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Renewing Your Gym Membership? Brush Up on Exercise Etiquette First.

Hilarie Blaney Modified: July 24, 2013 at 3:20 pm •  Published: January 22, 2013
If you’re planning on dusting off that membership card to your local gym in the new year, kudos! Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body. However, if you’re planning on working out in a gym setting, there are a few hard-and-fast rules you need to know. Otherwise, you might be more susceptible to hissing than to high-fives.

Before you get to the gym

They say that 80% of a successful workout is simply showing up. Here are a few crucial things to remember as you’re getting ready to hit the gym.

  • Be on time, and have a plan. Are you attending a group class or a personal training session? If so, make sure you arrive a few minutes early so you have time to stash your keys and fill up your water bottle. If you’re flying solo, make a rough plan of what you’d like to do – that way, you’ll have a more efficient workout and won’t wander around aimlessly.
  • Wear appropriate clothing.
    • For men, this means a shirt at all times – preferably with sleeves. Tank tops do provide a great breeze, but they also allow your sweat to travel considerably more freely. Also, your shorts should always be at least mid-thigh length, and compression shorts are a must. If you’re thinking about wearing a hat, think again: a knit beanie is the only thing that’s even close to acceptable in an indoor gym. A baseball cap will only serve to warn others that you will probably commit various other faux pas in the course of your workout.
    • Ladies, even if you’ve got a six-pack worth showing off, please keep it covered in the gym. Aim for supportive and fairly modest clothing on your top half (although you can probably get away with a tank top, where the gentlemen cannot), and keep your shorts long enough to provide coverage when you’re doing high kicks or forward folds. Finally, remember to keep your hair in check, especially when you’re doing a group class involving lots of jumping around. Anyone who has ever been whacked in the face by a long ponytail can attest to the viability of hair as a weapon.
    • Don’t forget deodorant, but skip the cologne or perfume. Even the most fantastic scents can become downright foul when mingled with plenty of sweat. Be considerate to other patrons by rinsing off any scents or lotions before your workout. On the other hand, for the love of all that is good in the world, please do not skip deodorant. This bears repeating: wear deodorant. Enough of it.

During Your Workout

Proper at-the-gym etiquette is all about respecting public space and other patrons.

  • Keep it clean. Wipe down any equipment you use after you’ve finished your set. Even if you don’t see any visible sweat on that seat, the person who uses the machine next will appreciate a quick wipe-down. Most gyms stock their own towels and spray sanitizers; if yours doesn’t, use a damp paper towel. Also, when you use a sanitizing spray, make sure you’re not spraying the person on the next machine! Spray the rag first, and then clean the equipment with the rag or paper towel.
  •  Observe any time limits on popular equipment. 30 to 60 minutes is usually the cap on cardio machines, and gyms often post their time limits on the equipment. If there’s a waiting line for the treadmills, try a new kind of cardio, like a stationary bike or a Stairmaster. You’ll benefit from cross-training, and you’ll make a few friends, too. When using free weights, just be observant and considerate. (If you want to do supersets, you might have to find a time when the gym isn’t as busy.) Don’t hold onto machines or weights in between sets.
  • On a similar note, give people their space. Unless someone wants company or is your designated workout buddy or spotter, they probably want a few feet of distance. Also, be respectful and try not to ogle anyone too much during your workout.
  • Don’t talk on your phone (or text, for that matter) in the gym. The noisy environment means you’ll probably end up yelling at the person on the other end, who you won’t be able to hear that well in the first place. If you must take or make a call, do so outside or in the lobby.
  • While some exercises—especially heavy lifting—will no doubt draw some noise from you, there’s no need to be overly loud about it. Save the grunts for the tennis court!

In Class

If you participate in a group class, you’ll probably be in close quarters with other gym-goers.

  • Be friendly, but not disruptive. Say hello to those sitting near you, but don’t carry on a conversation during the class. It’s disrespectful to the instructor (who can probably hear you) and to your classmates.
  • Follow the program. If you’re more advanced, save the crazy-difficult moves for designated “free choice” portions of class, or just refrain from them altogether. On the other hand, if you’re a beginner, let the instructor know. He or she will provide alternate exercises for you throughout the class, so that you can participate without injuring yourself.
  • Be early; don’t leave early. Come in a few minutes early if possible, so you can get situated and won’t have to climb over anyone for a spot. If you must leave early, do so quietly and with some advance warning to the instructor.

In the Locker Room

The locker room is one place where over-the-top friendliness just won’t fly.

  • Eyes to the floor—period.
  • Respect others’ space and time. Take a quick shower, and use only a small portion of the counter. Blow dry your hair, apply some basic makeup, and get out the door. Pack a gym bag the night before your workout so that you have all of your toiletries ready to go, and try to keep your primping routine low-maintenance on gym days.

Working out at a gym is a great way to meet people—and you’ll have great success if you observe proper gym etiquette!