Olympic Barbell

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.