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Gym etiquette 101

1) Dear Alice,

When you are at the gym exercising do you need to wipe down each machine that you use even if you are not sweating?

2) Alice,

I'm looking for some helpful pointers you might have on the subject of health club etiquette (i.e., don't wear perfume because others will leave workout equipment wearing your perfume). I would appreciate anything you have to offer on the subject.

Thank you!

Dear Reader 1 and Reader 2, 

Even though sweat may be the most visible—and moist—evidence of what a person leaves behind on the equipment, germs like bacteria, fungi, and viruses are sneakier and often leave no visible trace. There are plenty of ways that infection can spread, but there are also several steps you might take to reduce the movement of germs, especially in the gym. 

Since germs can live on surfaces for minutes to months, you may catch an infection after touching equipment that has not been sanitized, followed by touching your nose, mouth, or eyes. Common infections that spread in gyms include norovirus infections, athlete’s foot, and staph infections. That’s why wiping down machines is important—it helps prevent the spread of germs to you and others. If you’re using a spray disinfectant, it’s often best to let the spray sit for a little before wiping it rather than wiping it immediately after spraying or spraying it directly onto the towel. Other effective ways to prevent infections include covering open wounds before hitting the gym and washing your hands with soap and water after your gym session. 

Wiping down machines is just one part of the gym etiquette handbook. Other fairly universal rules include: 

  • Picking up after yourself. Leaving weights, foam rollers, mats, or other equipment around is a safety hazard and signals that the equipment is occupied. 
  • Minding your noise levels. Consider using headphones for your music, podcast, or videos rather than playing your media out loud disturbing others. Try to avoid phone conversations to protect your own privacy and respect other gym-goers as well. 
  • Giving people physical and emotional space. Give people room to move and avoid starting long conversations with people. Remember that the gym can be a vulnerable space, so creating a welcoming and inclusive environment can be important for everyone's comfort. Along that line, avoid making others feel uneasy by staring or making advances while they're exercising. If you need to exchange contact information with someone you know well, save it for a chat after the gym. 

List adapted from Healthline 

There may be additional etiquette considerations in other gym spaces as well. For example, if you’re in the weight room, avoid hoarding dumbbells and be aware of your gym’s policy on dropping weights. In group fitness classes, avoid things that might disturb the group like arriving late or doing distracting modifications to exercises. In the locker room, try not to spread your belongings out too much, be mindful of your shower length, and always clean up after yourself. 

If that’s a lot to remember, don’t sweat it—oftentimes, rules are posted around the gym. If you’re uncertain about your gym's specific policies or have concerns about a fellow member's behavior, you may want to speak with the desk staff or management. You'll also get a good sense of things simply by observing the patterns of most fellow gym-goers. In the end, it's just about respect in a shared environment. 

Here’s to hoping it all works out

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Last updated Jan 05, 2024
Originally published Sep 26, 2014