Sorry I Got My Sweat On You; Gym Etiquette And Hygiene For Everyone

I've taken up hot yoga. SWEAT EVERYWHERE.
Publish date:
March 26, 2013
gym, etiquette, hot yoga

I was talking to a friend who works at my favorite local joint (Pom Pom's Teahouse, I love y'all.) about the various hot yoga studios in our area. Not hot as in trendy; hot as in the room is about 90 degrees and can get hotter based on how many people are in it doing yoga.

She raved about a local studio less than a mile from my house. So, I decided to check out the 6 pm class.

That sounds like an easy enough process, right? But if you've got gym anxiety, just getting to a place that's designed for exercise of any kind can be way harder than your eventual workout. My own particular anxiety is always rooted in not knowing what something is going to be like -- the simple cure for which is FINDING OUT what something entails. So let's talk about the gym (or yoga studio or whatever) -- the etiquette and hygiene involved in getting your exercise on.

Most gyms will have etiquette or "dos and don'ts" posted on their website. These are often canned lists that don't give you a good sense of why these things are important to know. Even so, if the place you're heading to has one of these lists, check it out. You might discover some rules you didn't know about and that'll help you feel a little more prepared. (This is Orlando Power Yoga's list, for example, which prohibits gum chewing.)

In general, the rules of gym etiquette are way simpler than "Emily Post's Etiquette" -- in fact, they can usually be summed up really simply: Be considerate of the gym goers around you.

This means not being the jerk who hangs out blocking the floor or a machine or the water fountain or whatever. Talking to your friend who's there with you is not a bad thing -- just make sure you aren't occupying space that someone else could be using to actually work out.

It also means not treating the gym like a meat market for meeting potential dates. Dudes -- sorry, dudes, but it always seems to be dudes -- please stop taking workout clothes (often made of things like Lycra) as a sign that people want to go out with you.

Note: Some gyms just very much have this sort of culture -- I hate to say it because sometimes there isn't another gym around, but if that dating scene culture is keeping you from going to the gym, it's time to find a new gym. It's not your responsibility to change the entire gym culture -- take care of what YOU need.

So, grunting. That's a thing that sometimes happens at the gym. So much so that some gyms actually prohibit it. The reasoning is that grunting or yelling or whatever when you lift heavy things and then put them down is a natural thing to do. Because you're putting forth a lot of effort. Of course some people do it because they're attention seeking and other people do it because they're trying to psych themselves up for lifting REALLY heavy things and putting them back down. However, the appropriateness of grunting is really about environment and context.

If you're at a family-friendly gym where people are mostly doing cardio or something, it's a polite idea to tone the grunting down. If you're at a strong-man gym, it's a polite idea to get over the grunting and try to tune it out if it bothers you. When in doubt, check your gym regulations.

At last night's hot yoga class, I spent a fairly large amount of time just resting. Because it was fucking hot. The heat takes some getting used to, and there are assurances that you should take whatever time you need to rest not only all over the studio website but also peppered into the instructor's patter.

I kept to my own little yoga mat and kept up with the breathing. Which brings me to a great big part of exercise etiquette: Not judging people for taking care of their bodies and going at their own pace.

That's a major point of anxiety for a lot of people who are afraid of exercising in front of other people. Or in public in general -- for example, I kind of hate walking in my neighborhood because there is a major road and that's, like, almost a guarantee that I'll be yelled at from a passing car. Who needs that?

When you're done with your workout, whatever it might entail, wipe off your equipment. No one wants to sit in a puddle of someone else's sweat. Put towels in designated bins instead of just leaving them on machines or on the floor. Again, this is just going back to being considerate of those around you.

None of these things are a huge deal. And, in fact, these easy matters of gym etiquette might not be what's making you sweat when you think about working out. (See what I did there?)

It might be the aftermath of the workout, the part where you are left sweaty and exhausted and faced with a locker room.

Let's face it -- the locker room is not the natural habitat of plenty of folks who have any sort of body insecurity. I've got fat kid locker room trauma from middle school lurking in the depths of my psyche to this very day! As a result, I just don't use the locker room at the gym.

But how is this possible? Especially since hot yoga is basically 80 minutes of pouring with sweat? For me, it's easy. The yoga studio is close to home so I come home from work, throw on my clothes, and then dash down to class. I always go after work rather than before, in part because I don't want to get up that early but also because I know I'm not going to feel comfortable showering and changing for work in a locker room.

Does that limit the classes I can attend? Yes, it totally does. But not having that stress means I am more likely to go to class in the first place. And that's worth the inconvenience.

When you work out after work, you kind of have your pick of hygiene strategies. You can switch your daily (or not daily) showers to when you get home from a workout on gym days. You can lounge around in your sweaty gym clothes -- but you might get cold because, well, that's what sweat is for, after all. You can manage it however you want. Do be aware that multiple showers a day, especially hot showers, can be really drying for your hair and skin. But screw the "rules" -- do what makes you feel comfortable.

If you're working out before work, remember that other people are doing the same thing, too. You can shower and get ready in the locker room, but try not to hog the hair dryer and the mirror for putting on your makeup. The bathroom stalls aren't meant to be changing rooms.

Some people -- and I know a few of them at my day job -- work out during the middle of the day. This seems really efficient to me except then I always wonder when and how they eat lunch. I think the usual solution is to come back to their desk and scarf their food down as they get back to work, which sounds like no fun to me.

For middle of the day workouts, baby wipes and dry shampoo might very well save your life. Or at least your hygiene standards. If you've not got time for a shower, give yourself a thorough going over with baby wipes. If your hair is sweaty, hit it with the dry shampoo. Fresh deodorant and clean underwear (this includes your bra) will also help you feel a lot fresher. Throw in some clean hosiery, and it's like you're newly dressed for the day.

You've got to know yourself, too. If you're a super sweaty person, you might not be able to compromise on the shower after that midday workout. And if you're just walking around the parking lot on a cool day, you might not even need the baby wipes.

Bring those supplies anyway. They might come in handy when you least expect it.

Moving your body makes a lot of people feel good. (And it's fine if you aren't part of that group, too.) I like yoga because I often hold my breath during the day and yoga makes me focus on breathing. Exercise has such a nasty connotation for a lot of people -- fat people, disabled people, chronically ill people -- that sometimes folks feel like they aren't even allowed to do it.

Let's be considerate gym-goers; let's move our bodies without making it harder for every other body there. A little consideration -- for others and for ourselves! -- goes a long way.