The Unfiltered Guide to Gym Etiquette


When it comes to best practices at the gym, it seems like everyone and their mother, uncle, and second cousin twice removed has an opinion. From what women should be wearing to the best form tips – the judgments can be overwhelming. For the most part, we’re team MYOB at the gym. But that doesn’t mean we believe in total anarchy. Some behavior can step over the line, from kind of annoying to out-and-out rude or even straight-up inappropriate. Clearly, there’s a need for solid gym etiquette rules.

That said, it can be tough to separate personal opinion from actual best gym etiquette. So we asked PS staffers and dedicated readers to analyze real-life scenarios, everything from “Is it ever OK to record others in the background of your workout video?” to “Should you call someone out if they don’t put back their weights?” We got real honest with our thoughts and together were able to come up with our own non-negotiable fitness etiquette rules to help make your gym a better place.

The guidelines below are broken down into four etiquette categories: equipment, social behaviors, locker room, and attire. While we couldn’t address every possible gym scenario or qualm, here are nearly 40 rules editors and readers agreed upon as being crucial to a considerate and enjoyable gym-going experience.

Gym Etiquette About Using the Equipment

When you want to use a machine and someone else is already on it:

  • The best course of action is to just wait your turn.
  • If you’re feeling a little impatient, it’s OK to let the person know that you want to go next and ask how much longer they’ll be.
  • You can also ask if you can “work in” and do your sets while they are resting. Many people don’t mind sharing equipment, especially if it’s easy to switch the settings.
  • Avoid hovering over them just to passive-aggressively send a message that you want next, though – that’s rude.

When you’re lifting and realize you’ve overloaded, but are worried about dropping the weights:

  • Most people agree that you should just drop the weights. While this is usually frowned upon in the gym, if you’re at risk of hurting yourself then it’s OK to do so.
  • An alternative option is calling for backup. But only take that route if there’s someone close by that can help.

When it comes to wiping down equipment:

  • Always wipe down the equipment you use – no excuses.
  • If you see someone else not wiping down their equipment, however, there’s no need to confront them about it. Just wipe it down yourself before using the machine. Or if the person is a repeat offender, tell a gym staffer.

When it comes to putting back equipment:

  • Always put your own equipment back.
  • If you see someone else leaving theirs out, it’s fine to simply leave them where they are; the person may not be done using them. If you know they’re done and you feel like being a Good Samaritan, you can also put them away yourself.
  • As a third option, ask the person who left them out if they’re done using the equipment, or give them a kind, well-assuming nudge by reminding them they forgot to put back their equipment.

When someone asks you for a spot:

  • If you’re uncomfortable, just say no.
  • If you’re interested but need more details, it’s OK to ask how many reps they’re going for. Then if you still feel uncomfortable, politely decline and encourage them to ask someone else nearby.

When choosing a machine:

  • If there are a bunch of empty machines available (for example: an entire line of treadmills), don’t pick the one right next to someone else. Most everyone hates that.

If you’re not sure someone’s saving equipment (e.g. because a towel is draped over it, but no one’s in sight):

  • Start by asking around to see who the towel or personal item belongs to in order to figure out when they’ll be back.
  • If no one knows, hold off from using the machine for a few minutes to see if the person comes back.
  • If they’re not back within five to seven minutes, the machine is fair game. Just remove the personal item and place it nearby.

Gym Etiquette About Social Behaviors

When it comes to recording workouts in the gym:

  • If you want to record your workout but there are people in the background of your shot, do your best to reposition so no one is recognizable or you don’t capture them on video. If you can’t, edit the video so you’re not showing faces or identifying features before posting.
  • If neither of those solves is an option, either ask the person/people if they’re okay with being filmed or don’t record at all.
  • If you see someone else recording a third party seemingly without their knowledge, it’s not necessarily up to you to tell them. (The person filming may have already asked permission, for instance.) But if you want to be a good gym buddy, the kind thing to do would be to give the person being filmed a heads up.

When it comes to phone usage:

  • Do not, under any circumstances, listen to music or a workout without your headphones on. It’s just rude.
  • If you get a call at the gym, most people prefer that you ignore it.
  • If you have to answer it, make sure to do so with your headphones on (not on speaker). If you’re answering, the best option is to tell the caller you can’t talk at the moment, but if you have to chat, keep it short and be mindful of your volume.

You notice that the person beside you has really bad form:

  • Most of the time, it’s best to say nothing. No one likes unsolicited advice.
  • If you’re really concerned they might hurt themselves, then either go over and ask if they want/need help or tell one of the trainers on staff that you’re worried about another patron so they address it.

The person next to you is emitting loud noises while lifting:

  • Mind your business. Lifting isn’t easy, and you’re at a gym, not a library.

When it comes to asking someone out or striking up a friendly conversation:

  • This is a somewhat nuanced topic. If you’re considering asking someone on a date, first ask yourself how awkward it will be if they say no. If the answer is “I can never go back to this gym again” you might want to look elsewhere for romantic connection.
  • If you’d feel OK being rejected, go ahead and approach the person. But do so before or after their workout so as not to interrupt their sweat session.
  • If it’s a friendly conversation you want to strike up, that’s more welcomed. But the same rules apply for timing. And if you do end up speaking to someone mid-workout, keep it quick so you don’t take too much time away from their workout.
  • If they’re wearing headphones, leave them alone. Most people we spoke to agreed that’s a direct signal that someone’s not up for conversation.
  • And we hope it would go without saying, but if the person says no or seems at all unreceptive to your conversation, wrap it up and leave them alone.

Gym Etiquette About the Locker Room

When it comes to locker room conversation:

  • If you know the person well and want to strike up a conversation, go for it.
  • If it’s a newer connection, it’s OK to chat in the locker room. But avoid starting a conversation while someone is undressed or undressing to avoid possible discomfort.

On showering and general hygiene:

  • Be considerate of how long you shower. Fifteen minutes or less is appreciated if others are waiting. During less-crowded hours, it’s OK to take more time.
  • Avoid spritzing any perfumes in a packed changing area as some people can be irritated by certain scents. And if you have to spritz, be careful of where you’re doing it.
  • Generally, just be mindful of others and clean up after yourself (i.e. don’t leave hair in the showers, properly dispose of menstrual products, put your dirty towels in the wash hamper instead of leaving them on the bench in the changing area).

Gym Etiquette About Attire

When it comes to appropriate gym attire:

  • Whatever makes you feel the most comfortable is exactly what you should be wearing to the gym (for Lenny Kravitz, that includes leather pants and we’re not judging!)
  • If you notice someone seems to be having an outfit issue but you’re not sure whether the look is intentional, it’s probably best to mind your business.
  • If the person is clearly having a wardrobe malfunction (like their leggings aren’t squat-proof), find a delicate way to let them know.

Alexis Jones is the senior health and fitness editor at PS. Her passions and areas of expertise include women’s health and fitness, mental health, racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare, and chronic conditions. Prior to joining PS, she was the senior editor at Health magazine. Her other bylines can be found at Women’s Health, Prevention, Marie Claire, and more.

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