You’ve made the honorable effort of getting your butt to the gym. Little do you know, the battle has only just begun. Claiming your space for high-intensity intervals, handstands and heavy lifts isn’t easy — and during peak hours, there’s a real art to getting fit in close quarters. But on the road to slimming down, leaning out, or getting swole, are you leaving behind a trail of destruction (alongside a pool of sweat on the bench)?
Trouble in Gym Land
“One out of every three gym-goers doesn’t wear deodorant.”
According to a survey conducted by Nuffield Health, a U.K.-based health firm, the answer may be yes. Of the 2,000 people polled, 74 percent said fellow gym goers were guilty of bad gym etiquette, and many implicated themselves as well: 49 percent admitted to having used water bottles and towels that weren’t actually theirs; 33 percent revealed they exercise without deodorant; 18 percent fessed up to working out despite coughing, sneezing and being sick; and 16 percent flat-out said they don’t wash their clothes between workouts. Skeeved out? Us too.
But don’t throw in the towel just yet. In an effort to make your box, studio or sports club a friendlier, safer and all-around-more-awesome place to be, we called in some of the top trainers in the country to weigh in on proper workout decorum. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it hits on some of the deadliest sins in sweatsville. So who are the worst offenders? Find out here.
The Gym’s Most Wanted List
1. The Hoarder
Need one of everything, in every size, shape and color? Health club hoarders aren’t unlike the ones you see on reality TV. “They stand in the same spot in front of the mirror with a collection of dumbbells in every weight around them and swear they’re using them all — while doing 10 different exercises,” says Max Tapper, personal trainer at The Sports Center at Chelsea Piers. How to avoid stockpiling? “Make circuits small and only take the weights you will need immediately,” Tapper says.
“The gym should be welcoming and inclusive — not a place where the few super jacked people can show off their six-packs.”
2. The Not-So-Supersetter
Supersetting (i.e. alternating between two or more exercises at a time) is a fantastic way to maximize your time, and your burn. It’s also a fantastic way to make some gy-nemies during peak lifting hours. Claiming “dibs” on multiple areas of the gym not only ties up two pieces of real estate at once, it forces others to wait and ask around if someone’s still there. “If you’re using more than one piece of equipment, make sure you’re close to them at all times,” says fitness coach JC Deen of JCD Fitness. Walk away for more than 15 to 30 seconds, and most people will assume you’re done, Deen says. “Supersetting is a luxury, not a necessity,” adds strength coach and author Bret Contreras. Bottom line: “If the gym is busy, don’t superset!”
3. The Spoiled Brat
Blame growing up with nannies, butlers and maids. For some, cleaning up after themselves isn’t second nature, which means stray kettlebells, plates and other gym essentials not in their proper place. “It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it sucks when you’re rushing to get in a workout and you spend half the time looking for the dumbbell or medicine ball you need,” says Dan Trink, C.S.C.S., strength coach and owner of The Fort NYC. Avoid timeout by returning your equipment back where it belongs.
4. The Exhibitionist
When you’re pushing through that last round of v-ups or sled sprints, distractions can be a very good thing. But people-watch at your own risk. According to Jordan Syatt, five-time world record powerlifter, strength coach and owner of SyattFitness.com, overexposure (including “working out sans underwear”) is more common than you’d think. “I’m all for giving yourself some extra breathing room, but for your sake — and everyone around you — make sure you strap on a decent pair of undies.”
The same goes for shirts at certain boxes and gyms. “We have a shirts-on policy for men and women,” says Kelly Starrett, coach and founder of San Francisco CrossFit. “As a practical matter, it keeps people’s sweat from dripping all over our gym. More importantly, the gym should be a place that feels welcoming and inclusive, and not a place the few super jacked people can show off their six-packs.”
5. The Miley
We’re just minding our own business at the pull-up bar, and in comes the wrecking ball — music blaring from their over-ear headphones, singing full-voice for all to hear. Is it Miley, just being Miley? Unlikely. “Singing in the gym it is not only distracting to gym members, it’s flat-out annoying!” says Michelle Lovitt, celebrity trainer and fitness expert. “Sing in your head or in the shower so the only person you’re distracting is yourself.”
6. The Pick-Up Artist
Want to gawk? Swipe right. For all other inquiries, keep it respectable. Leering men aren’t just creepy, they’re “one of the biggest reasons women tell me they’re intimidated by the weight room,” says Adam Rosante, fitness and wellness coach, and author of The 30-Second Body. “If you see someone who really catches your attention, try to make eye contact at an appropriate time — not mid back squat — and smile. If she smiles back, wait until she’s done crushing it to say hello. If she blows you off, move on. You can go run 10 minutes of intervals to alleviate the sting.”
7. The Talker
“A typical gym-goer wastes up to 35 percent of each sweat session on non-fitness activities.”
Up to 32 percent of gym rats admit to regularly interrupting their session to chat it up with friends. Sure, that’s OK for a recovery day, but most workouts should involve some amount of work. “If you’re able to carry on a full conversation while on the treadmill, you aren’t doing it right!” says Anja Garcia, Daily Burn and Equinox trainer. Gossip can wait — and for the 24/7 gabbers, cell phone calls should never take place on a moving conveyor belt (trust us). “It’s important to dedicate time to yourself, your fitness and your health.” Garcia says. Leaving distractions behind can be the difference between a phenomenal workout, and a face plant.
8. The Texter
Emojis can’t type themselves — at least not yet. And mid-workout, those minutes scouring your smart phone can really add up, taking a toll on focus, productivity and intensity (read: calorie burn). According to a survey conducted by Harpers Fitness, a typical gym-goer wastes up to 35 percent of each sweat session on non-fitness activities including texting, checking email and scrolling through apps. To avoid shortchanging yourself, put your mobile into airplane mode and plug back in once you have that post-workout shake in hand.
9. The Drama Queen
Drop it like it’s hot? That depends. If Olympic weightlifting (on an Olympic platform) is your thing, by all means, go for it. But at most commercial gyms that aren’t properly equipped, dropping your weights can be deemed dangerous, disruptive and downright unnecessary. “At the end of a very heavy set [it’s] sometimes unavoidable,” says Sean Hyson, C.S.C.S., Training Director for Men’s Fitness magazine and author of The Truth About Strength Training.
“But if you see a guy doing it repeatedly, he’s either desperate for attention or very careless. Dropping dumbbells can damage them, as well as the floor beneath, and abruptly dropping a barbell can warp the bar, causing it to bend. Bent bars make loads unstable to lift and can cause injuries,” Hyson adds. We’re all for lifting heavy, but be aware of your gym’s policy (Planet Fitness, we know where you stand), and avoid unleashing the beast with every. single. rep.
10. The Know-It-All
Dole out unsolicited advice and you’re bound to push buttons. “I see it happen a lot at various gyms I train at, and have yet to witness anyone who appreciates a total stranger giving them advice that they didn’t even ask for,” says Tony Gentilcore, C.S.C.S., co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA.
“There are a million reasons why a trainer — or non-trainer — might be doing something, and presuming that you know why they’re doing it is condescending,” says Jessi Kneeland, strength coach and creator of Remodel Fitness. “If you must get involved, simply ask them why they’re doing it that way. They may be clueless and actually ask for help — in which case go for it! But they may also have a special-case reason for doing something unusual, that you might never have thought of,” she says.
11. The Body Double
Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, unless of course that involves attempting a 375-pound deadlift having never learned proper form. A “monkey see, monkey do” deadlift (or any other exercise you may find poorly executed on YouTube) won’t be deadly, but it can result in a strained muscle, herniated disc, or worse. “It’s a recipe for disaster,” says Jason D’Amelio, certified athletic trainer and owner of Total Athletic PT. It’s also one that can land you on YouTube yourself, but as a #gymfail. “Read up on new exercises before attempting to execute them, and make sure you have good form and technique before you start adding weight,” he says.
12. The Grunter
There’s beast mode, and then there’s beast mode. If you’re performing a near-max set, grunting is an acceptable practice that’s often impossible to control, Hyson says. “It’s a byproduct of the pressure that builds up in the abdomen from holding your breath during a lift.” Research suggests it may also be the result of proper breathing, which can reinforce stability in the core to help generate more power. It’s when those grunts begin to resemble wounded animal noises that there may be a problem. D’Amelio adds, “If you’re using 10-pound dumbbells for bicep curls and it’s a struggle to lift them properly without making a prehistoric sound, consider dropping to a lighter weight where you can perform the exercise with full range of motion and full control.”
13. The Liability
Take a note from Bret Contreras’s list of 50 Commandments of Commercial Gym Etiquette, and repeat after us: “Thou shalt respect other individuals’ space and maintain adequate distance from other lifters while they’re lifting.” Getting too close for comfort is not only irritating; it can result in a dropped weight, a black eye, or worse. In terms of safety, “there’s also the issue of keeping your immediate lifting area clear of any stray plates, water bottles, and so on,” says Jen Sinkler, fitness writer and Minneapolis-based personal trainer. “Should you miss a lift, the weight you’re hefting could fall, bounce off of those items, and take you out.”
14. The Space Invader
One of the biggest annoyances cited by gym-goers: Others encroaching on your own personal space. “Politely mention that you need a little more space to safely and confidently do your weight training — for their sake as much as yours,” says Sarah Marsh, head of fitness and wellbeing at Nuffield Health.” If the problem persists, speak to a staff member. It’s possible the same person has been causing trouble for other clients as well, and it may be time to intervene.
15. The Sweaty Betty (and Stinky Steve)
Sweat can be the mark of hard work, but don’t let it stain your reputation. Not wiping down equipment exponentially ups the “yuck” factor for all parties involved. “You accept a level of grossness in most gyms, but have a little respect,” Trink says. What’s worse: Skin infections, such as jock itch, ringworm and even MRSA can spread like wildfire in athletic settings, so personal hygiene isn’t just, well, personal. When it comes to smelling fresh and clean? “Have a rotation of at least two to three gym outfits and a stick of deodorant on call,” suggests Tapper.
16. The Closer
On the treadmill, going nowhere fast? You may be a prime target for pushy trainers trying to score new business. According to a poll conducted by Nuffield Health, 45 percent of trainers said they don’t think people seek out enough professional help. Whether or not they’re right, that’s up to you to decide. While each gym will have different policies on hard sell tactics, you always have the right to kindly say “no thanks.” Headphones back on, resume interval sprints.
17. The Wild One
For the au natural crowd, feeling the earth (or rather, the linoleum) under your toes can be freeing, we get it. Problem is, hygiene (see number 15). “I’m all for barefoot training,” says Syatt, “but if your feet smell like Big Foot’s diaper, you either need to keep your shoes on or give ’em a good scrub before coming to the gym.”
18. The Shrug-It-Out Bro
Unfortunately traps aren’t made in the kitchen…or at the squat rack. If it’s not leg day, steer clear of such hallowed ground. “Everyone says curls, but taking up a rack for shrugs is worse,” says Trink. Take them to the Smith machine instead, he suggests. And for bicep curls, all you need is a preacher bar or a set of dumbbells and a clear spot on the gym floor, says JC Deen.
19. The Lemme-Get-a-Spot Bro
Needy significant others often get the boot. And yet, it’s hard to say no to the dude who always needs a spot. (Safety first, right?) Keep in mind that not every lift should be a one-rep max attempt, and other lifters do have their own programs to tend to. ”The only exercises that really need to be spotted are chest press and fly variations and squats,” says Hyson. “Only in rare situations is a spotter really necessary to help you increase the intensity on a set — by helping you force out more repetitions, or changing weights for you during a drop set. Most of the time a spotter’s only function is safety — to help you get into position for a lift or prevent you from dropping weights on your skull.”
20. The But First, Lemme-Take-a-Selfie
How else will the world possibly know you crushed your workout? At Daily Burn we fully support the sweaty selfie (in reasonable doses, of course). It’s your moment to flex those guns, squeeze those lats, and do whatever gets you amped to keep up your progress. That said, there’s a time and a place to snap ‘em (#belfies included, Jen Selter), so don’t take up prime real estate in order to capture the perfect light and angle. Whether you have five followers — or five million — don’t take your Insta-self too seriously.
Did we miss any of your biggest pet peeves? State your case in the comments below!
Originally published October 2014. Updated January 5, 2016.