Gym Etiquette: Top Rules for Rookies


Gym attendance spikes by 30 to 40 percent in January, spurred by New Year's resolve. And these days, thanks to Twitter, the gym-shy among us now know for sure what we always suspected: Gym rats disdain gym rookies.

Typical early-2014 themes on the social networking service include: 

Carl Helmle III, vice president of personal and group training for David Barton Gym in New York City, tells Yahoo Shine that you can spot gym newbies by their "deer in the headlights look" and "perfectly coordinated, brand-new outfit they bought for motivation." He suggests new members start by taking some classes and signing up for a one-on-one session with a trainer (many gyms offer a free introductory session). "They will point you in the right direction and up your confidence on the weight floor."

When you're ready to hit the gym circuit solo, your No. 1 goal (aside from getting into shape) should be to avoid annoying anyone. It's not just that fitness centers are packed during the first weeks of the New Year with virgin members taking advantage of membership promotions and trying to atone for their holiday excesses. Rookies are more prone to breach unspoken gym etiquette and generally be a nuisance to veterans who just want to put their heads down and get their sweat on. While some big chains, such as 24 Hour Fitness, list their basic safety rules, they rarely cover the fine points such as not spitting into the water fountain and — believe it or not, hotshot — the fact that most other folks would rather you kept your towel on in the locker room.

Here are the top gym do's and don'ts:

Do leave your cell phone in your locker (with the ringer off). People come to the gym, in part, to get away from their daily distractions. Nobody wants to hear your conversation, no matter how exciting you think your life is. Helmle says that the top behavior that "drives regular gym-goers crazy" is a person sitting on a piece of equipment and talking on the phone instead of using it.

Do follow basic rules of hygiene. This includes wiping down equipment after you use it and washing your hands before and after working out. Gyms can harbor a veritable buffet of bacteria and viruses—many of which come from other humans. Protect others and yourself.

Don't be a machine hog. You're squeezing a prework or afterwork session into your busy life? Yeah, so is everybody else. Most gyms post time limits on cardio equipment. If there's a wait for a machine or set of dumbbells, offer to share between your sets.

Do wear fresh clothing. Reusing your gym togs in a hot, sweaty, crowded environment is a major no-no. If you need an additional incentive to wash between wears, harmful germs from the gym can stay on your clothing and make you sick.

Don't take center stage at your first class. It's great that you have the confidence to stand in the front row, but if you're new to the activity, your classmates might not appreciate your wild wobbling during tree pose while they're trying to focus.

Don't leave a mess or clog traffic. Rerack your weights, stow equipment after using it, and don't leave your gym bag or water bottle where someone could trip on it. Helmle also advises against setting up a bunch of equipment in a common area to create your own personal minicircuit.

When in doubt, ask questions. Lashaun Dale, the senior national group fitness creative manager for Equinox, points out that you are surrounded by fitness enthusiasts and professionals at the gym and it's the staff's job to help you feel comfortable and safe and to encourage you to stick with it. "If you get through month one you will be making exercise a habit ," he adds, "and that is all it takes to get started toward your goal."

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