The Ultimate Guide to Gym Etiquette

Most gyms have a basic code of conduct—but what about the rules that go unsaid? It’s time we review the most important dos and don’ts at the gym.
These Are the Rules You Should Follow at the Gym

From yoga and Pilates to circuits and supersets, there’s no right or wrong way to get in shape. Whatever it takes to break a sweat, right? But let's not leave that sweat on the mats (or that hair in the sink). From the locker room to the cardio zone, when it comes to gym etiquette, there are a few rules that everyone should follow—fitness karma points guaranteed.

The Weight Room

Gym Etiquette in the Weight Room

Respect the headphones. Singles feel free to mingle, but people who have their headphones in are basically putting up a big "do not disturb" sign. So, save the chit chat for later.  

Wax on, wax off. Sure, we may have hit the gym to avoid doing housework, but wiping down machines is a chore with serious payoffs. (No one wants a side of germs and infectious skin diseases with their workout.)

Lift a finger. More chores, we know. But returning free weights, medicine balls, and other equipment to their proper places is more than courteous—it might burn a few extra calories too!

Mind the mirror. Leave the lip gloss application, ab adoration, and smizing for the boudoir. Gym mirrors are there for form and safety, so avoid crossing in front of Mr. Military Press mid-set.

Get in the zone. The right one, that is. From bicep curls to power cleans, there’s a proper place for everything at the gym—and trust us, you don’t want to learn the hard way.

Share! Sometimes there just aren’t enough toys for everyone. Let a stranger “work in.” And rather than standing idly by, maximize your time and efforts with a few killer supersets.

Easy does it. While every gym has its own policy, most prefer it to be earthquake-free. Avoid dropping heavy weights like hot cakes—and leave excessive grunting off the menu while you're at it.

The Cardio Zone

Gym Etiquette in the Cardio Zone

Don’t let it all hang out. While it’s unlikely grandma’s showing up, Cardio Sculpt is a long ways from Woodstock. To keep things kosher, make sure those goodies are under wraps.

Give some breathing room. It’s no secret that cardio can get a little sticky-icky sometimes. So when there’s a choice of seven free treadmills, is it really necessary to cozy up right next to Ultra-Marathon Man? Scout out a more secluded treadmill instead.

Get mobile without the mobile phone. Chatting on a treadmill is a recipe for road kill. There are exceptions, including firing up fitness apps like Runkeeeper or Fitbit to stay on track. But otherwise, it's safer (and less annoying) to keep your eyes off your phone and on the road (er, treadmill). 

Play it straight. Interval training aside, keep the treadmill stunts to a minimum (unless of course you’re these guys).

No spitting, snot rocketing, or other barnyard behavior. This should go without saying, but spend enough time in a gym and you’re bound to see it once. Do not pass go; proceed directly to the hand sanitizer (stank face optional).

No marking your territory. Saving seats was so not fair in middle school—and not much has changed since then. So don’t expect that towel, water bottle, or fanny pack (workout fashion 911!) to mean “dibs” on the elliptical.

The Studio

Gym Etiquette in the Studio

Arrive early. Fashionably late doesn’t apply when it comes to group classes. Plan to arrive at least five minutes early to find a spot and settle in without disruption.

Stagger. Sun salutations should be PG, so make sure the arms and legs can extend fully—without feeling up your neighbor. Like on public transportation, there’s no excuse for an improper touch.

Go with the flow. Class energy matters, so go ahead and chant those Intensati affirmations—just not in meditation class. There’s a time and a place for ohm-ing, panting, and screaming out reps.

No peeping Toms! Maybe Tom was late. Or maybe he’s just taking notes. Chances are the ladies (and gents) of Pole Dancing 101 aren’t appreciating the hardcore ogling from the other side of the glass.

Be kind. Now this applies to all areas of the gym: Smile, be courteous, and even try saying “hi.” (Using words instead of grunts or whistles is almost always preferable). The gym may not be the happiest place on earth (that’s Disney World, right?), but it can’t hurt to try.

The Locker Room

Gym Etiquette in the Locker Room

Put hygiene first. While some people are actually allergic to deodorant, for the rest of us, there’s no excuse for smelling like those gym socks. And no, cologne or eau de anything isn’t an alternative quick fix. 

Groom in private. Flossing, tweezing, and blow-drying anything but the hair on your head is a big locker room no-no. When in doubt, save the intimate stuff for the homestead.

Hide the salami. Seriously. Not everyone grew up in a naked home. Lounging, stretching, and chit chatting in the buff might feel fantastic to you, but you're bound to make someone else uncomfortable. We all need boundaries, right In praise of boundaries. A conversation with Miss Manners. Interview by Diane L. Coutu. Martin, J. Harvard Business Review, 2003 Dec; 81 (12):41-5, 124.?

Pack it up. Bench hogs, take note: Sneakers, gym bags, laptops, and lap dogs don’t all deserve a spot on the bench. Especially during peak hours, lock up those belongings to give fellow gym-goers space to suit up.

Originally published November 2011. Updated December 2014.

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