10 Rules of Gym Etiquette

Having been an avid gym goer for 20+ years – 6 of which were spent in a teaching capacity – I’ve seen the inside of many different fitness establishments. I’ve been in council leisure centres, private health clubs, dirty back street gyms (tip: sometimes these are the best gyms you can find), hotel gyms, and personal training studios. In each of these facilities, you’ll find a bright and colourful array of people from all different backgrounds. There may be a variety of reasons as to why they exercise, but regardless as to why they’re there, which facility they use and how many times they frequent it, there’s one thing that ties everything together: gym etiquette.

That’s right: etiquette. Some things are common sense, other things just come down to being a decent human being and personally, I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they act in the gym.

If you look up the word etiquette in the Oxford English Dictionary, you’ll find the description: The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group

Examples of other words to describe etiquette include:

  • Manners
  • Politeness
  • Decency
  • Decorum
  • Courtesy

As you can see, etiquette is just a fancy pants word to describe having manners. Like you were taught when you were a kid. ‘Don’t eat with your mouth full’. ‘Remember to say please and thank you’. ‘Don’t call other people names’. ‘Hold the door open for the person behind you’. You get the idea. So why, oh why, do so many adults act like a child missing a babysitter when they visit the gym?

I’ll apologise in advance that this may turn into a bit of a rant.

Carry a towel & wipe down equipment

If you’re a gym newbie, or perhaps even a seasoned gym goer, you might be questioning why you should carry a towel. Well, there’s a couple of reasons really. Firstly, to wipe the sweat off your body while working out and secondly, to wipe down the piece of equipment you’ve just finished using – including a mat if you’ve used one.

Every gym goer has seen it and unfortunately, it’s usually the men who are guilty of this. You see them finish a run, they’re sweating everywhere, and I mean everywhere – it’s dripping out of every pore. The treadmill looks like a wet dog has shaken itself over it, and yet, the runner casually strides off the treadmill leaving it swimming in sweat and walks over to the weights section. That’s right my friends. Not only do they leave the treadmill sodden, they then decide to sit on a bench leaving arse sweat, leg sweat and god knows what else for the next unsuspecting person. How can someone leave a tsunami of sweat juice on everything they touch, and think it’s acceptable not to wipe it up? This is just plain rude and probably my biggest bugbear at the gym. Please have respect for your fellow gym goers: carry a towel and use it.

Put equipment back when you’ve finished with it

This is probably my second biggest bugbear at the gym. Once you’ve finished using a piece of equipment, it’s polite and courteous put it back. I’m talking weights, ab balls, kettlebells, and mats etc., basically, anything that isn’t screwed to the floor. There was a sign at a gym where I used to teach that simply said: ‘If you’re big enough to lift ‘em, you’re big enough to put ‘em back’ – and rightly so. Again, the guilty party mainly seems to be the male of the species. The guys who are as wide as they are tall. The guys who have tiny little legs because they skip leg day to work their chest – again. We’ve all seen them. They come into the free-weights section, grab a set of 40kg dumbbells and do 8 reps before dropping them to the floor – loudly. They then make their way to the leg press machine, stick 100kg of plates on either side, do another 8 reps and then walk off. Nice. It’s like watching a toddler playing with their toys. They pick something up, get bored, and then move onto the next shiny object, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. While gym staff are there to help keep the area clean and tidy, it’s not their sole purpose. Their other duties include conducting inductions, putting fitness programmes together and possibly teaching a class or two. Apart from that, why should other gym users have to a) spend time searching for equipment or b) struggle to move your weights so they can use the leg press. And seeing as I’ve just mentioned it, most gyms also have a sign asking you politely not to drop the weights. It doesn’t make you look big or clever and it doesn’t make the girls swoon. However, it does damage the weights and make you look like an idiot.

Respect the headphone wearer

No matter how you dress it up, most people attend the gym for pretty much the same reason: to get fit and healthy. Whether it’s to lose weight, tone up, or build muscle, we all have similar reasons for being there. Some people attend willingly, other’s may be there because a medical practitioner has advised it. Regardless of the reason, there is one very important thing to remember – never interrupt the gym goer in the headphones. This person is in the zone. This person wants to get their head down and get on with their workout. They want to get in and get out – they don’t go to the gym to chat. Wearing headphones is the equivalent of a do not disturb sign. Respect the headphone wearer people.

Don’t be a space invader

Remember Dirty Dancing, with the whole my space, your space thing? This crosses over into the gym. If it’s quiet and there’s one person on a bank of treadmills, please don’t get on the treadmill next to them. It’s like when you park your car in an empty car park and then someone parks next to you. If it’s quiet, don’t invade someone’s personal space. And this isn’t just treadmill specific, it goes for any piece of CV equipment.

Ditch the mobile

Please don’t be the person who takes their phone into the gym and spends 20 minutes on a cross trainer talking. Even worse, don’t sit in the middle of the mat area chatting instead of working out. If you can’t detach yourself from your phone while you’re at the gym – you’ve got serious problems. It’s annoying for other gym goers who are there to work out and the fact that you’re talking super loud so everyone can hear, just makes everyone want to throw a kettlebell at your head.

Also, if you work out with a friend, that’s great. But please don’t spend your 30-minute stroll on a treadmill talking loudly about what Sandra did last night at Weight Watchers. No-one cares. And the fact that you’re talking about what happened last night at Weight Watchers, means you need to quit yapping and pick up the pace on the treadmill.

Don’t leave the shower area before drying off

The sign in the changing room that says ‘Please make sure you are dry before leaving the shower area’, is there for a reason. There is a wet area, otherwise known as the showers and a dry area, which is the changing area. The area where people get changed. The area where people are not wet. The area, where people should be allowed to get changed comfortably without standing in your pool of water as you stand at your locker, with your big hair dripping everywhere. No-one wants to break their neck by trying to dodge your trail of wet footsteps either. The footsteps that lead all the way through the changing rooms, because you couldn’t be bothered to dry yourself after your shower. Please take note of the sign.

Change your sanitaryware behind closed doors

I’m not a prude by any means, but some things really should be done in private. Changing your sanitary towel or tampon (please delete as appropriate), is clearly not a spectator sport and doing this in the middle of the changing room is inappropriate. Toilets, along with their sanitary bins are there for a reason. No-one wants to see you with your leg on a bench fiddling with your privates. I don’t think I have anything else to say on this matter – this pretty much covers it.

Clean up after yourself

If I accidentally knock over a bottle of foundation at the gym, guess what? That’s right – I clean it up. If I spill some of my smoothie onto the bench where I’m sitting, I clean that up too. It’s not difficult. It’s polite. People should be able to get changed without having to dodge a sticky pool of the latest super drink. Just as they should be able to use the vanity area without it being covered in a sea of Rimmel foundation. If you spill something that needs more than a bit of loo roll or paper towel, tell someone. Depending on the gym, there’s normally either an instructor or a cleaner hanging around.

Flush the toilet

I can’t believe I actually have to mention this, but on more than one occasion I have walked into a toilet and been left genuinely shocked and disgusted by the mess. I mean, come on. The toilet brush is there for a reason. A second or third flush wouldn’t go amiss either. To do something that would make the toilet from Trainspotting look pristine is a shocker. Grown women people. Grown women, who quite possibly have children. I dread to think how they’re raising their kids.

Please shower (and make sure you dry off before leaving the area)

I think this last one is more personal hygiene then etiquette, but I’m going to mention it anyway. Can someone please explain to me why, after spending an hour in the gym you wouldn’t shower? There are certain things I struggle to get my head around and wiping yourself down with a wet wipe after a workout is one of them. Not showering at all and just getting dressed for work, closely followed by showering but then putting your sweaty P.E. kit back on, is also another mind boggler. If you’ve worked out for an hour and feel the only thing you need to do is wave a wet wipe near your pits, you’re obviously not exercising correctly. I would suggest cancelling your gym membership and spending the time reading and drinking coffee in Starbucks instead.

Final Thoughts

So, at the end of the day gym etiquette comes down to having manners. Being polite and courteous by wiping down equipment, putting things away after yourself and having respect for your fellow gym goers. Leave things how you would like them to be left, flush the toilet after you’ve used it and just act like a decent human being.

Although these are probably my biggest peeves from being a gym goer, I’m sure there are other things I’ve failed to mention. If you feel I’ve missed something, please leave me a comment below.

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