While your gym likely has a set of official rules (usually for liability reasons), there's also a set of unspoken gym etiquette rules that you might be guilty of breaking. While some of these social regulations are pretty common sense, others are less obvious, especially to newbies at the gym.
Next time you head into a workout, consider these 10 unofficial rules that trainers wish you'd stop breaking. And when in doubt, don't hesitate to ask a friendly trainer or front desk staff member at your gym to steer you in the right direction.
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1. Exercising When You're Sick
Coughing and sneezing during a fitness class or while lifting weights leaves behind a trail of nasty microbes. And while it's generally safe to exercise with "above the neck," according to Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, perhaps you should consider training at home.
"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."
But if you're committed to training at the gym despite some minor sniffles, take some necessary precautions. Be respectful of others and properly sanitize all the equipment that you use — which you should always do, sick or not.
2. Hogging Machines or Equipment
During busy times of day, be considerate when it comes to the amount of time you spend on a specific machine or piece of equipment. Hogging machines is a commonly broken rule at every gym, both in the cardio and weight sections.
When it comes to cardio machines, many gyms limit sessions to 20 or 30 minutes during rush hours, which is a great rule of thumb. "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 Mathews.
In the weight room, avoid super-setting, working out on two or more different pieces of equipment and preventing others from using them. Because contrary to popular belief, leaving your towel on a machine doesn't give you dibs.
"You can't have three or four exercises going on at once spread out over several weight benches to do your supersets," says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist based in Connecticut and author of Beat the Gym. "Put your weights back on the rack and bring your towel with you."
3. Giving Unsolicited Advice or Flirting
No one likes being told what to do, especially from a stranger. Even if you're a trainer, unless you're working at that gym, it's probably best to 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 Matthews.
However, if you see someone performing an exercise that puts them in danger or at risk for injury, flag down the nearest staff member and let them know what you observed. A qualified trainer will know how to approach gym-goers in a positive, productive manner without embarrassing them.
Skip the flirting, too. While confidence and hard work can be attractive features, don't take this is an opportunity to flirt. "When you're at the gym, your time should be spent focusing on your own workout," says Matthews, "not anyone else's." This not only helps other exercisers feel comfortable in your presence, but it'll ensure you're making the most out of your time at the gym.
4. Forgetting Deodorant or Loading Up on Perfume
When your aroma — good or bad — enters the room before you do, it's time to make some adjustments. While deodorant is a must-have, leave fragrances or colognes outside the gym, Matthews says.
Heavy fragrances and perfumes can be distracting to fellow fitness-class goers and can even trigger allergic reactions in some individuals. Similarly, strong body odor can also be unpleasant or disturbing, so either shower and/or swipe on deodorant before breaking a sweat.
Matthews also advises against 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 yoga pose or properly grip and hold onto a barbell or kettlebell, which could put you at risk of injury.
5. Taking Forever to Refill Your Giant Water 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, Florida. "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."
6. Bringing Your Bag Into the Gym
The only thing worse than dropping a weight on your foot is tripping 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 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, pare down to the essentials — I.D., phone, keys and maybe one debit card — and leave the rest at home.
7. Training 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 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 if the weights are too heavy to carry to a different area, you should probably be using lighter dumbbells.
8. Taking Phone Calls
While you may depend on music to power you through your workout, save the phone calls for the office. After all, your gym time should be your time to cut the cord for an hour or so, says Andrews. "There are times when making or taking a call is necessary, but it should not be standard operating procedure for you."
Of course, if you're in the midst of a work crisis or emergency, taking a call is necessary. However, if possible, exit the training area before taking a call. You'll probably have better reception, more privacy outside and the other gym-goers will appreciate it.
9. Leaving Your Weights Out
One of the most commonly broken rules is leaving weights lying around the gym, says certified personal trainer SJ McShane. So no matter the circumstances, avoid leaving dumbbells on the ground or a machine filled with weight plates.
Instead, consider re-racking your weights a part of your workout, says Holland. This also pertains to weight plates. Leaving a 45-pound plate leaning against a machine because you're too lazy to put it back is just as dangerous as leaving a dumbbell out on the floor, as it can roll at an expected time.
10. Forgetting to Wipe Down Equipment
Many gyms require you to use a towel when you work out, and with good reason. Leaving a machine sweaty can spread germs to other gym-goers and cause discomfort. "I can't stand when sweaty people don't clean the machines off," says McShane. "It leaves sweat and germs and I find it repulsive."
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. Immediately after your workout, wash your hands and take a shower if your facility allows (or take one as soon as you get home).