gym-etiquette-smNow that the holidays are over, many of us will be heading back to the gym to burn calories, strengthen our core and start the New Year. Whether you’re an exercise newbie, fitness buff, or seasoned athlete, it’s important to recognize that the exercise and fitness community have subtle etiquette.

For example, swimmers coexist in close proximity in lap lanes, pacing and passing smoothly without saying a word. Cyclists worldwide not only maneuver among cars, they also share the road with each other – communicating with phrases and gestures that are as much a part of their community as their bikes and helmets.

So why has so much been written in recent years about the etiquette challenges in our fitness facilities? We have all had experiences that we have gone home and talked about, from overly friendly co-exercisers to embarrassing perspirational moments. Even personal trainers admit it can be an intimidating experience to return to the gym. Whether you are an exercise novice or a fitness buff, avoid a gym faux pas. We’ve put together our top 10 tips to ease your re-entry and make it just that much more enjoyable for you and your fellow gym members.

  1. Fitness Attire. Be sure your athletic attire covers what needs to be covered and fits properly. Certain barre, core strength, and Pilate’s exercises require work on a bench or the floor. Be sure that bottoms are not so loose as to be revealing when you are bending over or prone. Be sure running and cycling pants do not become see-through when the fabric is stretched tight. Wear a proper sports bra and clean athletic shoes. Learn the fitness facility boundaries for sport-specific athletic shoes, such as spin shoes.
  2. Fragrance Fail. Don’t forget antiperspirant. Avoid perfume and heavy make-up while working out. If a fellow exerciser’s fragrance is overwhelming, visit with the front desk, email the club, or slip a note in the suggestion box. Arrive clean and wearing clean clothes, not covered in golden retriever fur from bathing your dog!
  3. Explore the Facility. Before your first set, explore. Returning to the gym? Learn the layout to increase your self-confidence and create mental energy. Walk around like one of the ‘regulars’ who knows the answers to the following questions: day care options, services offered, hours most crowded, location of towel and antibacterial wipes, water, and restrooms.
  4. Introductory Session. Be honest and ask yourself: Do I know what I am doing? If you are unsure about the equipment or how to get started, one of the best things you can do is hire a personal trainer for a few sessions to get started in the right direction. Don’t feel obligated to enroll for a yearlong class. Keep in mind that the vast majority of personal trainers do not offer free sessions.
  5. Noise. Remember, people are there to focus on their workout–and they don’t appreciate distractions. Keep the personal music in your earbuds tuned to an acceptable level so that only you enjoy the music. People focusing on their routines do not appreciate singing, karaoke, personal smartphone conversations, or loud discussions in the fitness facility.
  6. Respect. The only person who should correct another’s form is a personal trainer or a gym employee. Working out is a great place to meet people; however it is not a singles club. If you wish to mingle, wait for a cue (such as a shared smile) to strike up a conversation. Don’t be a bore and overshare how well, or poorly, you are doing with your workout or diet. Too many people go on for too long when discussing diet or fitness. For long gab sessions, invite your friend to go grab a coffee after your workout.
  7. Mirrors. Many people watch themselves in the mirror to monitor form and execution. If a weight or machine is in front of someone performing a set, it is polite to wait for them to finish. Avoid selfies, primping, and preening in front of the mirrors–you don’t want to be known around the gym as that guy or girl.
  8. Perspiration & Anti-bacterial Wipes. Make an effort to wipe the equipment before you sit down and when you finish, regardless of whether you perspired. Many fitness facilities provide anti-bacterial wipes or towels to wipe down mats and machines when finished, especially at the end of a class!
  9. Share. Cooperation is the key here. While resting between sets, avoid lounging like a lizard on the machine. Allow others to work into your sets, and ask politely if you wish to ‘work in.’ Return equipment such as BOSU balls, mats, and bands. Unload weight bars and re-rack free weights–leaving weights on the floor is unsafe and may cause others to trip. Don’t hog the machines–limit exercise on cardio equipment to 30 minutes during peak hours. Turn off any electrical equipment that you used such as the elliptical TV, lights in the BMI room, or portable fans.
  10. Locker Rooms. Since this is shared space for a large numbers of people, don’t drape your personal items all over the bench while you’re changing. Place clothing directly in your locker or gym bag. Be sure your cell phone is turned off or to ‘silent’ when you are in the gym or exercising (including when placed in the locker). Remember to clean cosmetics from the counter. And the biggest locker room faux pas of all–don’t walk around naked; the majority of people feel a little uncomfortable being so close to someone who is baring it all!

Minding your gym manners will help with your fitness goals and confidence in the New Year. We like to think we’re not only exercising our muscles, but also exercising the kind of manners that make the gym a better place for everyone.

Photo credit: ©iStock Francesco Ridolfi
Sharon Schweitzer is a cross-cultural consultant, international etiquette expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, a regular contributor to CBS, NPR and Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, Inc., the New York Times, Bangkok Post and numerous others. She is the best-selling, international award winning, Kirkus acclaimed author of Access to Asia. For more of Sharon’s insight, follow her on and