10 Health Club Dos and Don'ts

There you are at the gym, trying to work off the stresses of your job. From the next bench you hear another person grunting and groaning under the weight of the barbells. Instead of feeling better after your workout, you're irritated by the inconsiderate gym-goers around you. Everyone has their own habits at the gym; some put headphones on and go about their business without speaking a word, and others enjoy the social aspect. But which are expected and acceptable and which are better off left at home? Here, the five worst and best gym habits to help you improve your gym etiquette.

5 Worst Habits

1. Leaving sweat on the equipment. Leaving a puddle of sweat behind is not only unpleasant, but unhealthy as well. There are copious amounts of germs and bacteria on the surface of your skin, and when you sweat, they come off. In 2005, Dr. Philip Tierno, Professor of Microbiology at NYU Medical School conducted a study in New York City health clubs. He found bacteria on workout equipment that are commonly found in human feces, including diphtheroids and E. coli. Your gym should have antibacterial spray and paper towels. Make sure you wipe down your equipment, setting a clean example for the next person.

2. Talking on cell phones. Of course, sometimes a phone call needs to be made in an emergency, but it's best to do so in the locker room or outside the fitness club. Refrain from using your phone while you're on the treadmill or waiting to use a machine. Those around you probably don't want to hear about the golf outing last Saturday. While the gym can foster a social atmosphere, it's not appropriate when it infringes on those around you. If you find yourself talking on the phone, leave it in the car next time or step outside when you need to make a call.

3. Being a social butterfly. Again, the gym can be a great place to chat with your workout buddy, but excessive conversation can be annoying and tiresome. Many gym goers have a limited time there and may not want to spend it catching up. Keep conversations to a casual "hello" or "how are you"--and leave the long chats for after the workout.

4. Doing too much grunt work. Everyone's seen the guy who, while lifting an large amount of weight, grunts or even screams. Some noise is expected during an intense workout, but too many sounds are excessive. Playing your music so loud so that others can hear it and singing along are other gym faux pas.

5. Not cleaning up. Mom always told us, "When you're done using something, put it away." This motherly advice is true at the gym, too. When you're done using dumbbells, free weights, or a piece of equipment, put them back where they belong. It makes walking around the gym safer and allows the next person to use the equipment know where to find it.

5 Best Habits

1. Washing up. Remember the NYU study that found bacteria on weights and machines? That's exactly why you should wash your hands before you leave the gym. It can help prevent infection. Most gyms have hand sanitizers, if you prefer. In locker rooms, germs can thrive due to the heat, humidity, and lack of sunlight. When using the shower or sauna, wear sandals or flip-flops, and don't share towels or soap with others.

2. Using proper form. Although proper form varies by exercise, there are few common good practices you should know. Follow these tips:

  • Don't lock. When doing bench presses, squats, or other similar exercises, locking your knees or elbows can put excessive stress on your joints and possibly lead to injury.
  • Don't swing. Use controlled, slow movements, which can optimize the healthy stress you put on your muscles. Usually, swinging your weights means they are too heavy.
  • Don't drop. Dropping your weights is unnecessary. Plus, it makes breaking a toe more likely.

3. Planning ahead. Sure, you may not be a fitness expert. But having a plan for your workout before you enter the gym can save you time and improve your results. Don't want to pay a trainer? Educate yourself with exercise literature and websites, ask the gym staff for pointers, or get advice from a knowledgeable friend.

4. Setting limits. You've probably hear someone bragging that she goes to the gym seven days a week for three hours a day. If you're a beginner, it is acceptable to start off slow. And for everyone, it's healthy to take a day off so your muscles can repair themselves. You should also know your limits during a workout. Pushing yourself is fine, when it's done within reason. Listen to your body. Stop if you feel faint or dizzy.

5. Mixing it up. Your body quickly gets accustomed to a workout. Try not to do the same exercise twice in one week. For example, if you want to work your legs, do squats one day and lunges the next. The same goes for the cardio. If you want to casually jog one day, hop on the elliptical the next. Keep your body guessing and you're more likely to achieve the results you desire.