The Common Law of the Weight Room

by Mark Cohen, J.D., LL.M.


Common law is law that judges develop in individual cases, as opposed to laws enacted by legislative bodies or regulations issued by the executive branch.  Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes explained that common law develops gradually as consensus arises from prior decisions. (1) Customs may become so widely accepted as to become part of the common law.

In the United States, few laws govern conduct in the weight room.  Of course, the jurisdiction’s criminal laws will apply, so you can’t steal equipment or assault a fellow lifter.  In addition, some facilities promulgate weight room rules, but these are usually limited to those needed to ensure safety. Beyond that, with regard to matters such as etiquette, we must look to the common law. 

Strength training is not a modern invention. Egyptian tombs show pictures of lifting bags filled with sand and stone swinging and throwing exercises.(2) Weightlifting competitions date back to the early Greek civilization.(3) With no statutes, ordinances, or regulations governing etiquette in the weight room, customs developed and became so widely accepted as to acquire the status of common law. 

This article summarizes the ten common law principles of the weight room.

1.  Do not offer advice unless asked or there is an imminent threat to someone’s life
     or health.

You may be a bodybuilder with decades of knowledge gained in the weight room.  You may see a young man using too much weight on the curl bar and using his body to swing the bar upward rather than using less weight and isolating his bicep muscles. You KNOW this young man would benefit from your advice.  What should you do?  The common law requires that you say nothing because he has not asked for your opinion and is not endangering himself or anyone else.  This rule is not new.  The Bible cautions us to mind our own business.  It proclaims, “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business,and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.” (5)

Hank Williams, who, at the peak of hiscareer, could bench press 265 pounds, made the same point in his hit song, Mind Your Own Business:

Mindin' other people's business seems to be high-toned

I got all that I can do just to mind my own

Why don't you mind your own business

(Mind your own business)

If you mind your own business, you'll stay busy all the time.


2.  Clean up your mess.

You’re mother doesn’t work at the weight room.  You can bench 315 pounds and you love doing it as others marvel in amazement at the fact that you have three 45-pound plates on each side of the bar.  If you complete your last set and walk away without putting your weights away, you are a shmendrik. (6)  What if some young girl wants to do bench presses after you?  Are you really going to make her remove six 45-pound plates from the bar before she can start her first set?  If you’re strong enough to lift the weight, you’re strong enough to put your weights away.  The Bible repeatedly commands us to put away our weights. (7)  Or would you rather be a pig? (8)

3.  Prior in time, prior in right.

The first person in the weight room controls the music.  End of discussion.  If you had gotten your fat ass out of bed earlier, you might have arrived first and been able to force everyone to listen to your Sammy Hagar crap. But you didn’t, and now you have to listen to my Rolling Stones.  The Romans summarized the applicable law in the maxim, Si dormiatis,vinceris.(9)  That’s the law. (10)

4.  Move along or let others work in.

You’re using your gym’s only squat rack and someone else wants to do squats.  Because you’re more concerned with impressing others by how much you can squat than you are with being fit, you like to rest five minutes between sets.  If you tell the waiting person, “I’ve only got six sets left” instead of letting that person work in, the Jewish weightlifters of the 19th Century had a word for people like you -- shmendrik. (11) And to deal with shmendriks, another common law principle evolved.  If the shmendrik leaves the squat rack, even for a second -- to get a drink of water or to try some “jaw cardio” with the cute young woman that can’t stand him -- you get to start your squats while he’s screwing around.  “Equity aids the vigilant, not those who slumber on their rights.” (12) 

5.  Offer to spot others.   

As an experienced lifter, you know when someone else is pushing his limits in the weight room.  If that young man just managed to bench 135 pounds one time and is now going to try a set at 155 pounds, ask if he wants a spot.  He’s probably embarrassed that he can’t lift more and afraid to ask for a spot. Do the right thing.  No less a weightlifter than William Penn made the point when he wrote:

I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again. 

So, try a little kindness (13) 
– offer to spot others.  You might make a new friend.  He’ll appreciate your kindness and pay it forward.  And those that benefit from his kindness will pay it forward, and kindness will spread across the land.  It’s kind of like trickle-down economics, except it works.

6.  Don’t scream. 

You’re about to attempt a personal record in the deadlift.  You manage to lift 515 pounds one time and then you let the weights crash to the floor as you let out a scream like a woman giving birth to a 1971 Chrysler.  News flash: You already lifted the weight; screaming won’t help with your lift.  So, act like a pro, lower the bar slowly, and quietly bask in the knowledge that you achieved your goal.  Even without the scream, everyone in the weight room saw you.  If your screams result in “continuous annoyance and discomfort to others” in the weight room, courts of equity will restrain the nuisance. (14) You might also do well to consider the words of Zig Ziglar, who wrote, “Every obnoxious act is a cry for help.”

7.  Don’t forget to wipe.

You are a big, hairy guy and you sweat like a pig.  When you do leg curls, you leave a quart of sweat on the foam pad.  If you finish your last set and move on to knee extensions without wiping down the pad, you’re a shmendrik. (15)  Not only that, but you’re creating a smelly, unpleasant environment that discourages women from using the weight room, so you’re ruining things for the rest of us. “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.” -- Isaiah 1:16.

8.  You have a right to cuss in the weight room, but that doesn’t mean you have to
      exercise it.       

Throughout most of recorded history the weight room was a place where men could cuss and share off color humor.  However, in recent times women and even soccer players have discovered the benefits of strength training, and they frequently use the weight room.  While the modern custom is to refrain from cussing in the weight room, the First Amendment protects your right to cuss if you want, at least if you are in a weight room operated by a governmental entity. (16)  If you want to announce to others (with a certain amount of pride), “Oh fuck, man, I just fuckin’ tweaked my fuckin’ bicep doing those fuckin’ curls,” the founding fathers made sure to protect that right.           

9.  Don’t stink.  

Unlike cussing, the First Amendment does not protect body odor. (17)  You can buy a Mennen Speed Stick for $3.49 at your local grocer or drug store.  Do it.  In Baldwin v. McClendon, 288 So.2d761 (Ala. 1974), the court found that the “foul odors” emanating from a hog-raising operation was a nuisance and could be enjoined.  The court noted that the odors produced“ material annoyance and inconvenience” to the plaintiffs in the comfortable enjoyment of their own home. If you have a right to the comfortable enjoyment of your own home, then, a fortiori, you have a right to the comfortable enjoyment of your weight room.   

10.  Wear something beneath your shorts.  

Nobody wants to see your testicles.  It’s gross.  While the law does not define “gross,” we know it when we see it. (18) Moreover, there is good reason to wear some type of supporter (19) beneath your shorts – testicular torsion. As the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut explained, testicular torsion is a condition where “the testicle turns or spins on the axis of its blood supply, blocking the flow of blood into the testicle.” (20) Failure to keep your, um, equipment, in an upright and locked position (21) may result in testicular torsion.



Mark Cohen began lifting weights as a 7th grader at Cherry Creek West Junior High School in 1970, before political correctness required us to refer to them as “middle schools” and before the widespread pussification of America did away with mandatory physical education in schools.

Mark has 31 (and ½) years of experience as a lawyer. He earned a Economics at Whitman College and earned his law degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He earned an LL.M. Agricultural and Food Law from the University of Arkansas. His diverse legal career includes service as an Air Force JAG, a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, a prosecutor, a municipal judge for Boulder, six years on the Advisory Board of The Colorado Lawyer (including one as chairperson), and service on the Executive Board of the Colorado Municipal League.

Mark wrote six articles in the Am. Jur. Proof of Facts series, including one on piercing the corporate veil. He wrote several articles and book reviews for The Colorado Lawyer.  He taught Advanced Legal Writing at the University of Arkansas School of Law. In 2004, he won second prize in the SEAK National Legal Fiction Writing Competition.  He wrote two mysteries published by Time Warner, and one became a Book Sense® mystery pick.  His non-legal articles have appeared in magazines, such as Inside Kung Fu, Camping & RV, and Modern Dad.  He is a member of the Institute of General Semantics and the Mystery Writers of America.

His practice focuses on drafting and reviewing all types of legal documents, including contracts, corporate documents, real estate documents, employment documents, intellectual property documents, motions, pleadings, and briefs.  He also litigates cases arising out of poorly drafted documents.  He enjoys helping businesses and other lawyers improve their legal and non-legal documents.  Learn more at Plain English Consulting.

Mark also serves as an arbitrator by agreement of the parties. He devised a set of Arbitration Rules he believes are simpler and more flexible than the AAA’s rules. He also offers arbitration services online or via Skype by agreement of the parties.  Learn more at Colorado Arbitration.


  1. Frederic R. Kellogg, Law, Morals, and Justice Holmes, 69 Judicature 214 (1986)
  2. U.S. v. Arredondo, 31 U.S. 691 (1832)
  5. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 - King James Bible "Authorized Version", Cambridge Edition.  The U.S. Supreme Court cited the Bible with approval in Greene v.McElroy, 360 U.S. 474 (1959).
  6. Shmendrik is a Yiddish word that means “jerk,” but not just any jerk, a MUCH bigger jerk, the master of all jerks.  See,
  7. See Ezra 10:4, “Arise, for it is your task, and we are with you; be strong and do it.”  See also, Galatians 6:5, “For each will have to bear his own load.”
  8. “A pig is an animal with dirt on his face; his shoes are a terrible disgrace.  He's got no manners when he eats his food.  He's fat and lazy and extremely rude. But if you don't care a feather or a fig, you may grow up to be a pig.”  Swinging on a Star, music by Jimmy Van Heusen and lyrics by Johnny Burke.
  9. If you snooze, you lose.  
  10. See also United States v. New Britain, 347 U.S. 81 (1954) (“Priority for purposes of federal law is governed by the common-law principle that the first in time is the first in right.”).
  11. See footnote 6.
  12. Ivani Contracting Corporation v. City of New York, 103 F.3d 257 (2nd Cir. 1997)
  13. “If you see your brother standing by the road, with a heavy load from the seeds he sowed…you've got to try a little kindness, yes, show a little kindness, yes, shine your light for everyone to see.  And if you'll try a little kindness, you'll overlook the blindness of the narrow minded people on the narrow-minded streets.”  Try a Little Kindness, Capitol Records (1969).  The song was written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin, and first recorded by American country music singer Glen Campbell. 
  14. Baltimore & P.R. Company v. Fifth Baptist Church, 108 U.S. 317 (1883)
  15. See footnote 6.
  16. The First Amendment generally does not prohibit the owner of a private weight room from banning cussing, but see Prune Yard Shopping Center v. Robins, 447 U.S. 74 (1980).
  17. The author conducted a Westlaw search and could find no reported decision holding that body odor is a form of protected speech.
  18. See Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964), in which Justice Stewart, speaking of hard-core pornography, wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”
  19. This could be a jockstrap, but most men now prefer the more recent athletic sport briefs, such as those made by Under Armour. 
  20. Bhagwant v.Kent School Corp., 453 F.Supp.2d 444 (D. Conn. 2006)
  21. See 14 C.F.R. 121.311(e).