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16 Things to Never Do at the Gym

Gym culture has an etiquette all its own—brush up on the things never to do at the gym before you offend someone holding a 300-pound barbell.

Don’t be that person

It makes sense that you get “in the zone” at the gym, enjoying your “me time” and doing your utmost to make the most of your fitness time. But gyms are still public places! You still need to be respectful of others, and that means avoiding these behaviors that’ll make your fellow exercisers give you the stink eye (perhaps literally). Of course, now with the rampant spread of COVID-19 leading to some gyms being closed and others enacting strict rules to reduce the spread, there is a whole new set of gym faux pas—here are all the ways gyms will change forever after the pandemic.

gym weightsAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Don’t leave a mess behind

So, you need a mat, Bosu ball, an assortment of free weights, a foam roller, an incline bench, and a few kettlebells to complete your workout? Great—but when you’re done, remember the cardinal rule of any gym. “At the end of your workout, or as you’re done with each piece of equipment, put everything back,” says Dawn Bartolini, a lifestyle and weight-loss coach (who happens to have lost more than 100 pounds). “Your mama doesn’t work here!” On that note, put everything back where it belongs, not where it’s convenient.

man lift weights gymDean Drobot/Shutterstock

Don’t grunt the entire time

Look, we get it: You’re lifting sooo much weight. But no one is impressed: “Lifting heavy weights is hard, but if you’re grunting on every single set—you’re a tool,” says James Shapiro, an NYC-based NASM-certified trainer. “No one is impressed, you’re awarded no points, and no one will talk to you. Please relearn how to breathe properly, which will also help you make greater increases in strength and lean muscle.” Watch out for these other annoying gym habits you have, according to fitness center workers.

white lockersND700/Shutterstock

Don’t make the locker room public

There’s really no need to catch up with your boyfriend on video chat while you’re touching up your makeup in the locker room. Please move this to the top of your list of things to never do at the gym, says Eve Dawes, a NASM-certified trainer, and yoga, spin, and Zumba instructor. “Do not FaceTime in the locker room. We are trying to shower and get changed, not be part of a peep show.”

weight rack gymBen Harding/Shutterstock

Don’t set up camp by the weight rack

There’s an unspoken “no-lift zone” in every gym, and it’s called the weight rack. In fact, consider five feet all around the weight rack off limits for your workout. “If you start a set of bicep curls while standing right in front of the rack, you block the entire gym from accessing the weights,” says Dani Singer, a certified personal trainer. “Grab the weights you need, and find an open spot on the weight floor to perform your workout. Stay out of the weight rack area, unless you’re grabbing or returning your weights.” These are the best drugstore beauty buys you should add to your gym bag.

woman jog gymLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Don’t praise a stranger’s progress

Just as you would never assume a woman is pregnant, you should never offer unsolicited praise to fellow gymgoers—even if you think you are being kind by giving them a compliment. “I am not a skinny woman,” says Jeanette DePatie, a plus-sized, certified fitness instructor. “I have had several people come up to me over the years and say things to me that they believe are encouraging—like, ‘good for you!’, ‘Stick with it, and you’ll lose the weight in no time,’ or ‘It’s so great that you’ve started on your fitness journey.’ Obviously, they are completely unaware that I’m a 20-year licensed fitness teacher who is not exercising to lose weight. Don’t assume you know where somebody is in their exercise journey or that you know why they are exercising.” Do you know the best gym equipment for weight loss?

man gym machineJasminko Ibrakovic/Shutterstock

Don’t be a machine hog

There are only so many machines and pieces of equipment to go around at a gym—and during peak times that may mean you have to remember the lessons you learned in the sandbox during preschool. “Be courteous of others when you’re using the equipment,” says Michael Kuang, a certified personal trainer. “If you see someone waiting to use the same thing, tell them how much longer you will be. Or better yet, offer to let them work in between your sets.” Here’s how to get the most from your gym membership.

gym weightsJason Cornell/Shutterstock

Don’t throw your weights

Unless you’ve joined a power-lifting or CrossFit gym, there’s no reason to bang your weights down on the ground in between sets. “Besides giving people a heart attack when a 245-pound bar slams to the floor, you are seriously putting people at risk for a broken foot,” warns James Cappola, a personal trainer at Crunch in New York. “If you are in a regular gym with a general population, you have to act accordingly. Don’t be the guy who comes in, attempts to lift a 290-pound barbell, and then throws them to the floor because the last few reps are too much.” Either use a spotter or use less weight, bro. Do you know the rude habits customer service people wish you’d stop?

woman squat rack gymPressmaster/Shutterstock

Don’t crowd the squat racks

If you aren’t doing a compound exercise—like a squat, deadlift, or shoulder press—then stay out of the squat racks. “This isn’t the place to do your bicep curls, because you can use dumbells or other bars specifically for that,” explains Nick Rizzo, who has spent six years as a competitive powerlifter and four years training others. “This applies to all other types of random exercises you see people doing in squat racks.” Find out the rude hotel habits you should stop ASAP.

phone headphonesAlexeysun/Shutterstock

Don’t belt out a tune

You’re in the zone and your playlist dishes up your favorite tune. What do you do? Start singing? No, thank you. You’re not at home in your shower and everyone outside your headphones can hear your hums, whistles, not to mention profanities as you try to rap alongside Cardi B. “Please, no singing at the top of your lungs,” says Bartolini. “Nobody needs to hear your ‘na-na-nas!'” Yes, you can have fun during your workout, but not to the point of distracting others.

woman phone gymDean Drobot/Shutterstock

Don’t record someone without permission

Now that everyone carries a camera around 24/7, it can be far too easy to capture people and share it—whether they look silly while using an exercise machine incorrectly or are wearing a workout outfit you think may be inappropriate. Not only is this one of those things to never do at the gym, but you shouldn’t do it anywhere. “In your desire to have a good laugh with your friends at this person’s expense—or worse, on social media—you seriously violate gym rules and common decency,” says Steven McDaniels, director of fitness and recreation at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. “Instead of recording and making fun of them, why not make them feel a little bit more welcome be saying hello or offering assistance.” For more phone etiquette, find out the rude texting habits that bother almost everyone.

woman gym stretchJacob Lund/Shutterstock

Don’t talk too much

Add “be careful striking up a conversation with a stranger” to your list of things to never do at the gym. “If the person is serious about his or her exercise program, he or she will be bothered by a lengthy conversation and try to sneak away from you to resume his or her workout,” says McDaniels. “Exercising already burns a lot of time, which people are usually short on. If you must chat, make it short, sweet, and to the point.” Speaking of chatting, here are the rude conversation habits you need to stop ASAP.

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Don’t leave a sweaty mess behind

“Not wiping off equipment that you just used and dripped sweat on is gross,” says Amanda Schaum, a trainer certified by American Academy of Personal Training. “Many gyms have wipes easily accessible so that you can wipe down sweaty machines immediately after use. It’s also unsanitary and rude to make other people remove your soaking wet towels.”

gym bag manAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Don’t use equipment as a coat rack

Headphones. Check. Water bottle. Check. Towel. Check. Phone. Check. Sweatshirt. Check. But where are you going to put everything? The answer is not on the equipment you aren’t using. “People constantly put all their belongings on a bench or mat that they are not using,” says Schaum. “However, other people in the gym may incorrectly assume the machine is in use. Equipment at the gym is not people’s personal storage spaces.”

flirt couple gymAjan Alen/Shutterstock

Don’t hit on people

When it comes to things to never do at the gym, this one should go without saying—yet some people still need the reminder. Yes, the gym is a place filled with hot people working on getting even hotter. But that doesn’t mean it’s your own personal dating pool. “Don’t try to be a pickup artist at the gym,” says Christel Oerum, certified personal trainer. “It’s OK to let someone know that you think they are cute, but most people don’t appreciate aggressive romantic advances—especially if you do it to every girl or guy that you see. The gym is a safe space, so respect that.” Do you know why you should get a gym membership through Costco?

man deodorantLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Don’t stink

We all have some degree of body odor—but you should do your best to manage it around others. “There seems to be a fad amongst some men that feel it’s OK to be au natural and sport a ‘manly’ body scent,” says Josh Grimm, a NASM-certified personal trainer and an expert for Zeamo. “While that may be your personal preference, a gym is a closed-off space where many bodies are releasing toxins and impurities at once. We should all use deodorant.” Just don’t overdo it with colognes, perfumes, and body sprays—many people are allergic to these. Basically, you want to avoid strong smells, period.

man phone gymDean Drobot/Shutterstock

Don’t sit and scroll on your phone

“If you are looking to cut time in half and increase your heart rate with your workout, then you’ll want to perform one exercise after another with no break,” says personal trainer Alex Carneiro. “However, in today’s gyms, I see most people perform one set and then spend three to five minutes on their social media feeds.” Not only does this kill your momentum and waste your time, but it prevents others from using the equipment you’re sitting on. Next, find out the rude habits you need to stop at restaurants.


  • Dawn Bartolini, lifestyle and weight-loss coach
  • James Shapiro, NYC-based NASM-certified trainer
  • Eve Dawes, NASM-certified trainer, and yoga, spin, and Zumba instructor
  • Dani Singer, certified personal trainer
  • Jeanette DePatie, certified fitness instructor
  • Michael Kuang, certified personal trainer
  • James Cappola, personal trainer at Crunch in New York
  • Nick Rizzo, competitive powerlifter and trainer
  • Steven McDaniels, director of fitness and recreation at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida
  • Amanda Schaum, trainer certified by American Academy of Personal Training
  • Christel Oerum, certified personal trainer
  • Josh Grimm, a NASM-certified personal trainer and an expert for Zeamo
  • Personal trainer Alex Carneiro

Jill Schildhouse
As an editor at large for Reader's Digest, Jill Schildhouse is an expert in health and wellness, beauty, consumer products and product reviews, travel, and personal finance. She has spent the last 20 years as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor for a variety of national print and digital publications.