Gym Etiquette (YMCA Membership)

Updated on September 12, 2012
S.G. asks from Pottstown, PA
7 answers

OK...I feel so silly for even asking this question, but here it goes...

What is the proper etiquette for using a public gym and/or facilities at the Y (for example)? I am a total newbie when it comes to this stuff. I have NEVER set foot in a gym, and have only ever been to the Y for birthday parties and to sign up for a membership. :)

I just don't want to walk in on my first day and commit a giant faux-pas! ;)

Thanks mamas!!!

(I'm so embarrassed! LOL!)

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answers from Jacksonville on

As a former gym regular...
I would say the biggest most egregious things (to me, anyway) were these:

1) Leaving free weights/plates unreturned to the rack. (I don't want to have to remove 6 50lb plates from the smith rack in order to put 2 10 lb plates on for MY workout... just like the big guys don't want to have to clean up after me, before they can put what THEY want to use on the machine). If you use it, don't assume someone after you will use the same thing/settings/plates, etc.
2) Wipe down whatever you used. Nobody wants to grab a sweaty bar or sit on a sweaty seat.
3) Don't stay on any piece of cardio equipment for over 30 minutes, unless there are plenty of other vacant (and not broken) ones.
4) If there are open machines (treadmills, bikes, etc), leave empty ones in between people if you can. Remember and recognize "personal space".
5) Chattiness can be great. Or it can be annoying. Remember to read body language in case the other person finds it annoying (a disruption to their workout) instead of enjoyable. :)

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answers from San Antonio on

I read this when I got my first gy membership. I didn't want to look like a total idiot, or commit, as you put it, a giant faux-pas.

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answers from Boston on

Don't be embarrassed. Everyone has a first day at the gym, and the smart people are those who ask questions.

You should have a membership person who tells you who the trainers are - most gyms provide some introductory instructions (free) to the new member. They should ask you what your goals are and help you with proper use of the equipment (you won't be using everything) and a class schedule. That's separate from the personal training you pay for. Most gyms give your one or two free sessions with a trainer, or at least have someone walk around with you to show you how to use things. They often have a large card they give you and they can write down the different pieces of equipment you select (together with their advice) and how much weight to use, how many repetitions to do, etc.) It's important that you start with less weight and not injure yourself, and it's important that you learn how to use proper posture to protect yourself.

It's not always good to observe other people - sometimes they do things wrong! The weights should not be clanging against each other, and it's important that you put things away when you are done. Put the weights back on racks - in order - and replace any stability balls or anything else you use. It's okay to take something off the rack and take it to an area where you are doing several things. I take a mat and a large stability ball, a medicine ball and a set of weights, and I alternate doing different things with them. I do something for my arms, for example, set the weights down, and do some abdominals on the stability ball, then I repeat this set allowing my muscle groups to relax in between. That's fine - just return the whole thing when you are done.

If a weight machine has a pin to change the amount of weight, you can leave it as is when you finish. If there are large weights that are manually loaded on and off, then you should probably take your weights off when you are done. There is spray cleaner and there is a paper towel dispenser to use when cleaning off the equipment - clean the seat and the back, and any handlebars that you grip. You don't have to scrub - just a wipe down. That gets your sweat off the machine for the next person. If you are doing a series of repetitions (such as 3 sets of 12 reps), then just clean at the end, not in between (unless you are getting up to use something else and someone is waiting for your machine). Then just spray the towel and wipe down, carrying the towel with you. If you use a treadmill or elliptical with heartrate sensors, spray the towel and then wipe down the equipment - don't spray the liquid directly on the sensors.

Buy a small combination lock so you can lock up your coat and pocketbook. I like to take a small hand towel in case I get really sweaty. I just drape it over the arm of the treadmill or put it on the floor next to the equipment I'm using. I also take water - gyms may sell bottled water but most people really prefer that you use your own reusable bottle rather than fill up their trash bins. Do not take food in there! If you need an energy bar, eat it in the lobby area (sometimes gyms have a small area for the stuff they sell, so you can eat your own thing there). In fact, I have a class that celebrates the members' birthdays, and the gym lets us bring a low-fat cake in there! But definitely not in the workout areas.

You can use an iPod and some gyms have TVs you can connect to by plugging into the system to get the sound. Ask for help.

A lot of people read on the treadmill or bike - sometimes the gyms have a big magazine rack so feel free to choose something. The equipment may have a built-in book rack or a separate rack you can hang over the control panel. You can bring your own stuff too - in fact, I just rip off the address sticker and recycle my own magazines there for others to enjoy.

If you plan to shower there, take some travel size materials and your own towel - I like a beach towel. You might want flip flops too. You can use their hairdryers and put your stuff on the counter while you are doing your thing, then clean up when you leave.

In bad weather, don't wear your regular sneakers to the gym. Use "indoor only" sneakers so you don't track rain, salt, sand and mud into the workout areas. Put your boots or "outdoor shoes" in the locker with your coat and purse.

A lot of people get very focused during their routines and don't chat, so don't be offended if people roam around from machine to machine without talking. The gym may have a posted policy asking you to keep chatter to a minimum, but that doesn't mean you can't ask a staff member for help or ask someone if they are done with the equipment you are waiting for. If there are extra machines, it's nice not to crowd somebody by taking the machine next to them. But if it's crowded, it's crowded and take anything that's open.

You might want to keep a beach towel or bath towel in your car to sit on and lean on so sweat doesn't get on the seats.

I'd recommend a sports bra with good support and a light sweatshirt or other cover-up for afterwards - you don't want to get cold. I like an open necked tee shirt or something made of wicking materials so the sweat doesn't collect on my skin.

Also, it's FINE to ask the staff what the customs and routines are at that particular gym. Phrase it as "What do most people do with....?" or "What do you suggest for.....?" That's what they're there for and that's what you're paying for. And ask what classes are good for someone at your fitness level and with your (lack of) experience. You want an instructor who welcomes new people, who helps them, and who doesn't assume you know what you are doing. Try not to hide at the back of the room where you will not be able to observe the instructor or hear what he/she is saying.

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answers from Houston on

I've been weight training at the gym with a friend of mine for the past 4/5 years, at Gold's and at the Y and there is no way you will feel or look like you know what you are doing. I rotate btwn the free weights, machines, classes, cycling and cardio (not brave enough for suspension workouts yet) and I still am not sure how to work some of them, even after all these years. And worse, sometimes I get on a machine or try some new technique at the free weights and I know I'm not doing it exactly right. And you know what? Its ok. :)

DO NOT BE INTIMIDATED! Don't put that pressure on yourself or else you will be too focused on looking like you know what you are doing than getting a good workout. Yes, you will walk into the gym and feel like people will be staring you down from just walking in. Don't get sucked in. I do understand though. Noone wants to walk into a gym by themselves and everyone wants to walk into a gym looking like you know exactly what you are doing. For 99.9% of us, we won't know what we are doing or where to go.

Try something easy first and work your way around all the areas and apparatuses until you get comfortable.

Take a walk around the machines on your way in our out and take notice how people are using them.

Most gyms, including the Y, should have people available to show you how to use the machines. No gym wants a lawsuit on their hands from members injured due to improper use. So ask one of the trainers or workers how to use a machine properly.

All the machines should have illustrations of how to sit and use it, and usually what muscles it targets.

Go to body building websites - there are so many tutorials and suggestions on different techniques you can use for free weights and machines to get the most out of your workouts. Muscle and Fitness, Fitness and to name a few. Most even have step by step photos and videos, showing the properway to hold something or stand.

Other than that have fun! Remember, its all about getting a good workout, not what you are doing wrong. As long as you don't stand in front of someone and stare at them, or hog something, you will be fine and you'll get the hang of the vibe of your gym. I love going to the gym and working out in general...its like that one commercial that says "No matter what, everyone should sweat at least once a day". Good luck to you!

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answers from Detroit on

There should be cleaner and paper towels to clean off the machine when you are done using them. Dont forget to do that!
If that is not available to you there, I would have to find a different gym.
Dont ever walk in there with a diet soda, they will laugh at you!
I would have to say, everything else goes. Most people wear as little as possible to the gym and put there jackets in lockers. I got made fun of once for wearing a sweat shirt while working out. I was cold at first!!

Have fun!

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answers from Grand Forks on

I work at the Y. My Y has giant signs posted in each area listing the etiquette for that area. Maybe yours does too? Did the membership staff give you a tour? We schedule an orientation for new members. What areas were you interested in the etiquette for? Fitness center, play structure, open gym, pool/hot tub/steam rooms? If it is the fitness center make sure you are wearing indoor shoes, don't hog equipment, adhere to the time limits on cardio equipment, wipe down equipment after each use, only bring water to drink, don't bring your kids into the fitness center area...That's all I can think of right now. Let me know if there was a specific are you were interested in, and be sure to ask about orientations.

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answers from San Diego on

I would start by asking for a tour of the gym. While there you can see what areas are of interest to you, and what areas you want to stay clear of. When I first started working out I was extremely intimidated by what I called the "black mat area" which was the free weight area. Later I started free weights and loved it, but ddefinately not as a newbie!! WHen you're walking around you Believe me, they've heard them all before and they're job to to make you feel comfortable so you'll sign up!
When you do sign up, the Y here has a free program where they'll put you on a workout program. I totally encourage you to take advantage of that, and all the freebies they have to offer. That way they will take you to all the machines, show you how to use them, and show you how the machines are supossed to fit you. If the seat is not positioned correctly, you could hurt yourself. WHen you go back by yourself, you will have this program to follow and that way you're going to get a good workout, and won't look and feel so insecure that you are doing something wrong.
Also, try the classes. Try to get there early and talk to the instructor to say that you are a newbie. If you're taking a spin class, get there really early and be in front of the teacher so he/she can correct you. Spins is a great class because there is a teacher telling you what to do, but if you don't want to "add more hill," you don't have to. You really have control over your workout.

Good luck to you and good for you for taking care of yourself! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

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