16 Gym Etiquette Mistakes to AVOID
Last Updated: Aug 30, 2013
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Gyms don’t always hand out a “Rules of Conduct” book when you join. You’re simply expected to act like a decent human being, clean up after yourself and generally behave. Problem is, common sense doesn’t necessarily reign in every fitness facility. Here are the most common and most aggravating gym missteps, according to experts who spend the most time in those environments -- personal trainers. From wearing too much cologne to filling up a giant size water bottle when there is a line of people behind you, read on to see if you’re guilty of any of these 16 gym pet peeves. Let us know which one annoys you most, and if there are others that should be on our list.
IF YOU’RE SICK, STAY HOME!
Coughing and sneezing during in a fitness class or while lifting weights leaves a trail of nasty microbes waiting to infect the rest of the gym. According to Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, in general, it’s okay to exercise with “above the neck” symptoms like a sore throat or runny nose. “But in fairness to your non-sick fellow fitness fanatics,” Matthews says, “if you’re going to get some exercise in while you’re battling a cold, you should opt for an at-home workout -- perhaps your favorite fitness DVD or an outdoor workout.” If you do choose to work out at the gym, be respectful of others and be sure to properly sanitize all equipment that you use -- which you should always do, sniffles or not.
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OBEY CARDIO MACHINE TIME LIMITS
During busy times of day, many gyms limit cardio sessions on machines, usually to 20 or 30 minutes. Refusing to step off after your designated time impacts the person waiting behind you and simply isn’t fair. “Cardio machine time limits are put in place for a reason, as they ensure the opportunity for every exerciser to make the most out of their time at the gym, especially during peak hours,” says exercise physiologist Jessica Mathews. You want to train smarter, not longer, so if you’re hopping on the elliptical with a 30-minute time limit, make the most out of the time you have by kicking up the intensity with intervals. Many studies show these shorter workouts burn more calories for hours afterward.
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DON’T BE A CREEPER (A.K.A. FOCUS ON YOURSELF)
Let’s face it, every gym has people who flirt. Spandex, sweat and all that heavy breathing can make it tempting to stare and hover over your neighbor’s treadmill. Don’t. “When you’re at the gym, your time should be spent focusing on your own workout,” says exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews, “not anyone else’s.” You should be paying attention to what you are doing (or what you’re lifting). This not only ensures that other exercisers feel comfortable in your presence, but it can help you to avoid injury and make the most out of your time spent at the gym.
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Short shorts, barely-there tank tops and loose, baggy clothes that get caught in a machine can all constitute fashion hazards for various reasons. “While the clothes don’t necessarily make the workout, the right apparel can definitely enhance your exercise experience and help you to avoid any unwanted attention,” says exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews. Wearing clothing that provides appropriate coverage and the right fit allows you to do everything from jump squats to downward facing dog with confidence and ease. If your clothing is too tight, it can restrict your range of motion, which can make your form suffer, says Matthews. Baggy clothing or too-long pants can get caught or snagged on something or you can trip over them and injure yourself.
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SMELL GOOD, NOT GREAT
When your aroma -- good or bad -- enters the room before you do, it’s time to make some adjustments. “Leave fragrances and colognes for outside the gym,” says exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews, “but please use deodorant.” Heavy fragrances and perfumes can be distracting to your fellow fitness-class goers and can even trigger allergic reactions in some individuals. Strong body odor can also be very unpleasant, so either shower and/or swipe on deodorant before breaking a sweat. Matthews also recommends not using greasy lotions before you hit the gym. Once you begin to sweat, creams can make your skin slippery, making it difficult to hold your favorite arm balancing posture in yoga or properly grip and hold on to a barbell or kettlebell, which could put you at risk of injury.
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KEEP UNSOLICITED ADVICE TO YOURSELF
No one likes being told what to do, especially from a know-it-all stranger. Even if you’re a trainer, unless you’re working at that gym, keep your opinions to yourself. “If you are not a certified fitness professional -- and an employee of the facility that you are working out at -- offering up fitness advice is not in your job description,” says exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews. If you see someone performing an exercise that puts them in danger or at risk for injury over time and you are legitimately concerned, flag down the nearest trainer on staff and let them know what you observed. A qualified trainer knows how to approach people in a positive, productive manner to make the gym member feel safe, not picked on or embarrassed.
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DON’T USE THE WATER FOUNTAIN TO REFILL YOUR GIANT 64-OZ BOTTLE
Staying hydrated during your workout is important, especially on hot days. But standing in front of the water fountain refilling your gallon-size bottle creates a bottleneck of thirsty gym members waiting in line behind you. Follow the rules of the road, says Guy Andrews, executive director of Exercise ETC, Inc., a fitness education program provider in Fort Lauderdale, FL. “Yield the right of way. Step to the side so people who want a fast gulp or two can get back to working out. And to avoid spreading germs, don’t touch the spigot of the fountain to the mouth of your bottle.”
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KEEP YOUR GYM BAG IN A LOCKER, NOT AT THE FEET OF OTHER EXERCISERS
The only thing worse than dropping a weight on your foot is doing it because you tripped over someone’s gym bag on the floor. “Leaving a bag on the floor is a major tripping hazard, which is why all gyms prohibit it,” says fitness educator Guy Andrews. Use the lockers inside the locker room or near the workout area. “If you’re afraid that your locker may be broken into, leave the stuff in your car,” he says. You can also keep any valuables on you. Fanny packs may be tacky, but they’re functional, says Andrews. Better yet, strip down to the essentials: Carry your I.D., phone, keys and maybe one debit card on your person and leave the rest at home.
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DON’T TRAIN RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE WEIGHT RACK
Normally the person lifting weights has the right-of-way. But when you choose to perform one-armed rows with one hand on the rack or you grab two dumbbells for biceps curls and step back only two inches, you prevent others from accessing the weights. “It is invariably a high-traffic area where you risk blackening the eye or breaking the nose of some nice gym-goer who is just trying to access the weights,” says fitness educator Guy Andrews. Your best bet is to grab the weights you need and retreat to an area where you can exercise but not obstruct traffic. And remember to re-rack them when you’re finished with your set.
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RESPECT OTHER PEOPLES’ DESIRE FOR QUIET
Stay off of your phone. No one wants to hear your conversations. Plus, your gym time should be your time to cut the cord for an hour or so, says fitness educator Guy Andrews. “There are times when making or taking a call is necessary, but it should not be standard operating procedure for you.” Exceptions include a work crisis or a phone call from your wife or husband telling you the house is burning down. In that case, exit the training area to make your call. You’ll probably have better reception and more privacy outside, and the people around you will appreciate it.
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DON’T READ WHILE ON A MACHINE
For the sake of time and fat-burning efficiency, you shouldn’t be resting much between sets. If you’re performing intervals or some other high-intensity workout where you take a minute or two between sets, don’t take up space on a machine others may want to use. “If your rest time between sets is more than 10 seconds, you need to vacate the machine when other people are waiting or at least ask if they want to work in,” says fitness educator Guy Andrews. “Besides, short rest periods between sets are associated with a higher exercise heart rate, increased caloric burn, higher metabolic rate, increased muscle fiber recruitment and a significant boost for anabolic (growth) hormones.” Get moving.
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DON’T HOG EQUIPMENT
Super-setting by working out on two or more different pieces of equipment prevents others from using them. It’s a no-can-do when others are waiting to work out. According to Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist based in Connecticut and author of “Beat the Gym,” leaving your towel hanging on a machine doesn’t give you dibs on that piece of equipment. “You can’t have three or four exercises going on at once spread out over several weight benches to do your super sets. Put your weights back on the rack and bring your towel with you. Trainers that work in gyms are guilty of doing this sometimes as well.” Holland recommends super-setting by staying on one bench. For example, superset an upper-body move with an ab exercise done on that same bench.
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UNLOAD YOUR WEIGHT BAR
News flash: Your mother doesn’t work at the gym to pick up after you. So be a good sport and don’t leave a bar or machine with full racks of 45-pound plates. The next person after you now has to remove all your poundage before he or she can even begin. Removing your weights off the bar is part of your workout, says personal trainer Tom Holland. “It’s usually the person lifting a ton of weight who’s most guilty of this maneuver. In addition, if you leave the weights on, other people don’t know whether or not you’re finished using the equipment.” If you know the culprit who makes this a regular habit, don’t take matters into your hands, says Holland. Go to management and tell them. They should be the ones to lay down the law.
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Failing to re-rack your dumbbells is as dangerous as leaving your gym bag lying on the floor. In addition to the tripping danger, the next exerciser will need to search for the weights if they’re not in their proper location on the rack. “It’s rude and dangerous,” says personal trainer Tom Holland. “Re-racking your weights is part of your workout. It’s so simple.” This also pertains to weight plates. Leaving a 45-pound plate leaning against a machine because you’re too lazy to re-rack it is just as dangerous as leaving a dumbbell out on the floor -- and it can roll at an expected time.
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WIPE DOWN THE BENCH AND USE A TOWEL
Many gyms require you to use a towel when you work out, and with good reason. It’s more than just gross to lie in someone else’s sweat, although the risk is low, you could end up infected with MRSA. Always use a protective barrier between you and the bench, whether it’s a towel or shirt, and wipe down any surfaces with antiseptic wipes before or after use. And always shower and wash your hands immediately after your workout.
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DON’T BLOCK TRAFFIC
It’s bad enough to deal with bottlenecks on your way to work, so navigating around oblivious people at the gym can be just as annoying. And it slows down your workout. Failing to re-rack your weights and plates, working out in front of the rack and walking in front of exercisers who are using the mirror (checking their form, not their hair) creates roadblocks and distractions and increases the chances that someone will get hurt. The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) safety checklist for exercise facilities recommends easy access to each resistance training machine area, allowing a minimum of two feet between each machine and three feet as optimal for safety. Obey the rules for a safe and effective workout.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Are many people guilty of these behaviors at your gym? Are you guilty of any of them? Which of these things annoys you the most? Do you have any major gym etiquette pet peeves that didn’t make our list? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!
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