We’ve all seen, heard and maybe even smelled them. The flaunters. The grunters. The hoggers. Those with suspect hygiene habits. While a majority of our clients are great, there are times when some need to remember (or be reminded) that they are in a shared space where courtesy and respect should be practiced. To ensure that all members — from seasoned bodybuilders to fitness beginners — have positive experiences in our gyms, everyone needs to adhere to proper gym etiquette.
While different facilities have different standards and guidelines, some common violations of gym etiquette are not re-racking weights, slamming or dropping weights, not sharing equipment, not wiping equipment down after use, invading other members’ personal space, wearing inappropriate attire, yelling and grunting, and generally acting inappropriately toward other members.
Social media can add a whole new dimension to this, as well. We see situations where people use their phone cameras in locker rooms, take pictures of others and post negative comments. It is no surprise that getting members to adhere to gym etiquette guidelines can be a challenging situation.
What follows is a breakdown of key teaching components regarding gym etiquette: deciding on rules, policies and member expectations; diversely communicating those to members; and empowering and training staff to handle various situations.
1. Establish rules, expectations
Every gym should establish clear rules, policies and member expectations to foster a safe and respectful environment. These guidelines should cover appropriate attire, equipment usage, hygiene, and behavior toward fellow members and staff. While expectations vary from facility to facility, here are a few examples of standard gym etiquette rules:
• Attire: Encourage members to wear comfortable and appropriate workout attire, allowing freedom of movement yet maintaining modesty. Discourage clothing that is offensive or overly revealing. Additionally, it should be addressed that members must always be clothed when on the workout floor.
• Hygiene: Remind members of the importance of personal hygiene. Members should be educated to avoid wearing strong colognes and perfumes. Request that they shower before using wet areas and always bring a towel to wipe down equipment afterward. Address the issue of body odor discreetly but firmly.
• Equipment usage: Establish rules for sharing equipment and encourage members to limit their time on machines during peak hours. Set expectations that members use equipment safely and correctly. Implement a system to rotate usage if necessary, and ensure members understand the importance of returning equipment to its proper place.
• Respect for others: Promote respect and courtesy among members. Remind them to keep their voices down, refrain from hogging equipment, and offer to alternate sets if someone is waiting. Discourage intimidating behavior or excessive grunting.
These are just a few examples of rules, standards and guidelines. It is crucial to create a set that fits your model and facility size, and always be ready to create new ones when needed.
2. Communicate guidelines
Once you have established your rules, policies and member expectations, it’s crucial to communicate them to all gym members effectively. Utilize various methods to ensure everyone receives the information. Here are some ways to diversely communicate guidelines:
• Signage: Display clear and concise signs throughout the gym that outline the rules and expectations. Place them in prominent locations, such as near entrances, in locker rooms and by popular equipment.
• Member handbook: Create a member handbook that includes gym guidelines and policies. This can be given and reviewed during the joining process. In addition, make it readily available at the front desk or provide a digital version accessible through the gym’s website or mobile app.
• Orientation sessions: Before a group exercise class, personal training session or other specialized programming, have the person running the program review aloud the gym’s etiquette and policies specifically related to that program (and not necessarily applicable to all gym members). This will help program participants understand expectations from the start.
• Email and newsletter updates: Regularly send emails or newsletters to members with essential updates or reminders regarding gym etiquette. Include positive reinforcement and highlight success stories to encourage adherence.
• Social media: Like emails and newsletters, use social media to communicate gym etiquette guidelines. With social, it is okay to keep things lighter. Try posting a funny meme or shooting a cheeky video to drive the info home in a fun and lighthearted manner.
The key to effectively communicating gym etiquette guidelines is consistently doing it in various serious and lighthearted ways. While it won’t prevent all violations, it will stop some and provide a reference point when a member violates policy.
3. Empower staff
Equipping your staff with the necessary tools and training to deal with situations is vital in the effective enforcement of gym rules and policies. Here’s how you can empower your staff:
• Education and training: Provide thorough training to staff members on gym etiquette and conflict resolution. Ensure they understand how to address different situations professionally and respectfully. This should include training in body language, luxury language, tone and other communication tools. In addition, develop protocols for handling conflicts or inappropriate behavior. Train staff on conflict resolution techniques and empower them to take appropriate action when necessary, such as issuing warnings or involving management. (See my column on policy enforcement, July/August 2020, page 24.)
• Leading by example: Encourage staff to follow the gym’s values and etiquette guidelines. When members see staff adhering to the rules, it sets a positive tone and encourages compliance.
• Clear communication channels: Establish clear communication channels between staff and members. Encourage members to report any concerns or violations to staff, who can address them promptly and appropriately.
One important thing to mention is that while it is vital to empower staff to handle situations, leaders must always be ready to step in if a situation escalates. If a staff member follows the proper steps when attempting to handle a situation but still is unable to resolve it, it is time for leadership to take over. Even the best staff member will likely not have the same level of skill to handle the most challenging situations.
Also, don’t forget that it is okay to terminate the membership of anyone who proves too difficult regarding compliance with your club’s expectations. It is not only okay but also your responsibility to do so to respect the other members’ experience.
Remember, gym etiquette is a shared responsibility. Each club member plays a crucial role in upholding your established standards of behavior and respect, and each club employee shares in the role of oversight.
Develop meaningful facility etiquette expectations, emphasize and reinforce them regularly, and empower your staff to address issues promptly. By implementing those three key points, gym owners and operators can create an environment in which members feel respected, comfortable and able to enjoy their workouts in a pleasant and supportive environment.