Going to the gym can be daunting at first. It may feel like a chaotic environment that everyone else seems to intuitively understand. Or perhaps it seems like a free-for-all in which it’s everyone for themselves.
In fact, there are some universal do’s and don’ts to the gym environment, and they’re simply based on mutual respect. Even if you feel intimidated by the pandemonium, you can feel confident that you’re doing the right thing if you adhere to certain principles.
The first thing you want to know is whether your particular gym has its own set of rules and acquaint yourself with those. Reading the signage posted throughout your fitness facility will give you not just clues but actual instruction.
Many locations have their own unique rules around certain behaviors, but you can be sure you’re flying right if you adhere to the guidelines below.
Pick up after yourself
This is listed first for a reason. Even if you do nothing else right, please, at the very least, put your stuff away.
Leaving weights, kettlebells, foam rollers, mats, or other equipment around is a safety hazard in a busy space.
Additionally, if you leave your plates racked, your dumbbells on a bench, or your towel on a machine, it sends a signal that the equipment is occupied, and people will not feel like they can use that equipment.
Finally, it’s just rude! The gym is a public space. It’s terribly inconsiderate not to leave it in the same condition you found it.
Wipe down your stuff when you’re done
Even if you don’t leave a puddle of sweat, you still sweat and leave germs behind on equipment. Everyone does.
You can stop the spread of germs and be a good citizen by wiping all touched surfaces before leaving a piece of equipment or putting things away. In doing so, you signal your doneness to the next potential user and reveal yourself to be a good gym community member.
Keep your tunes to yourself
Don’t be that person playing their phone out loud — whether you’re listening to music or a podcast or watching videos.
Headphones are readily available at any drug or convenience store and even at the front desks of some gyms. Forcing everyone around you to listen to your media is downright inconsiderate.
Don’t talk on the phone
Speaking of inconsiderate… for your own privacy and to show respect to the other patrons, please do not talk on the phone while you’re working out. It is rude, it makes people uncomfortable, and you’re 100% talking louder than you think you are.
Dress the part
Wear appropriate clothes to exercise. You can look as cute or comfortable as you want, but be safe and be respectful of others.
Wearing good gym shoes is vital unless you’re doing a barefoot workout (some gyms may have an issue with this, so check with management if that’s your jam). Wearing dress shoes, heels, or Birkenstocks can be dangerous as well as possibly damaging to the equipment and floors.
Wear clothing that fits well and, for your own comfort, choose something made from a wicking fabric to keep sweat at bay.
Clothing that’s too loose can get caught in machines or wrap around you and hinder your movement, while too-tight clothes might restrict you in other ways. Jeans or other clothes with buckles, snaps, or zippers can cause rips in leather or vinyl surfaces like benches and seats.
And read the room. Wearing overly revealing clothing or clothing with offensive slogans or pictures might be considered disrespectful to the environment.
Give people space
This goes for both physical and emotional space. Stand far enough away from your fellow exercisers to give them room to move safely and to feel at ease in their personal space.
Also, recognize that the gym can be a vulnerable space and that upholding a welcoming and inclusive environment is required.
Be polite to other athletes, but be mindful of starting conversations that are more than a sentence or two. Many people come to the gym to shed the stresses of the day, and conversations with strangers are often not welcome.
Along that line, please don’t hit on anyone or make anyone uncomfortable by staring.
If there is someone you have a long-time rapport with, and if you absolutely must, go ahead and ask for their number — on the way out of the gym or later. Nothing takes you out of the workout zone like someone ogling you or trying to get your digits while you’re exercising.
The weight room can be an intimidating place. You may observe lots of grunting and banging of equipment, and people can get possessive of their space.
Feeling comfortable in your routine can help you have a more relaxed attitude and get a better workout in the weight room, so consider hiring a personal trainer if you want more confidence in your exercise choices.
Below are some of the musts of being a good citizen in the weight room.
Don’t be a hoarder
If you plan to do supersets and want to go back and forth between two pieces of equipment, locations, or sets of dumbbells, it might be OK during non-peak times. During busy gym times, however, claiming more equipment than you’re currently using is a big faux pas.
In doing so, you’re not only taking up too much of the shared space but also preventing others from using more than one piece of equipment. Try to arrange your workout to respect the space and equipment needs of others around you, or find a buddy to tag-team your supersets.
That leads nicely to…
Let people “work in”
Recovery is an important part of training. If you’re taking a 2-minute rest between sets and are parked on the bench press, you may notice someone standing at a respectful but close distance, eyeing you and the equipment upon which you’re resting.
Don’t duck that eye contact. Ask that person if they want to work in. Trading off sets is the kind thing to do and makes good use of everyone’s time, and you may even score yourself a good spotter for your own set.
Don’t offer unsolicited advice
Nobody wants someone they don’t know wandering over to tell them what they’re doing wrong. Even with the best intentions of improving someone’s form, odds are if you’re approaching people to correct or improve their workouts, they’ll be embarrassed to be singled out.
Many people are fairly self-conscious in the weight room, anyway, without you putting a spotlight on them, and will likely be resentful of advice from someone whose credentials are unknown and whose advice is unsought.
Be aware of your gym’s policy on dropping weights
Most gyms do not want people dropping weights on the floors. Those that don’t mind or encourage dropping weights will have special flooring and equipment, as well as areas where this is acceptable. Know before you start, and if in doubt, just put them down gently.
Group exercise is another subculture within the gym. The benefits of exercising in groups are many — from community to accountability — and the rituals are pretty easy to pick up on and adopt.
Here are some of the musts:
Be on time
Group fitness classes are designed to include a warmup for safety. Additionally, the warmup will generally include a greeting from the instructor, who is getting a feel for the sort of group they’re working with that day.
During this introduction, your instructor will likely give the group a little advance information about what to expect from the workout that day. Being on time allows you the chance to get a physical and mental introduction to the routine.
Being on time also gives you a chance to meet the instructor, feel out the space, and find your equipment, which is much more enjoyable than sneaking in, darting around to find space, distracting other participants, and starting off frazzled.
Introduce yourself to the instructor
If it’s your first class, go a bit early and meet the instructor. Let them know your name, what your experience level is with the format, and any limitations or injuries that may be relevant.
This quick conversation gives the instructor the opportunity to give you a little extra attention if you need it, and most instructors pride themselves on knowing their patrons by name.
Leave your phone elsewhere
Turn off your phone or, better yet, leave it in your locker. The class will have all the audio you need. If you need to take a call during class, by all means, leave the room. There is no excuse for talking on the phone while your instructor is trying to lead a workout.
Mind the mirror
Some people like to use the mirrors in the room to check their form. Others feel uncomfortable watching themselves.
Both are fine, but as you select your perfect location in the room, make sure you haven’t planted yourself directly in front of a mirror-watcher. A slight shift to the side will give you both the chance to see.
The joy of group exercise is the joy of moving together. However, there are few groups in which everyone needs exactly the same workout.
Whether it’s because of a difference in strength or endurance, an injury that needs to be minded, or a preference for a different range of motion, it’s OK to tailor your workout to your needs.
However, modifications should respect the group, without distracting or endangering anyone else.
If everyone else is doing Pilates rollups and you feel like this is the time to do burpees, that would be a distraction to the vibe of the class as well as a potential danger to those around you. Modify freely but respectfully.
Leave quietly if leaving early
If you’re short on time and need to bounce early, or even if you decide halfway through class that this workout is not for you, it’s OK to leave early. Just do so quietly and unobtrusively to respect the class and the instructor.
If you would like to follow up with the instructor later to explain your reasoning, that may be welcome information, but please don’t do so as you’re leaving.
Special note about yoga classes: If you’re going to skip Savasana (Corpse Pose), leave before the class has gotten into position for this final meditation.
Listening to someone gathering their stuff and leaving during this peaceful time is disruptive, so choose all-in or all-out for this relaxing final pose.
People sometimes exhibit strange behavior in locker rooms. Most of these rules regard treating the space and other patrons with respect.
Respect the space
Don’t choose a locker right next to, above, or below another person who is in the room at the same time — at least not intentionally.
It happens accidentally sometimes, and we can share a laugh when the only two people in the locker room are bumping into one another. But try to leave the space of at least a locker or two between you and the next person present.
Also, while you may need to spread out just a bit when actively dressing or undressing at your locker, try not to use the whole bench or a large radius all around you.
Having your bag on the bench next to you, your shoes and towels spread out on the floor, and your toiletries on the sink is inconsiderate, especially during peak times.
Clean up after yourself
Similarly, don’t leave towels on the benches or floor of the locker room or shower area. Close your locker when you’re finished. Wipe any wet benches or counters. Don’t leave cotton swabs or tissues on the counters.
In general, clean up after yourself like you would if you were 15 and begging your parents to take you out to meet your friends.
Save intimate habits for home
As instructors and trainers, we have seen it all. I have personally worked in fitness centers in which people had to be told not to shave in the hot tub, not to dye their hair with the gym’s towels, and not to blow-dry their testicles at the vanity.
I worked in another gym in which the locker room carpet was filled with toenail clippings. This kind of behavior disrespects your fellow patrons — save it for home!
Don’t be a nudist
Obviously the locker room is a place for changing clothes, and many folks are proud to show the work they’re putting into their physiques. But walking around nude while talking to others often makes people uncomfortable.
If you’d like to finish grooming before you get dressed, wrap a towel around your intimate parts.
Be quick (and clean) in the shower
If you work out at a peak time, make it a quickie. Wash, rinse, and leave. Don’t spend time deep-conditioning your hair or shaving your legs if you know others are waiting.
If you bring your own toiletries, make sure you take them with you, and rinse the soap away to the best of your ability. Don’t pee or spit in the shower, and please don’t leave globs of hair stuck to the walls.
It is customary to sit unclothed in a sauna or steam room. However, as with the locker room, there are some specific behaviors that show you hold respect for the space and others in it.
It’s polite and often more comfortable to sit on a towel, and you’ll want another towel to wrap around your intimate parts if other people are present. You may want to have a handy third towel to wrap in as you leave the hot space.
If you’re alone in the sauna or steam room, you may wish to lie down on a towel on the bench, but if anyone else is present, please sit up and make space.
These very hot rooms are not a place for you to sweat your way through one more set of squats. Just be peaceful and let your lungs enjoy the hot wet or dry air.
Exercising in these conditions is, at best, uncomfortable for the others in the space. And at worst, it puts you at risk of overheating.
This is not the place to catch up on gossip. Sit quietly and enjoy breathing deeply.
The gym is more than a location — it’s a culture that intimidates many people. Some people who could benefit from a safe place to move and breathe may stay away because of feelings of being watched and judged.
I’ve said to new clients more times than I can count, “Believe me, they’re not looking at you, they’re looking at themselves.” But it is true that the gym is an intimidating environment and can feel exclusive to all sorts of folks.
Here are a few ways you can help everyone feel welcome:
Whatever reason someone has for standing out is probably a reason they’ve stayed away. Singling anyone out for attention and gawking is not welcome. Let people blend in.
There was a trend a few years ago on social media in which people were posting things like “Dear Fat Girl Running, I congratulate you on your bravery” or some such nonsense.
Literally no one wants to be congratulated for standing out as “unfit” at the gym.
Don’t be the one saying, “I love that you’re trying.” As pure as your motives may feel, you are drawing attention to someone who’s just trying to get their thing done.
Maybe they don’t feel brave. Maybe they haven’t considered that they “don’t belong,” and now you’ve made them feel that way.
Finally, it smells a bit like attention-seeking behavior from the giver of the “compliment.” This is a great time to stay in your lane and give them the space you would grant anyone else.
Make your fitness facility a welcoming place
Whether you’re on the weight room floor, in the locker room, or in a group exercise class, be a welcoming force of positivity. The more diversity your facility exhibits, the more rich and full the experience is for everyone.
Exercise is for all of us, regardless of gender, gender expression, size, age, or ability.
Gym etiquette really comes down to what we all learned in kindergarten or before: Treat others the way you want to be treated.
Treat your gym the way you want your gym to be treated by all those other folks who are there with you. Be nice. Be neat. Be respectful. Help build a community of supportive fitness enthusiasts.