Fitness Articles

Proper Gym Etiquette

How to Play Well with Others While Working Out

I hadn’t been to the gym for a few days and was really looking forward to a good workout. It was just after six in the evening and the place was packed but a recumbent bike was available so I signed up for 30 minutes and hopped on, anticipating a nice cardio workout. Imagine my disgust when I sat back against the seat and was immediately soaked with the previous user’s sweat. Yuck!

Just like you had to learn good table manners as a child, there are also some firm rules to follow for sharing a workout space with others. Even if you feel like you’re in your own little world when you’re exercising, keep in mind that others are trying to use that space too. Here are some general guidelines that will make your next gym experience pleasant for everyone:

Equipment Etiquette
  • Clean up after yourself. Always bring a towel—and use it. There’s nothing worse than getting covered in someone else’s sweat. Towels help keep surfaces clean, dry and germ-free. Most gyms have cleaning supplies available—use them to wipe down your equipment before heading off to the next station.
  • If you take something out, put it away. Have you just finished using a set of free weights? Then put them away. Leaving dumbbells, bands, exercise balls and other equipment on the floor is a tripping hazard and makes it difficult for other members to find the equipment they need. Don’t drop the weights when you’re done either—it’s loud and very distracting for others around you.
  • Learn to share. Don’t hog the equipment for yourself. If you’re in the middle of a circuit but taking a short break, let others slip in between sets to save time. Don’t leave your towel on the machine and walk away expecting the machine to still be available when you return. Everyone has a right to use the equipment, not just you.
  • Practice patience. Don’t rush others. If someone is obviously using a piece of equipment, don’t ask if they are almost done. Wait until he or she takes a break and be prepared to wait or use something else in the meantime.
  • Be on time. Many gyms lightly enforce 30-minute time limits for cardio machines during peak hours. If your gym is busy, respect that limit and don’t go over. If you want a really long cardio workout, avoid the gym during the busy times, like the after-work rush between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Personal Protocol
In addition to using equipment properly and respectfully, the way you carry yourself also affects those around you. If every gym member abided by these personal rules of conduct, the gym would be a more pleasant place for everyone! So do your best to:
  • Lower the volume. While exercising to music is motivating and fun, blasting your MP3 player at maximum volume is not. Respect the people around you and turn down the music—not everyone wants to hear your playlist.
  • Turn off the cell phone. Are you there to exercise or to chat? Keep your private life private by shutting off your phone while you’re at the gym. Some facilities have rules against bringing phones inside, especially camera phones. Respect the people around you and leave your phone in the car while you’re working out.
  • Share the water fountain. If you’re filling up a huge water bottle, check to see if anyone is waiting to take a quick drink and let him or her go first. Don’t spit in the fountain or use it to dispose of your used chewing gum.
  • Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Unless you are a certified personal trainer, don’t go around correcting other people's form without permission. If someone asks you how to perform an exercise, don’t give them advice unless you’re absolutely sure—injuries happen all the time and your wrong suggestion could end up hurting someone.
  • Dress appropriately. Torn, dirty clothing doesn’t belong at the gym—nobody wants to see your underwear peeking through your ratty sweatpants. Similarly, cover your body appropriately up top too. The gym isn't the place for women to show off their cleavage (always wear a well-supporting sports bra too), or for men to go shirtless (talk about spreading sweat and germs onto equipment).
  • Wear deodorant. Exercising will make you sweat and that can cause body odor. Wear a good deodorant/antiperspirant to keep odor to a minimum, but don’t spray yourself with perfume before hitting the gym—some people are very sensitive to scent and get headaches or migraines from the chemicals.
Above all, always respect the people around you and follow any posted rules that your gym may have. If you see someone blatantly breaking the rules, ask them politely to correct the behavior or talk to the facility manager about the problem. If you’ve noticed a situation, others probably have as well. Getting along with others at the gym just takes a little common sense. By following the rules of gym etiquette, you—and the exercisers around you—can all enjoy a great workout with minimal aggravation.

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Member Comments

  • Sometimes you get the results you wanted,
    sometimes you don't.
    What matters is that you did your best.
    - Jonathan Lockwood Huie
  • I agree with ANNE-IN-GTX I hope others that need to read this article do so.
  • Find activities that you love doing and you'll enjoy exercising.
  • One of my pet peeves when I go to the gym is people who don't clean their equipment after being's so gross!
    Please: STOP crashing the weight stacks on strength machines!!!
    The weight stacks crashing damages them, and USUALLY means you are
    1) Attempting to lift too much weight
    2) Using improper form
    Neither is doing anything for YOU, and the sound of the crashing is IRRITATING to others!!!!
  • I bring my own sweat towel and a "washcloth" that is dedicated to wiping the equipment. I don't care for paper towels, I feel they are wasteful. The gym provides disinfectant spray and I spray the towel as needed to clean the equipment. It also allows me to switch machines quicker; I don't have to walk over to the paper towels, spray one, wipe the machine, then walk back to the trash to discard. The towel is right there and ready.
  • Couple of thoughts:
    1) WORKOUT BUDDIES are awful. If they're not chatting, they're hogging tandem machines. Learn to work out on your own, or at least be mindful of serious exercisers around you. (Buddies are rarely serious; usually they don't even break a sweat.)
    2) Did I mention chatting? If you want to stand around and socialize, pop down the road to Panera or something.
    Regarding the volume of headphones: I have them at full blast to drown out other noises (the aforementioned chatting, as well as the awful music they play at full tilt.)
  • Kids at the gym, ugh! Don't get me wrong, I love kids so much I've worked daycare. The gym is no place for tiny fingers in all the wrong places. They just can't control themselves no matter how well you think they are behaved. They get bored and mess with equipment which could cause serious injury either to themselves or the next person to use it. Get a babysitter, this is "you time".
  • I am very fortunate that I get to work out at a new state of the art fitness center at our YMCA. It is very clean with lots of brand new PreCor equipment. There are plenty of wipe machines and everyone seems to use them. There is a water refill station and plenty of fountains. There are always lots of employees in the area to help you if necessary. There are plenty of social areas down the hall for anyone that wants to go socialize. They have plenty of televisions if you want to watch but you listen with your earphones. No loud music anywhere. I don't see or hear about any problems there. All in all it's a wonderful place to work out.
    Your first tip is 100% WRONG!!!!

    Do NOT use your own towel to wipe down a machine after using it! That is so unsanitary. The gym should provide spray disinfectant and paper towels.

    I've seen people at my gym wipe their own sweat, then wipe their noses, THEN wipe down the machine handles, seats & backs. I don't want to use that machine afterwards.

    Because I don't watch everyone who used the machine I want before me, I solved the problem by using the disinfectant and paper towels to wipe down the machine BEFORE and AFTER I use it.

    Several years ago, I got a very bad case of bronchitis after using the gym. There are too many people who think the rules are for everyone else but them.
  • I actually quit going to a particular gym because there were people there who would come up and try to chat with me while I was working out. At 6:00 a.m. every day they would be at my treadmill visiting. Here I am, hair a mess, no makeup in my workout clothes trying to get my workout in before I had to get to work - not the ideal time for a leisure stroll and a chat!
  • Every gym should have this article printed, framed and hung up at the door. If you walk through the door and cannot follow these common-sense etiquette guidelines, you can turn right around and leave!!

    Yesterday I saw a girl wearing "shorts" that, I kid you not, were smaller than the underwear I had on (which are called "cheeky" style!) ... She was doing squats. So in addition to cheek down below, and crack up top, everyone on the line of treadmills got to see a hungry butt gobble up the "shorts" with every downward motion. But it gets worse. For reasons unbeknownst to me, she gets on the floor, grabs her feet, spreads her legs and just rolled around. That's when I decided I'd seen enough and went into the other room. It might have made more sense if we were in the general area where creepy men might look her way (if thats what she wanted..? But we were in the women-only room...)

    Another pet peeve of mine is this one woman who insists on being naked ALL the time in the locker room. 30 minute conversations with her friend completely naked? Every day! Doing her hair before a shred of fabric covers her body? All the time! And here's the worst...I walked in once to see her completely naked, save a pair of underwear at her knees...and she was changing her maxi pad....NO ONE ---EVER---- WANTS TO SEE THAT, EVER.

About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.