smith machines can be useful for push ups and rows.


Foam Rollers

Foam Rollers are semi soft to firm cylinders used for soft tissue work and warm ups. Good for self massage.


Workouts vs Exercises and Sets vs Reps


An exercise is a single movement such as a push up or a pull up. There are several exercises within a workout.



A workout is the combination of a warm up and all of the exercises done in a single trip to the gym.



A rep or repetition is a single movement of an exercise. For example one push up is one rep.



A set is a series of reps of an exercise. Reps are done within a set in sequence without stopping.




Supersets are achieved when two different exercises are done back to back without a break in between the exercises. Doing 10 push up immediately after doing 10 pull ups would be doing one super set. Super sets are used to save time and burn extra fat. When you see a superset in a workout program the moves are often labeled 1A and 1B.


Tri sets and giant sets

Tri sets and giant sets are achieved when three or more different exercises are done back to back without a break in between the exercises. Doing 10 push up immediately followed by 10 pull ups and 10 lunges would be doing tri set. Giant sets are the same but with even more exercises. Tri sets and giant sets are used to save time and burn extra fat. When you see a tri set or giant set in a workout program the moves are often labeled 1A, 1B, 1C, and so on.



Motivation and Pre Workouts

I once had a client who worked something like 25 hours a day. She worked a labor type of job during the night shift and a desk job during the day. She didn’t have much energy for working out so she took pre workouts to get through her workouts.

I also had another client who loved to take pre workouts but he didn’t have nearly as busy a schedule as she did. He had the perfect amount of time to workout, he just lacked motivation so he too took pre workouts to get through workouts.

I’ve been thinking about pre workouts a lot on your behalf. Full disclosure is that by and large I am pretty anti most supplement because the supplement industry is so unregulated and profit driven to the point where it becomes unethical. There are some vitamins, minerals, and supplements that really can help. What I am against is the supplements that make grandiose promises with no true science to back them up.


While pre workouts are not necessarily bad, you certainly don't NEED them. There are a lot of supplements out there that say they do things for your that they couldn't possibly do. Some can be helpful but even if they are they are helpful only in very small percentages.

The real solution to to find and focus on what keeps you motivated. Motivation is the best pre workout of all. Motivation can be extrinsic, coming from outside sources like wanting to look good for an event or to fit into some piece of clothes. It can come from someone else wanting you to do something and you doing it for their sake. But motivation that comes from a source other than within yourself will quickly fade.

You need to find what really gets you going. Maybe you want to be able to play with your kids for hours without falling behind or needing a break. Maybe you want to live to see them get married and you want to be a grand parent.

My main motivation is that if I am not working to be the best version of myself that I possibly can I feel like I am wasting my life. Hope that didn't get too dramatic on you, but that's the way I fuel my desire to accomplish. One of the reasons I want to be the best me possible is I can empower others (namely you guys) to be the best you possible.

Another thing you can do to improve motivation is to focus on eliminating things that suck the energy out of you. Do you hate your job? Do you have to do things daily that you would really rather not? Do everything you can to either change these things or change the way your look at them and you will find much more energy and motivation.


If you have all of the motivation you need and your lack of energy is truly due to physical factors you should focus on rest and nutrition first. If that isn’t enough and you need a little more energy, stick to natural sources of energy like coffee or tea. And drink plenty of water.

So what's your motivation????

Perrier Bottles and Quality Workouts

It was a hot day and I was at a family function with my big tough cowboy uncle. When you see a man standing at about six foot two with a cowboy hat and hands as rough as sand paper you expect to see a gallon of water. Not this cowboy. He was drinking from a little bitty green glass water bottle. It was a Perrier water. I was confused.


I wanted to find out what the big deal was with this water so I got a bottle of my own. It felt great drinking the sparkling water from the little green bowling pin shaped bottle. It wasn’t the water itself, the water didn't taste any different to me than any other sparkling water. It was the bottle, the bottle made it a quality experience.

Quality is something that just about everyone can recognize but its really hard to define. I have no idea what makes that tiny bottle of water so special but theres something about it that makes you wanna drink more.

What this have to do with working out? Hydration and finding a quality gym and trainer. You gotta stay hydrated and sometimes you need some good quality help.

Your body is made up of about 70 percent water so hydration is key. Dehydration can rob you of your ability to perform at your highest level. Being well hydrated helps keep your joints lubricated, your spinal discs cushioned, and your muscle and skin supple.

Another benefit of proper hydration is that it can keep your weight down. Sometimes when you think you’re hungry you may simply be thirsty. Drinking water throughout the day will help to reduce hunger.

You should drink about half your weight in ounces of water per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds you should be drinking 75 ounces of water per day. A good way to know if you are properly hydrated is to take notice of the color of your urine. If it looks like a Monster Energy drink you need to drink more water. If it looks like lemonade you’re probably pretty well hydrated.


When you exercise you should drink more water than when you aren’t. It can be helpful to weigh yourself before and after a hard workout and drink an ounce of water for every ounce of weight you lose during your workout.

Another important thing to consider is that drinking caffeine or alcohol can reduce your hydration. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics: they draw water out of your body. So make sure to drink water between your glass of whiskey or your cup of coffee.

Once you’re hydrated you’re ready to go to the gym. It’s important to find a gym where you see the value and quality. Finding a gym that you like can be the difference between reaching your goals and not.

At different times in my workout career I have passed up as many five gyms on my way to the gym where I wanted to workout. When people would ask me I had no intelligible response for them. I liked it and it had a quality that I couldn’t define.

If you want to succeed at getting in shape make sure you stay hydrated and find the Perrier bottle of gyms. If you need extra help make sure you find a trainer who knows their stuff and actually cares about you.

Dress Shopping and Going to the Gym

My niece recently turned 16 and had a big birthday party. She had particular ideas about what she wanted her “Dress to Impress” party to look like and she knew she wanted the perfect dress. I wanted her to have it so I took her shopping.

I picked her up in the morning thinking we would only spend a couple of very awkward hours (it turned into several) in a bunch of girly stores. To my delightful surprise she isn’t the most glam type of girl and she felt almost as awkward as I did in Forever 21 and the thousand stores we went to just like it.

She would go in the dressing room to try on dresses and I would wait outside. She only came out to show me the dress if she thought it might work. So there was a lot of me standing around by myself holding a purse in a girls clothes store. Talk about awkward.


All of the awkward standing around was worth it when her face lit up cause she found just the dress she wanted. Now it was time to find shoes and accessories so we doubled back to most of the stores we went to and then some. I had to try to figure out what shape of jewelry you could wear with a dress that had a big bow on it.

The party went great, she really liked it. She even liked the center pieces we made from the supplies we got at Michaels. Yes, I went to a craft store too. All of the awkward was worth it.

All of the dress and craft shopping got me to thinking about how much it pays off to ignore the awkward situations you may get into. When you start working out it can feel really awkward to go to the gym. You might feel like everyone there knows what they’re doing and that you could never get in shape like them. It can be very intimidating.

Don’t worry about what other people think in the gym. You will never lose weight or gain any muscle from someone else working out so don’t let their presence impede your progress. Who cares what they think!

One time when I was just beginning to go to the gym I didn’t even make it in the door cause I was so worried about the buff/6 pack guys in it. I sat in my car, all 225 pounds of me, and thought about how fat I was and how uncomfortable it would be to be seen in the gym trying to lose weight.


Eventually I got over the feeling and lost the weight. I felt uncomfortable in the gym because I was fat. I was completely wrong, the gym is exactly the place for people who are out of shape. If you’re new to the gym or not you should never be deterred by what people there may think of you.

Never feel uncomfortable in the gym. Don’t be intimidated and don’t feel out of place. You belong and if anyone intentionally makes you feel otherwise they're the ones who shouldn't be there. The only exercise to be ashamed of is the one you aren't doing. The more awkward it is to do the more you will enjoy the success it brings.