Whether it’s your first time or you just need an etiquette refresher, please, please avoid these habits that literally nobody likes.
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Gym mistakes to avoid
Trust us, we get it. Workouts are sacred. They’re personal. They’re self-care. And you should be free to use that precious time however you please. But you can get in a kickass sweat session and still be a good person about it. (Yes, that means stepping off the elliptical to take a call.) Gym etiquette pretty much comes down to the golden rule, says fitness instructor Jessica Matthews, senior adviser for the American Council on Exercise: “Do the very thing when you go to the gym that you would hope someone would do for you.” Here are 10 common pet peeves among regulars, plus how to avoid them.
Mistake #1: Leaving a trail of bodily fluids
Even if you’ve never set foot in a gym before, you’ve probably heard someone, somewhere complain about people who don’t wipe down machines and other gym equipment after using them. Sure, it might sound like a lot of extra work. But do you really want to sit down on a machine or lie down on a mat drenched with someone else’s sweat? Pretty sure the answer’s nope.
It’s not only gross to think about, sharing more than your enthusiasm at the gym can spread serious germs, including cold viruses, the flu, and nasty infections, Matthews says. “If you can, put a towel between you and the equipment, then wipe it down after, regardless of whether you’re profusely sweating or not,” she suggests.
It can’t hurt to do a preliminary wipe-down either: “Not everyone cleans up after they are done on a machine, which is not cool, so I like to clean equipment before and after I work out,” says master trainer Susanna Kalnes
Once you’re finished swapping germs–err, working out–wash your hands, stat, Matthews adds. And if you’re already sick? Please do everyone else the courtesy of keeping your germs at home.
Mistake #2: Hogging machines and stockpiling equipment
Some of the best lessons you learned in kindergarten apply at the gym too: Play nice, share, and give everyone a turn. “Most gyms usually have a sign [listing] a time limit on cardio equipment, particularly during peak times before and after work,” Matthews says. Typically you’re allotted 30 minutes on sought-after equipment like treadmills and ellipticals. But if there’s no signage, and you’ve had a solid half hour in peace, give someone else a turn, she says.
If 30 minutes doesn’t feel like enough, change up your routine to make it more efficient, or switch gears entirely. “Jump on another piece of equipment, or do some strength training with weights,” Kalnes adds.
You need to remember to share in the weight room too, though. Take only the free weights you’re using in the moment–and leave the 15-pound dumbbells you plan to get to 20 minutes from now on the rack. “Be mindful not to take more equipment than you’re actually using,” Matthews says. “Stockpiling is frowned upon.”
If you find yourself frequently waiting for machines or equipment, consider going to the gym at “off hours” if your schedule allows, Kalnes says. Between 10 am and noon, from 1 pm to 5 pm, and after 7:30 pm are usually quieter windows. Or beat the crowd entirely and go at the crack of dawn. “Be the earliest bird,” she says. “Get in around 6 am to beat all of the folks who come in around 6:30 or 7.”
Mistake #3: Playing your music too loud, chatting or grunting excessively
Look, these habits can be perfectly fine at the gym within reason. Music is motivating and helps break up the monotony of a run on the dreadmill. Chatting with a workout buddy or a trainer keeps you accountable. And heck, sometimes you just need to grunt out that extra oomph to power through your last set of deadlifts.
But get carried away with the volume and you’re suddenly disturbing other gym-goers. “For many people, time spent at the gym when they can really focus on themselves and be immersed in the experience,” Matthews says. “Extreme noises can be really distracting and disruptive to people’s workouts.”
Always wear headphones if you listen to music at the gym–and make sure the volume’s at a level that only you can hear. If you’re grunting or slamming weights on the ground, reconsider how heavy you’re lifting. “Make sure to use appropriate weight, where you can control the weight through the whole range of motion of the exercise and control it to safely put it down,” Matthews says. Otherwise, you might hurt yourself–or someone else!
Mistake #4: Acting like someone is going to pick up after you
Those dumbbells won’t re-rack themselves! “When you are done with equipment, return it to the same place you found it,” Kalnes says. No one should have to clean up after you–and no one should have to wander around looking for a 12-pound kettlebell by the SkiErg. Returning gear to its rightful home also helps keep floor space clear of hazards, Matthews adds.
Mistake #5: Forgetting how much space you take up
You want to keep the floor space clear of your own personal belongings, too. That probably means using a locker, which most gyms have. But you might need to bring your own lock: “This is not to say people will steal your stuff, but you just never know,” Kalnes says. If you’re really worried, consider leaving valuables in your locked car or at home before you head to the gym if you can.
But it’s not just your gear that might get in people’s way. Think about where your body is–and how close it is to equipment others need. “Many people will take weights off a rack and use them directly in front of it, making it difficult for other people to come to the rack to put weights back, or take weights off to do their own workout,” Matthews says. “Yes, sometimes real estate is scarce when it’s really busy, but be mindful about where you actually are in the space.”
Same goes for yoga or other group fitness classes where you need to stake out an area just for you. Studios can certainly get crowded, but you should leave sufficient space for a neighbor to move their extremities without bumping into yours. You’ll win serious bonus points with other gym-goers by moving over to make room for someone coming in late to a class, Matthews adds.
Mistake #6: Snapping pics in the locker room
People have all different levels of comfort when it comes to the locker room (more on that in a sec), but one thing everyone can agree on (at least we think) is that no one wants to be accidentally photobombing your locker-room selfie in the buff. Absolutely no photos in locker rooms, folks–better yet, don’t even take out your phone when you’re in there, Matthews says. “You want to make sure you’re not even potentially perceived as violating anyone’s privacy.”
In general, you can probably leave your phone tucked away for your entire workout, aside from using it for music, of course. If you get an emergency phone call while you’re at the gym, by all means answer it–just step off your machine, away from the equipment, or out of a class to do so. “Be respectful of everyone’s space and don’t be too loud–most people at the gym don’t want to hear your whole conversation,” Matthews says.
Don’t think you’re in the clear just because you’re texting and not making any noise either. You’re still distracted, Matthews says, and you’re taking up space “where other people are actually engaged in movement.”
Mistake #7: Chatting up a stranger who’s in the zone
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with meeting new people at the gym–hey, you know right off the bat you have a shared interest in fitness. But there’s a time and a place for gym-side conversation, and it’s not when someone is breathing heavily, drenched in sweat, and totally focused on themselves. “Maybe you can sneak in a quick question, but when they’re really in the zone and getting their workout on, it’s probably not the best time to strike up a conversation,” Matthews says.
In the middle of a class isn’t right either. “Instructors don’t usually like that!” Matthews says. Keep conversations to neutral moments: Introduce yourself to a neighbor in a yoga studio before class gets started, or while you’re setting up your bike in spin.
Mistake #8: Stinking up the place–literally
“When you’re going to the gym, deodorant is a great thing,” Matthews says. (May we suggest, always a great thing?) We don’t mean to hate on that natural eau de you, but strong smells can be particularly irritating in tight spaces where everyone is breathing heavily. That goes for the good smells too. “You want to smell good, but not too good,” Matthews says. “Heavy fragrances, colognes, and perfumes could be distracting to people around you.”
Mistake #9: Considering the locker room your own personal bathroom
There’s no right or wrong way to undress at the gym, but there are some common sense rules when it comes to showering and getting dressed again. For starters, please remember that most people are at the gym to get in a good workout and get out–whether they’re headed to work in the morning or home for a protein-packed dinner in the evening. “It’s not the time to take a long, relaxing shower,” Matthews says. “Do that at home–it’s a great self-care practice!–but at the gym, your intention should be just to clean up after you work out.”
If cleaning up means bringing beauty products or hair gadgets, go for it! Just try not to take up all the counter space in front of the mirror, she adds.
Mistake #10: Slowing down the entire class
Don’t fall victim to this classic newbie mistake: Stepping foot into the gym for the very first time assuming you know how everything works. “If you’re new to the gym, we don’t expect anyone should know how to do anything in particular,” Matthews says. “That’s why people like myself work in places like this!” Talk to a trainer, an instructor, or even someone at the front desk about where to get started. That’ll likely work out better than bugging someone in the middle of a treadmill interval.
If you’re entering a group setting for the first time, show up early. “You want to make sure you aren’t running in right as the class starts,” Kalnes says, especially if there’s equipment to set up. Tell the instructor you’re new when you first get there, she adds, so he or she can give you a little extra attention.
Even experienced gym-goers shouldn’t assume they’re experts on everything. “If you are new to a format and there is an ‘introduction’ class offered, take it first,” Kalnes says. “These classes tend to focus more on how to correctly set up equipment and how to maintain good form.” Learning the ropes alongside others at your level keeps classes moving efficiently for everyone, she says. “Once you have a handle on the format, go for the more advanced options.”