Gym Etiqutte header

The 2004 hit comedy “DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story” creates a comparison between two very different fitness centers: Globo Gym, the gargantuan mega-gym and Average Joe’s, a modest place to work out among friendly faces. Each represented two vastly different workout environments, aimed to please different types of consumers.

Most of us would cringe at the thought of a gymgoer walking around making lewd comments and excessive noise, since people’s unsettling and unsanitary practices can have a negative effect on the entire gym. Every paying member of the facility should be entitled to work out confidently, freely, and stress-free.

We surveyed 1,004 people who work out at the gym at least once a week to find out their most common pet peeves and how they try to deal with these issues. Whether you’re using one of the most popular treadmills for running, top walking treadmills, or lifting weights at the gym, wiping down the machine after it has been used, is a no brainer.

If you’re nervous about joining a gym or being judged, read on to find out what actually bothers people in every area of the gym, from the weight room to the locker room.

Top Gym Pet Peeves

By far, the biggest issue people have with their peers at the gym is one that has led to actual public health issues in the past: people not wiping down the equipment they use – over half of all respondents placed this issue among their top three.

Taking the plunge into a gym membership shouldn’t come with any more challenges than expected, like improving physical strength and personal confidence. However, as four people in Florida learned in 2017, going to the gym can also have unintended consequences: They developed Legionnaires’ disease, a pneumonia-esque illness that spreads rapidly in areas with warm water, such as showers and locker rooms.

Infographic on Gym Pet Peeves

All it takes is one palm swipe across a sweaty brow to pass on germs and bacteria. Gym members and staff alike are responsible for protecting themselves and others from over two dozen different types of bacteria that we may come into contact with while we exercise. Elliptical machines, treadmills, free weights, and free-standing machines are all potential breeding grounds for bacteria to grow and thrive.

All age groups agreed that gym members who do not honor gym etiquette tend to offend them the most, but baby boomers were much more annoyed by phone usage compared to younger generations. Some younger gymgoers eager to share their fitness journeys on social media have actually violated the privacy of other gym members by bringing their phones into the locker rooms, onto the gym floor, and even into the sauna.

This range of gym etiquette issues can turn people off of a particular gym, and some may even take drastic measures. Intolerance for these pain points led 14% of respondents to leave their gym due to others invading their privacy, making them uncomfortable, or doing unsanitary things that impact the rest of the gym community.

It’s unacceptable for gym guests and members to feel unwelcome or uneasy, but it’s another thing entirely when they become so affected that they have to alter their entire routine to elude these stressors.

Guilty Parties Who Don’t Walk the Walk

It’s clear that dirty equipment annoys gymgoers the most, but some of the loudest pro-cleaning advocates may actually be guilty of contributing to the problem.

One in five people surveyed said not wiping down equipment was the worst breach of gym etiquette, but over 31% of gymgoers admitted to committing this very violation.

Infographic on people who do not wipe down equipment after use

Every dirty machine becomes the responsibility of the next person who approaches it to continue their workout. Whether gym goers are working out in the morning vs night, we found that men were more likely to leave equipment unwiped, though women did also contribute to the problem, and every time of day featured its share of non-wipers.

Gym entertainment has evolved over time, and most facilities provide music and TVs for their members to enjoy while they work out. Younger generations, however, still seemed to be relying on their phones as their source of music, video, and entertainment while at the gym. Over 83% of millennials admitted to calling or texting others during a workout.

Being on the phone can distract from a workout, and you can even pass on bacteria to your phone. Whenever someone forgets to sanitize the equipment, not only are you being exposed to potentially harmful bacteria while at the gym, but you might also be carrying it home with you via your phone.

With 12% of respondents having admitted to using their phone “often” or “always” at the gym, sanitizing these devices may also be a pressing concern.

Locker Room Faux Pas

Research has shown that gyms can harbor unseen germs, but so far we’ve only talked about the risks of unclean equipment. However, just like any other public place, one of the most common ways that illness and bacteria can spread is through unsanitary bathroom and locker room etiquette.

Infographics of locker room behaviors by gender

An astonishing 25% of women and 30% of men reported often or always witnessing someone use the bathroom at the gym but forgo washing their hands.

Gymgoers were subjected most to people walking around barefoot and not washing their hands after restroom use, with women experiencing these issues slightly more frequently than men. However, men were more likely to fall victim to unhygienic locker room practices surrounding nudity. Sitting on public benches in the nude was a behavior observed by men far more often than women: 33 percent of men reported often or always encountering nude members compared to nearly 20% of women.

In a locker room, there is some element of leniency when it comes to nudity, yet people can still go too far by ignoring the designated changing areas and stalls. Their actions can quickly veer into inappropriate territory. Complaints against people who go over the line help establish clear boundaries against unsuitable behavior, some of which goes far beyond nudity: For example, 20% of men we surveyed said they have witnessed someone urinating in the locker room showers.

Gym Distractions: Cured by Focus Techniques or an Inevitable Problem?

Concentrating on your workout routine is easier said than done. You can be enjoying the endless entertainment options on the Vision Fitness T80 or training on the Landice L7, but concentrating on your workout routine is easier said than done. Working with a trainer or friend, following a routine, and listening to music are all great tactics to stay focused, but distractions around the gym still exist, many of which can disrupt an otherwise relaxed environment.

Loud grunting, an unfortunate standard of the typical exercise facility soundtrack, turned gym members off the most, with male respondents reporting more annoyance with this issue than women. Even though it can be bothersome to hear guttural noises echoing through the gym, scientifically-backed research shows that grunting might actually increase how much force someone exerts during a physical activity, especially during stereotypically “vocal” competitive sports such as tennis and martial arts.

Infographic on Losing Your Focus

It may work wonders for pushing through your final few reps, but as soon as someone else’s actions infringe on someone else’s right to a peaceful experience at the gym, courtesy needs to take priority. If you are a “grunter” looking for another way to push through the pain, heavy and intentional breathing is a quieter alternative that still allows you to tap into your last few drops of energy.

Grunting might get on people’s nerves, but 10% of respondents preferred it to being interrupted by a pair of wandering eyes. And nearly 12% identified a stranger encroaching on their personal space as their biggest gym distraction.

Generally speaking, it’s wise to err on the side of caution, be aware of your surroundings, and report any distressing situations to a gym employee. Everyone deserves to feel safe in their chosen workout space.

Practicing Politeness

Whether or not you’re a would-be member of Average Joe’s or Globo Gym, there are certain social norms that must be respected in a public workout setting.

Generally speaking, a gym is a community of people working toward a common goal: health and fitness. Respecting everyone else in that bubble is essential for the gym to function as intended. Honor and observe the personal autonomy of others, try not to stare while people are working out, and be sensitive to your own impact on other people’s experiences. Wipe down equipment before and after you use it to ensure that you are leaving them clean for the next person, as treadmills and elliptical machines, just like any other piece of workout equipment, are vulnerable to bacteria growth and can be a potential hotbed for illness to spread.

Fair Use Statement

The next time you’re spotting your gym partner, let them know how important gym etiquette is (and make sure your friends are wiping down equipment and washing their hands while you’re at it). In the spirit of etiquette, feel free to share any of the above content, as long as it’s for noncommercial use and you link to this page when mentioning our findings.


For this study, we surveyed 1,004 people who work out in a gym at least once per week. 51.4% of participants were men, 48.2% were women, and fewer than 1% were nonbinary. The mean age was 35.1 with a standard deviation of 11.1. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 81.

Participants were asked to select their number one top annoyance as well as the three gym situations they most often experienced.

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This study is not exhaustive of all possible pet peeves one might experience in a gym setting, but it does touch on the most common. Respondents were given opportunities to enter in their own answers if they were not found in a multiple choice list. Our results rely on self-report, which can create issues like exaggeration and selective memory. Findings were neither weighted nor statistically tested.