The 8 Unspoken Rules Of Gym Etiquette

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A Guide To Gym Etiquette

Having worked in gyms for coming up to 10 years, I completely understand that they can sometimes feel like a hostile environment for a number of reasons. Perhaps the people feel intimidating, maybe the equipment looks too complicated, or the thought of navigating your way through a workout during busy peak times just feels very overwhelming. Maybe you've had experiences that make you wonder what's acceptable and what's not based on the gym etiquette (or lack thereof) of others.

A lot of the time, it's what's going on inside our heads that is the problem. At the very least, it's a factor you have complete control over, and that's what I want to help you with today. It's normal to feel insecure and uncomfortable at first, but you need to know that you are more than capable of overcoming those negative emotions and feeling confident and comfortable during your workout time. You can even - dare I say - enjoy the experience!

Most gyms have their own unique micro-culture, but all live by the same set of unspoken rules and a lot of this is common sense stuff. You might be thinking "this isn't for me, I know this already!" Hold your horses there, friend. What if you know this stuff in theory, but there's something on this list that you're not actually doing? Are you really as polite and considerate as you think you are?

If you’re new to the gym, would like to feel more confident, or just want to ensure you’re being a respectful human being, read on to find out my 8 tips for gym etiquette.

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1. Spatial awareness

Be aware of your surroundings! It can take some time to get used to a gym environment. Even if you already work out, it's the same story every time you use a new gym: you just don't know the lay of the land yet. Don't rush, stay relaxed, and just notice things. Lots of pieces of equipment have moving parts, and you'll find people lunging around all over the place. Just like when you’re driving, you need to be aware of what's going on in the entire area as you navigate your way through.

2. Sharing equipment

If you're in a busy gym, sometimes you'll have to share equipment, and sometimes that's cool.

In general, equipment can be shared. Most people will be happy to alternate with you on a fixed resistance machine, but small items like dumbbells or kettlebells are a little more difficult to share.

Some equipment can't be easily shared at all, for example if it involves changing plates on a barbell, or if you/the person originally using the kit is taking extremely short rest periods.

When asking someone how long they have left with a piece of kit, it's best not to bother them halfway through their set. A perfect example of good gym etiquette would be to wait until they're resting.

If you've asked someone to share, you'll have to use the equipment where they are, rather than wandering off with it, and you can expect the same of someone who’s asked to share something you’re already using.

If you really don't want to share with someone, you don't have to. And if another person doesn't want to share with you, they won't! Don't take it personally. Sure, gyms are a social place, but some people just like to get on with their workouts in peace.

3. Gym areas

I cannot stress this enough!!! Lots of women feel uncomfortable using the weights room, and some men feel that they’re not welcome in stretching or meditation areas, or even group exercise classes. That. Is. Not. The. Case! Making people feel stupid, unwelcome, or self conscious is an example of very poor gym etiquette.

If you're unsure about using a particular area of the gym, I totally get that it can be daunting, but give it a try. Really take your time to get to grips with the space, layout, and equipment. Use whatever you like, and don't be ashamed to ask for help - everyone started somewhere.

If you've only ever used the weights room and are under the impression that stretching is just for yogis and women - forget that! You don't have to be rubber-band bendy to use certain areas or pieces of equipment. That's like saying overweight people shouldn't go to the gym... well where else would they go to get fit and lose weight!? Try stuff out - you won't understand it until you do!

4. Clothing

You can wear whatever you like to the gym! Opt for clothing that's designed for training, or at least stuff that won't get in your way (or anyone else’s!). For example, an overly floaty top could get stuck in equipment, whereas sweat-wicking gymwear could give you a more comfortable workout. Wear stuff that you're comfortable in, too. If it makes you feel self-conscious, don't bother.

Also... Watch your ponytail! Others won’t be impressed if you keep flicking your fabulous hair in their face.

5. Personal hygiene

Some people like to work out early in the morning or after a long day at work and shower afterwards. That's fine, but if you smell then it'll be uncomfortable to say the least for others in the area. It might just be a case of quickly hosing off and spraying up before you slide into your spandex.

This one isn't specifically gym etiquette - it applies everywhere, but sometimes there's confusion because people think they're "going to get sweaty anyway." Sweat doesn't actually smell until it's been dry on your body for a while.

Just because you're working out, doesn't mean you're allowed to be nasal nightmare for those around you!

6. Cleanliness

If you're a sweaty Betty, wipe it down. Benches, equipment, machines, all of it. You should find spray and paper towels knocking around most gyms. If you're reeeeeally sweaty, perhaps bring your own sweat towel with you to sit/lie/kneel on, and wipe down equipment.

7. Squat racks

Never, ever, ever do bicep curls or deadlifts in the squat rack. It's the equivalent of going to a fancy dinner and eating noodle soup with your bare hands. If you can pick it up from the floor, why would you need a whole squat rack? They’re usually large pieces of kit that are in short supply, so be considerate.

Fun fact: The barbells in your gym will most likely be 20 kilogram Olympic bars. Some more well-equipped gyms have 15kg women’s bars, and even 7.5kg technique bars.

8. Changing rooms

Don’t stare - it’s rude! Changing rooms should be a safe and relatively private environment for everyone to wash off and wind down post-workout.

Remember to be respectful and considerate of other people’s belongings and personal space. You might be comfortable getting changed close to other people or walking around proudly in your birthday suit, but others may not be.

Try not to spend too long using the showers, hairdryer, iron, or any other changing room facilities that other people might be waiting for. If someone else is taking an outrageously long time, use your judgement on whether it’s appropriate to kindly ask them how much longer they’ll be, and let them know that you’re patiently waiting your turn.

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