How to Not be Awkward at the Gym

Take your perfectly composed selfies elsewhere. Photograph by ViewApart/ iStock.

I thought locker rooms were only scary to those of us who didn’t grow up in high school sports, but I found out they also scare people who have problems with nudity, personal space, and germs. However, as gyms are an essential part of DC life, one must be educated in their ways. After a traumatizing experience involving a naked wet woman bending over and dripping all over my bag of clean clothes, I decided it was time to define some basic gym etiquette.

How much eye contact is allowed?

As a rule, you shouldn’t tolerate small talk when the only thing covering your bum is a G-string. Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you don’t want your friend peeking at your beautifully defined glutes, try any of the following: “Lady, please turn around.” “Hey, I’ll meet you by the weights when I’m done.” “I’m going to go change in the stall.”

Can I compliment their undergarments?


How much space should I be taking up in the locker room?

Ladies—you know who you are. Clothes strewn about, makeup spilled all over the counter, towels and other untouchables draped over benches, sinks, and locker doors. And gentlemen, your dry-cleaning hangers do not belong in the locker room; you also need to pick up after yourself. “Be mindful of the amount of space you’re taking up in the locker room. Get dressed and out the door efficiently.” says fitness instructor Gitanjali Borkar.

The gym is out of wipes. How do I clean up after myself?

Be proactive and drape a towel over the machine or bench before your workout, says personal trainer Errick McAdams. If you, like myself, don’t think that far ahead and find yourself in an unexpected gym-etiquette nightmare, wipe the machine down with a towel and track down a staff member to help you out. You should always be cleaning up after yourself.

Am I really not allowed to take my phone about with me?

Most gyms ban cellphone use in the locker rooms to make patrons feel more comfortable. The same applies to the gym floor. Those rules are kind of lax, but you still want to be courteous. Don’t hog a machine while you check your Instagram, and definitely don’t hold your phone up in front of you, because that means it’s probably pointed at someone.

All my favorite cardio machines are taken. What now?

Don’t call it a day, and don’t interrupt another gymgoer’s workout. “This is a curse and a blessing,” says McAdams. “Use this as an opportunity to explore a new type of cardio and take your workout to new heights!” If you’re the one on the treadmill and there’s a noticeable line, limit yourself to 30 minutes if possible.

I’m running wicked late to spinning. Should I still go?

If you’re going to be more than ten minutes late, just plan to catch the next one. Being organized will help: Pack your bag the night before, and give yourself more travel time. Late arrivals are “extremely disruptive to participants and the instructor,” says Borkar. Plus—if you miss an important intro, you pose a safety risk. Be on time to ensure a quality workout.

Should you bare it all in the locker room?

Exposure is allowed for dressing and dressing only, but please, no bending in the nude.

Let me know what I missed. Follow me @AngieHilsman.