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Behind Closed Doors: Six Locker Room Dos and Don’ts

It's a code of conduct you have to run with. 

Often the biggest hurdle to joining a gym (besides the actual exercising) is navigating the precarious world of the locker room. Gyms don’t post “dos and don’ts,” but there are unwritten rules for members to follow—about proper use of the machines, time limits on treadmills, and sharing the free weights. The locker room can be even harder to figure out because, well, everyone’s naked. Fellow gym-goers can get very touchy about breaches of this unspoken etiquette, but how’s a person to know what the rules are?

Lucky for newcomers to the neighborhood health club, locker rooms are ruled mostly by common sense and courtesy, making it easy to blend in with the most frenzied post-spinning class crowd. Even gym rats, though, sometimes need a refresher course in locker room etiquette, and keeping these few tips in mind will ensure that you’ll never attract the ire of a fellow exerciser.

Resist the Siren Call of Your Cell Phone
Many gyms now have total bans on cell phone use in the locker room, and some even threaten to terminate the memberships of transgressors. It’s not just about the annoyance of overhearing inane conversations—most cell phones today are equipped with cameras, and gyms don’t want anyone snapping unauthorized locker room photos. I’ve never had reason to suspect that anything nefarious was going on in my gym’s locker room, but it’s pretty common to hear women having long, extended conversations with their friends or boyfriends. Men sometimes conduct business calls in the locker room, even with the sounds of showering and clanging lockers in the background. Even without the threat of naked pictures, the locker room is not really the best place to chat with a client or relay the nitty-gritty details of your recent breakup. Perhaps just wait five minutes until you’re outside.

Save the Intimate Hygiene for Later
Cleaning up after a workout can involve a full beauty routine—shampoo, blow-dry, makeup, moisturizing etc. Tweezing a stray eyelash is normal, but it’s best to wait until you get home to wax your mustache. There are many things that shouldn’t be done in public, and yes, a locker room is still a public place. A busy gym with people jostling for space at a vanity is simply the wrong place to touch up your bikini line, apply a pore-cleansing strip, douche, or do anything else intensely private. Strangers don’t need to be privy to your most intimate maintenance.

Don’t Move In
If you can’t fit all of your personal possessions into one locker, you’re probably bringing too much. The lockers, benches, sinks, and showers are for everyone’s use, so hogging more than your fair share of the resources puts others at an inconvenience. Taking up multiple lockers, monopolizing an entire changing bench, or leaving your bags strewn on the floor while you work out or shower just gets in other people’s way. The polite thing to do is to make space for all.

Clean Up After Yourself
Yes, there’s a custodial staff, but if they have to spend all their time picking up towels from the floor, cleaning trash out of lockers, and removing hair clogs from the shower, then they won’t have time to do more important tasks like stocking fresh towels and keeping things clean and sanitary. With so many people coming in and out, showering, and beautifying, there’s bound to be enough work for the custodians without them having to pick up the things that members can’t be bothered to dispose of. There are plenty of laundry bins and garbage cans, so don’t be afraid to use them. Your mother doesn’t work there.

Change Clothes in the Locker Room, Not the Toilet Stalls
It’s natural and normal that people have differing standards of modesty. Some people are completely comfortable striding around the locker room naked, and some people prefer to change their clothes more discreetly. Either way is perfectly fine. Changing clothes in the toilet stall, however, really irks people who actually have to use the toilet. Everyone’s at the gym to get in better shape, so there’s no shame in being naked momentarily. No one is gawking, and no one is judging. I’ve been a regular gym-goer for many years, and nothing has made me more comfortable with my non-supermodel body than seeing everyone else in the locker room so comfortable with theirs.

Don’t Loiter
Considering that many people barely have the time to squeeze in a workout, you’d think that people would be in a hurry to get in and get out. Apparently, though, there are plenty of people who have all the time in the world, and use the locker room to email on their iPhone, eat a snack, or have heart-to-heart conversations with their friends. I’ve seen women in the locker room reading books, listening to music, and re-organizing their purses. I’ve seen them sit for twenty minutes trying to decide where to go to lunch, while others tried to change and get ready around them. Seriously. Since locker room space is in short supply and there are people waiting to use the facilities, don’t hang around once you’re done with your gym-related business. There have to be better places to have a phone call or read a book … maybe your house?

The majority of gym-goers are polite, courteous folks who would never eat their dinner in the locker room or leave their dirty towels in the shower. There are always the outliers, though, who forget that the locker room isn’t their personal dressing chamber; it’s a space shared with dozens of strangers. When you hit the gym for a workout, don’t be the jerk that annoys everyone. Be nice, be courteous, and above all, please don’t sit your bare butt on the benches.

Updated January 26, 2011

Allison Ford

Allison is a writer and editor who specializes in beauty, style, entertainment, and pop culture. She was part of the editorial team at DivineCaroline (now More.com) for more than three years. She loves makeup, sparkly accessories, giraffes, brunch, Matt Damon, New York City, and ice cream.

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