Once again, Planet Fitness is offering free summer gym memberships to teens. Great news for the teens, not necessarily great for the other gym-goers. Teenagers have a reputation for hogging gym equipment and ignoring gym etiquette. But that’s not going to be the case for your teen, who will be a perfect gym citizen, so long as you make sure to educate them before they go.
Planet Fitness is, of course, not the only gym that allows teenagers to work out. Many are open to teens; check the gym’s policies to find out the minimum age for a membership. If you already have a gym membership, sometimes there’s a deal where you can add another family member at a discount.
Is it safe for teens to exercise in a “real” gym?
Yes. While we think of team sports and playground activities as the most appropriate exercise for kids and teens, dumbbells and machines—and even barbells—are not all that different. (Think about it: A kid who manages to pull themselves up onto the monkey bars is doing something more strenuous than, say, a set of dumbbell rows.)
We have a guide here to understanding what kinds of strength training exercises are appropriate for kids. The bottom line is, anything can be appropriate, but kids need to be taught how to do the exercises appropriately.
If you’re athletically inclined yourself, accompany your teen to the gym for their first few workouts. Teach them what to do and how to do it. If you’re not the kind of parent who can double as a coach, one alternative is to consider hiring a personal trainer for a few sessions. For a cheaper and somewhat more traditional approach, rely on your teen’s school coaches and/or older friends to teach them the ropes.
Most machines are appropriate for teens, so long as they physically fit into the machines. (Shorter kids may not be able to adjust some machines appropriately, and will have to wait until they grow a few more inches.) It’s also important to know how exercises are supposed to work. We have a guide to common gym machines here; you can also look up exercises on YouTube or on places like ExRx.net to get a demonstration of how to use dumbbells and cable machines.
What do teens need to know about gym etiquette?
Just like we need to teach kids to do their own laundry before we send them off to college, we also need to teach them the basics of gym etiquette before we set them loose in a gym. According to a great many gym rant threads on Reddit, these are the skills teens should master to not irk their fellow exercisers:
Don’t hog equipment (especially in groups)
Every minute you’re occupying a piece of equipment is a minute that other people don’t get to use it. If you’re resting a reasonable amount of time between sets, that’s fine. But if you and your friends all put your water bottles on a bench you’re not using, and then you end up getting into a conversation between sets of squats and you go ten minutes without anybody actually using the squat rack, that’s considered rude if others are waiting.
Put your stuff back where you found it, or better
Dumbbells go back on the dumbbell rack, in the proper place. Plates get removed from their barbells and put back onto the rack they came from, in a reasonable order (don’t put three 45-pound plates in front of a 5-pound plate, that 5-pounder is never going to be seen again). Yoga mats go wherever yoga mats go. You get the idea.
Most people can figure this out. Where it gets tricky is when putting things “back where you found them” would still be a mess. Then teens (and humans in general) are tempted to just throw the dumbbells back in the pile. Make the effort to put things back in the right place, even if it takes extra effort sometimes.
Wipe stuff down
This etiquette varies from gym to gym, but as a general rule: If there are wipes or spray bottles anywhere around, you’re expected to wipe down any benches you’ve been lying on, and the seats and headrests of any machines you’ve been using. Here’s some more info on wiping etiquette.
Don’t stand right in front of the dumbbell rack
There’s often a mirror by the dumbbell rack, and hey, the dumbbells are right there. But if you pick up your weights and start doing curls in that very spot, you’re blocking access to the dumbbell rack and you may have stepped in somebody’s line of sight. Be aware of your surroundings (this goes double if you’re in a group) and make sure others can still easily move around you.
Teach them what they do have a right to do in the gym
While your (and other gym-goers’) concerns may be about teens making pests of themselves, it’s important that everyone knows they have a right to be there. They’re paying customers, even if it’s Mom’s or Dad’s money, and they have as much right as anybody else to space and equipment. (That’s subject to gym rules, of course; there may be a minimum age requirement for some things like using the sauna or participating in certain classes.)
Go over any relevant rules with them, and make sure they know that they are allowed and encouraged to:
Some teens may need to be reminded to be considerate. Others may need to be reminded that it’s OK to stand your ground if somebody else wants to use your equipment or wants to lecture you on what you’re doing wrong. Most teens—like beginners of any age—probably need a little of both.
Even though they’re young, teens in the gym will deal with a lot of the same questions and concerns as adult beginners to exercise. Help them go into the gym with a program that will make sure they get a well-rounded workout, since that can be a good tool for focus and to build confidence—but don’t get too bogged down in the details.