10 Rules of Gym Etiquette People Are Constantly Ignoring

Some people don’t know there's such a thing as gym etiquette. We'll help them out. MaxRiesgo/iStock/Thinkstock

Anytime you put tight clothing, rapidly beating hearts and above-average testosterone in a confined space, things are bound to get sweaty and probably a little messy. Get your minds out of the gutter, people. I'm talking about the gym, not the boudoir! Whether you're there consistently five times a week or with gusto throughout the month of January (don't even get me started on the New Year's resolution parking situation), chances are you've noticed, or even committed, some serious social faux pas.

Although some are gym-specific, many overlap into other areas of life. So, do the workout fanatics of the world and the general population a solid and either share this story with someone who could use a gentle, if snarky, nudge or step back and evaluate your own behavior. I'm not going to sit here on my high horse and tell you that I've never annoyed a fellow gym-goer, but by God, I make every effort not to leave a butt sweat print on the bench and that has to count for something. If only others could do the same!

Here are 10 gym etiquette blunders that really bug me – and most everyone else.

Acting Like It's Your Class
If you're not the official instructor, don’t tell others where to stand or how to do the exercise, unless asked. Wavebreakmedia/Thinkstock

The last time I went to a group fitness class, this woman tried to tell me where to stand. Not the instructor – just another class-goer. Since I'm the type of person who takes orders well from authority figures and no one else, I gave her the side eye and stayed put. You see, she (and many other group fitness junkies) have Instructor Syndrome. They think they're the teacher, but conveniently skipped the whole certification/getting a job portion of the process and jumped right into being know-it-alls. In between telling others what to do, they suck up to the teacher, like she's going to give them an "A" or something.

That's not where the class-related missteps end, however. People come in late and push their way to the front and center, edging out those of us who arrived early or on time. They talk loudly to other classmates, totally disrespecting the instructor, distracting others and giving me more information than I really needed to know about their recent root canal. Then, if the rest of the experience doesn't completely go their way (music too loud, class too hard), they bypass the teacher and go directly to management to complain. You know how much those teachers make in an hour? Practically nothing. Most of them do it simply for the love of teaching and helping others get healthy, so do them a favor and make polite suggestions, rather than going over their heads to the big dogs. At the end of the day, it's supposed to be fun, not an opportunity to bring others down.

Dressing Too Provocatively
Yes, you might look hot in your scanty workout gear, but not everyone wants to see your abs or your butt. jupiter55/iStock/Thinkstock

Clothing missteps happen anywhere and everywhere (last summer I saw a grown woman go into Publix in – hand to God – a one-piece Baywatch-esque bathing suit and high heels). But few places have more rampant offenders than the gym. I totally get it, people. Spandex is a tricky fabric. It fits one way at home and bunches up in all sorts of uncomfortable crevices once you're out and moving, producing the much feared "camel toe" and revealing the top of Sir Mix-A-Lot's favorite body part.

Even if you don't mind baring your fine booty in public, the rest of us prefer not to see it bouncing all over the treadmill, so take steps to keep our virgin eyes pure and untarnished. Maintain that practice in the changing room and resist the urge to strip down and engage others in conversation. Change clothes efficiently, discreetly or grab a towel. A little modesty never hurt anyone.

The gym also isn't the place for high-fashion histrionics – it's a site for sweating. Same goes for full makeup. Red lips and false eyelashes at the gym? Don't. Just don't.

Hitting on Fellow Gym-goers
By all means flirt if you're getting a vibe that it might be OK. Otherwise stick to business. Stockbyte/Thinkstock

I know you feel all hot and bothered after doing your impressive workout, and some of the other women or men might look cute, but leave Casanova at home, please. People typically hit the gym in an effort to zone out and get their heart rates up, and it's hard to maintain that level of focus when someone's coming on to you.

Amisha Harding, of Snellville, Georgia, has experienced more than her fair share of would-be Romeos, probably because she works out later in the day to avoid the crowds. "While I was doing lunges across the gym this guy positioned himself at the end of my route and did the 'come to papa' motion while biting his tongue," she says. "Yuck! I think I lunged right around him." Yet another man approached her saying, "I have smelled you in here before. You smell good! Juicy, right?" According to Harding, "I blinked and stared for a second because I was disturbed by the fact that he seemed to know my smell, and because I thought he was calling me juicy!" she says. "Then, I realized he was asking if I was wearing Juicy Couture perfume, which I wasn't." She begged off politely, which I have to say is much better than I'd do in a similar situation.

Sure, if someone is unquestionably putting off a flirty vibe, strike up a conversation not related to his/her body odor. Most of the time, however, pickup lines are best left to bars and truly social environments, especially since plenty of married people leave their rings at home to avoid damage or theft. Hitting on someone's spouse, however inadvertently, could be hazardous to your health, which completely defeats the purpose of going to the gym in the first place!

Hogging the Equipment
If the gym is crowded, don’t spend all day on the same equipment. Give others a chance. YinYang/E+/Getty Images

It's the grown-up equivalent of toy-sharing, yet so many of us have a hard time wrapping our heads around it. Gym equipment isn't limitless, and at least some of the time other people are waiting their turn politely. Many gyms post signs gently reminding users of time limits on the high-traffic equipment, like treadmills or elliptical machines, but plenty of users gently ignore such reminders. If the place is a ghost town, by all means run for two hours like the human gazelle that you are. But if someone else is in the queue, mind your manners and let someone else have a chance.

It's also completely uncool to hide equipment until you're ready to use it. I went to a weight training class once and was dumbfounded to discover that all of the under-15 pound weights were MIA. A bit of sleuthing discovered them hidden behind a stack of yoga mats because another woman was "saving them for her friends." Incidentally, they never showed. Some friends! Loosen the reins a little bit and realize that, most likely, the equipment you need will be available to you. Even if it's not, it's hardly the end of the world.

My brother is a five-day-a-week gym-goer (showoff!), who lets nearly every irritation roll right off his back. Everything, that is, except for the guy who "slurps at the water fountain forever," as a line of thirsty exercisers builds up behind him. Next on Joe's list are the "bottle-fillers," who load up their enormous containers at the fountain, when everyone else in line probably only needs a few seconds for a hydration fix. If that's you, fill up at home or wait until the line is done.

Not Practicing Good Hygiene
Always, always, always, sanitize gym equipment and yoga mats after use. Hero Images/Getty Images

Just because you're going to the gym to work up a sweat doesn't give you a hall pass to completely ignore daily personal hygiene. Many gym-goers live in fear of others who skip their morning showers, douse themselves in cologne and then hop on the next treadmill over, leaving those who share their space to involuntarily inhale a noxious combo of body odor and designer imposter fragrances. At the very least, apply deodorant before leaving the house!

B.O. isn't the only nasal issue, however. Alissa Taylor of Dalton, Georgia, got more than she bargained for during her recent treadmill sesh. "The man next to me had gas and I ended up running and holding my breath for two minutes," she recalls with a shudder. If you're having tummy troubles, take heed and opt instead to go for a run outside where you won't pollute confined air space.

Sweat is an unavoidable byproduct of working out, but many people don't follow the guidelines to minimize its gross impact on those around them. Most, if not all gyms provide antibacterial sprayers and paper towels to wipe down equipment after use. It takes roughly two seconds to complete the process and will lessen the spread of germs. Not everyone at the gym is perfectly healthy, you know! Wiping is not limited only to weights and machines, however. Yoga mats and workout benches need cleaning too in order to fend off the dreaded butt-sweat print. Thanks in advance.

Offering Unsolicited Opinions
Not everyone wants to hear your 'expert opinion' on how to do sit-ups. Ronnie Wu/iStock/Thinkstock

If someone looks confused or overwhelmed, by all means lend them a hand. Some of those machines are like rocket ships to operate. But there's a difference between being friendly and helpful and being an insufferable know-it-all. We're all grown-ups, and if you have an opinion about the number of reps a fellow lifter is doing, bite your tongue unless they ask for your expert insight.

Also try to resist the urge to visually critique others. It's OK to glance around and be friendly and all that, but keep the mental assessments to a minimum. "Please don't stare at me while I'm trying to work out. It's so creepy," says Megan Cory-Sills of Chula Vista, California. "Move along!"

I know I'm being a bit caustic throughout this article, but I'm completely serious about this next point. Body shaming is not cool. Whether someone is overweight, underweight or somewhere in between, mind your own business. "One time I was talking to my trainer and a stranger yelled at me to eat a sandwich," recounts a fellow HowStuffWorks staffer of her own body-shaming experience. The gym is supposed to be a place for personal improvement, not an opportunity to cut others down just for the heck of it. Instead, compliment someone on their form, outfit or general attitude and watch it help them surge toward new goals.Or just keep your mouth shut!

Misusing Equipment
While a workout bench might make a good place to relax while you make a call, that's not what it's there for. Hero Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

I have three little boys, so believe me when I say that I know what a mess looks like. Sadly, I've seen gyms that look like a hurricane of toddlers have devastated the place. Weights everywhere. Machines in disarray. Trash in the cup holders and on the ground. Y'all know your mamas taught you better than that. You should leave the place as you found it, perhaps even better if you see an opportunity for improvement.

Treat equipment at least as well as you would if it were your personal property. That stuff costs a lot of money, and breaking or otherwise abusing it will only cause those expenditures to be worked into your monthly membership fee. Don't drop weights on the floor. Unless you're an Olympic-level lifter, you can set them down nicely. If anything, a slow drop will improve your triceps, and that's always a plus. Always rerack the weights when you're done. And don't leave the weight bar with weights still on it. Not everyone has the strength to remove the weight that you – superstud you – were able to bench-press.

Finally, if you're tired out from your leg press set, resist the urge to rest while sitting at the machine – or worse, to make a quick phone call on said apparatus. Unless the gym is empty, stand up and give someone else a chance to work in.

Abusing Social Media
If possible, keep the gym a selfie-free area. Wisky/iStock/Thinkstock

I've said it before and I'll say it again – I'm so glad social media wasn't around when I was a young, dumb kid. I shudder to think of the photos, statuses and other nonretractable proof of my stupidity that would be out there for all the world to see. Sure, we lose our perceived right to privacy when we enter a public place like the gym, but no one should have to worry about unauthorized images or videos of themselves popping up online whether with good or malicious intentions. Plus, if the wrong person catches you capturing the moment, your phone/camera is likely to wind up broken. In short, post all the pics and vids of yourself that your little heart desires, and kindly leave the rest of us sweaty, messy bunch out of it.

It should be noted that the selfie phenomenon continues to thrive, even in exercise situations. Now, I can't stop you from doing it, but I can snicker about it. It's the gym, not a One Direction concert, so what's the purpose of such a selfie, anyway?

Disrespecting the Child Care Protocol
Tempting as it might be to leave your kids at the gym day care while you run a few errands, that's not fair to the staff or to other gymgoers. Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

I get it, really I do. You want to work out, but your child is sick. Again. It disrupts your routine and keeps you from getting the best possible results, which is seriously deflating. However, it's no excuse for taking sickies to the gym day care where they will (a) be miserable and (b) get everyone else sick. In fact, I rarely take my kids to the nursery there because every time I do, I can set my watch by them coming down with a stomach bug. Instead, snuggle them at home and try to get a spouse, parent or other helper to pitch in so you can get your cardio on.

To that end, adults need to be mindful of their own germs, too. The gym is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria and viruses, thanks to its warm, moist environment. Please refrain from going in and touching everything with your germy, grubby hands. If you're only mildly ill, be mindful of your impact. "People who don't bother to cover their coughs, sneezes and wheezes on machines in my general area gross me out," says Stacia Hernstrom, of Austin, Texas. "We're all breathing hard ...How am I NOT going to get their germs? Cover, people!" And wipe down your equipment, extra well.

The gym day care should also be used only by people who are actually using the gym. Former gym employee Jenny Dell of Gainesville, Georgia, has seen this rule abused many times over. "People used to bring their kids to the gym child care and then go next door to grocery shop," she recalls. Since some gym child care facilities have a "max out" number of kids they can take, this practice is rude not only to the employees who are unnecessarily saddled with extra kids, but also to fellow gym-goers who have to wait for the crowd to thin out. frown emoticon

Making Too Much Noise
If you've got to take a call while on the treadmill, keep it short and your voice down. Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

When I began to research this article, I conducted an informal poll of my friends regarding their No. 1 gym pet peeve. The winner by a large margin is people who are excessively noisy. Most of us want to be in "the zone" as we rev our metabolisms, not subjected to unreasonable noise pollution. Among the most rampant offenders are people who play their music too loudly without earbuds and those Chatty Cathy's who yammer away on their cell phones. If you pay attention to none of the other snarky tidbits of advice I impart throughout this story, heed this: If you're able to carry on a steady phone or other conversation, you're not working hard enough. Hang up and take care of business.

Another group of people who often get the stink eye are the grunters/moaners. Yes, you're lifting an impressive amount of weight. Yes, you'd like others to notice. And we realize that sometimes a grunt escapes as a physiological response to the muscle exertion. However, it is often possible to control your personal decibel level, and there's absolutely no excuse for making noises loud enough to scare the nice water aerobics ladies way across the gym.


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Author's Note: 10 Rules of Gym Etiquette People Are Constantly Ignoring

I know I'm awfully critical in this piece, but just think of how much nicer the world would be if people minded their gym-going manners more carefully! If nothing else, it might be less smelly.

Related Articles


  • Brownlee, Michelle. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.
  • Cory-Sills, Megan. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.
  • Dell, Jenny. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.
  • For Dummies. "Mastering Gym Etiquette." (March 31, 2015.) http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/mastering-gym-etiquette.html
  • Harding, Amisha. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.
  • Hernstrom, Stacia. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.
  • Novell, Umi. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.
  • Taylor, Alissa. Interview via e-mail. March 31, 2015.