The Sweatiquette Guide

Gym Etiquette

I have a confession to make, I’m a total exercise “groupie.” Nothing gets me quite as hot and bothered as the camaraderie, competitive spirit and the contagious energy of other people in a group class. That would be the hot part. Ironically, the downside (and the bothered part) is dealing with these same people. Let’s face it, when body fluids like tears, snot, sweat (and even blood) are flowing freely in a contained quarters, positive energy is not the only thing that’s contagious.

As a black belt in taekwondo in training for my second-degree black belt, I cross-train to stay in top fighting shape to avoid getting my petite, flyweight ass kicked by men twice my size (i.e. bob & weave or run away as fast as possible). I’m a shameless “workout whore” who has gotten hot and sweaty doing everything from Barry’s Bootcamp to pole dancing, I can confidently say that I’ve witnessed just about every exercise “sweatiquette” breach imaginable.


If your exercise area resembles a sweatlands, tempting ducks to land and the mirror has more DNA evidence splattered on it than an episode of CSI, seriously, what’s wrong with you? According to researchers from The University of Texas, the average person sweats between 1.2 and 1.6 liters an hour during exercise.

While sweating buckets is healthy, not mopping up after yourself is just self-involved. Nobody wants to jump into your gene pool and swim laps as part of their workout, so be a decent human being and use a towel (or two) to swab the deck and, um, anything else that needs swabbing.

Or worse yet, if you drool, please clean it up. I used to spar with a male opponent in my martial arts class who insisted on wearing a double mouth guard. Fun fact: bulky mouth guards make you drool. Until you’ve stepped barefoot into a warm, slimy drool puddle and gone down for the count, only a Silkwood shower will wash away that not-so-fresh-feeling. So here’s my PSA: If your workout entails wearing a mouthguard –  Don’t spit, Please swallow!

Exertion grunts and sighs at reasonable decibels are normal. In martial arts, we vocalize that natural expulsion of energies through yelling “ki-hap” because it concentrates our life force (ki, qi, chi, depending on the tradition) and makes us stronger. But excessive vocalizing is just a waste of precious oxygen. During a Barry’s Bootcamp class, there was this one woman who I’m pretty sure was speaking in tongues by the end of class. Some of the ungodly noises coming out of her perpetually gaping maw reminded me of cats in heat possessed by Satan. I was tempted to mutter a quick prayer over my bottle of water and douse her with my homemade holy water for a DIY exorcism just to put her (and us) out of her misery.

Personally, I have more of an issue with moaning and groaning because it’s harder to keep it PG-13. There’s nothing more distracting to my workout than listening to more porny moans than a soundtrack to an adult film. Once during a yoga class, the woman on the mat next to me moaned so incessantly, I felt the urge to kick her in the asana and then smoke a cigarette with her after class.

This person stinks so bad, the surrounding air has a visual distortion from the fumes, whether it’s from overpowering B.O. or too much perfume or cologne, or worse – both. Unfortunately, this individual smells bad even before they get started, but once they get warmed up – watch out! They turn into a human aroma diffuser. There used to be a guy in my taekwondo class whom I dreaded sparring, because every time I kicked his torso protector, it released air pockets of stench with top notes of stale Fritos and bottom notes of Axe body spray. Only long months of experience with morning sickness during my pregnancies gave me the necessary training to swallow down my vomit.  But I usually conceded defeat within a minute, even though I was scoring more points, crying out weakly, “You win, dude! You win.”

Dear anti-shirt brigade, I don’t care if you have the sculpted torso of a Greek statue. Well, actually, I do. But even that initial wide-eyed ogling quickly turns into squinty-eyed disgust as the sweat drips off your armpit hair, flows in rivulets down your sculpted biceps and sprays everyone within a ten-foot radius every time you lift your arms. Turns out that shirts serve an important function as splashguards. If I wanted to get sprayed with salty fluid, I’d sit in the front row of the Shamu show at Seaworld – without a plastic sheet. But if you’re a gentleman who needs a sports bra, please, have a heart. I am begging you, WEAR A SHIRT. You’re like a workout eclipse, I can’t look directly at you for fear of retinal damage.

First of all, lower your voice. You’re not talking into a tin can on a string. Running your mouth doesn’t count as a workout. If you have enough breath to gossip about the gory details of your hot date last night, you’re simply not working hard enough. Sure, emergencies happen. Work stuff intrudes. As riveting and important as this stuff is to you, for others within earshot, not so much. Whatever the reason, take the call outside.

I can’t tell you how many yoga classes I’ve been to where there’s one random yogi who is totally ignoring the teacher because they are just so caught up in their own awesomeness. While the rest of the class is in downward dog, he or she is showing off and doing a handstand – at the front of the class, of course. Or in taekwondo class, other black belts will decide the curriculum is beneath them and hang out in back and do their own thing. First of all, it’s incredibly rude and disrespectful to the teacher to show up and deviate from the program. Secondly, it’s totally distracting to the rest of the class trying to follow along. Why bother coming to a group class in the first place? For all the experienced practitioners who think they’re the next Martha Graham or Bob Fosse and have moves like Jagger: if you want a private session, then pay for one, otherwise, get with the program. The rest of us aren’t as impressed.

This narcissist treats the gym like a rock star with his or her personal hotel suite to trash with abandon. They leave a swath of destruction in their path: soaked towels on the floor, sweaty splattered machines, overturned water bottles, overflowing toilets and never, ever rack their weights. In addition, they tend to complain loudly about everything: it’s too hot, the music’s too loud, it smells bad, the instructor sucks – whatever. I’ve seen drooling toddlers, who will eat the gum off the bottom of your shoe, with better cleaning and social skills at Mommy & Me classes.

I make the effort to come early so I can stake out my favorite spot in a crowded yoga class. It’s that little corner near the front so I’m not sandwiched by people on all sides. But it never fails, ten minutes after class starts, a latecomer will inevitably squeeze his mat right into the non-existent space next to my mat and spend the entire class whacking me in the face with his hairy, sweaty arm. Or, I’m just relaxing into savasana and my neighbor decides to noisily pack up their mat and belongings, loudly dropping their metallic, BPA-free water bottle right next to my head.

Here’s a thought. If you’re late, don’t muscle your way into prime class real estate. Traffic happens, but those are the breaks. Also, if you know you have to leave early, be considerate and time your exits wisely. Station yourself in the back or near the exit so you can slip away as unobtrusively as possible.

This isn’t a movie theatre or a restaurant. Don’t drape your towel on the floor or on the treadmill or bike next to you to save a spot for your deadbeat friend who couldn’t be bothered to show up on time. Not only is this a fitness etiquette breach, a good friend wouldn’t put you through that drama in the first place. I’ll just let that sink in.

I don’t know if dudes do this, but the women in any given locker room sure like to lounge around gratuitously naked. Trust me, this sounds a lot hotter in theory than in practice. I will never understand the desire to talk on a cell phone, stark naked (or worse yet, one leg up on a bench or table) in the middle of a crowded changing room, subjecting innocent bystanders to a view only your gynecologist should have. Or worse yet, strike up a conversation with you – while stark naked. Aside from the awkwardness, it’s a hygiene issue. Nobody wants to sit on a bench you’ve just sat on without underwear. So, again, coming back to that towel. Please use it.

Remember, while it’s great to give it all you’ve got when you’re working out, just don’t give it to other people

Want more? Trainer Lacey Stone has a great video with her fitness etiquette tips right here.


Minsun Park

Minsun Park is a blogger, writer and a black belt in taekwondo who gets her ass handed to her daily by her two sons. She’s written for iVillage, SheKnows, ePregnancy and is featured in “The Hot Mom’s Handbook” by Jessica Denay. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter