Friendly reminder: Six ways to be a polite group fitness participant

Group fitness talk!

Lately, I’ve been attending a lot more group fitness classes than I’ve been teaching, and I’ve been noticing many things worth sharing. When I’m teaching a group fitness class, I like to think that I’m VERY aware of all the things taking place in the room. But there are definitely a few things that I miss, particularly because people seem to be incredibly aware of me when I’m the instructor, and they try to exhibit their best behavior around me. But when I’m just a participant blending in — well, I get to see it all.

If you regularly go to the gym or to a particular studio, you may start to get so comfortable with your surroundings that, at times, you forget common courtesies. So I figured I’d throw this public service announcement out there for everyone who needs a little reminder. Please enjoy. And beware, because this is going to turn into a bit of a rant. πŸ™‚ 

Six ways to be a polite group fitness participant

Six ways to be a polite group fitness participant by A Lady Goes West

1. Please don’t talk when the instructor is talking.

Just don’t. I love to see friends come together to group fitness classes, and I also like to see the community that is built by a group of regulars who are used to sweating together — it’s one of the big benefits of group fitness and helps people stay committed. That’s why it’s awesome to show up early, hang out, stay after class and talk to people as much as you can during appropriate times. But please don’t do that talking while the instructor is doing the class introduction or between songs when the instructor is trying to explain what is coming next. (Unless, of course, you are in a freestyle type of class with circuit rotations and asked to work with a partner, but you’ll clearly know if that’s the case.)

And unless you are having a major emergency or need help from your neighbor, most definitely do not talk during the workout. It’s rude. It disrespects the instructor. And it makes it so people around you can’t hear the valuable information the instructor is sharing. Quiet down, people. Time and place. (By the way, as a participant, I also noticed that the people doing the talking when the instructor is explaining something often have awful form and are constantly doing things wrong. Just saying.)

2. Be aware of your space. Be aware of other peoples’ spaces as well.

Body awareness is a tough thing, and I would never hate on someone for having trouble getting their body to do what they want. But I will take issue with people who have no regard for where they stand, walk and position themselves in relation to other people in a group fitness room. If someone puts his/her bench down preparing to take a step class, don’t go put your bench down just six inches away from them, unless it’s clear that is the standard arrangement for a tight-fitting room.

Also, it’s best NOT to bring your backpack or gym bag into the group fitness room. Leave it in the locker, because otherwise, the sides of the room get too full, or it’s a tripping emergency waiting to happen in the middle of the room. (I’m totally guilty of this one sometimes!) Also, when you are moving around the room in a cardio-type class, stay in your lane. Don’t charge up into someone else’s zone and mess up their workout. 

3. Watch where you are going when collecting or returning equipment.

Like seriously, when I was taking a BODYPUMP class earlier this week, I was holding a set of four risers I had just picked up from a bin and a woman (who was staring at the ground) walked directly into the risers in my hands. She then looked at me as though I had hit her with the risers. I had not moved, but still, because of the shock on her face I said “sorry,” which I wasn’t. The risers had not moved. It was 100 percent her fault because she had been ambling along watching her feet instead of watching the crowds of people trying to pick out all the things they needed from an equipment room in a small space. This was perhaps the fifth time that I had seen this in the past week, and I was shocked. Why are people not watching where they are walking? Why do people not have any self-awareness? Why do people think they are the only ones in the room?

Be a pal. Help other people grab their things. Take your turn when there is a line to grab an ab mat. Be polite as you would be anywhere else. We’re all friends here at the gym working toward a goal, so no need add to an element of competition when it comes to who can get set up the fastest. There’s no winner there. Then of course, at the end of class, put all of your own equipment away exactly where you found it. Be neat. 

4. Don’t answer your phone or send texts during class.

I get it, that perhaps you are waiting for a response from a family member on an important question before starting a group fitness class. But I also know that if it’s THAT important, maybe you should not go into the class. It’s just plain rude to stop during a workout, pick up your phone and say hello or start typing while other people are trying to stay engaged in the class at hand. I’m baffled by this. I saw a woman answer a call in the center of the group fitness room directly in front of an instructor, say a few words, then hang up the call and send some texts, all while the music was still playing.

This is just another example of why it’s so terrible that we are all so addicted to being connected. Can’t you even have that ONE HOUR to yourself to get your workout done? Can’t it wait?

5. Realize that the cool-down is still part of the workout. Respect it.

This is something I’ve noticed in my own classes, as well as when I’m taking a class. People just seem to discount the cool-down. However, stretching and bringing the heart-rate back down to normal is super important. If you have to rush out, then do so quietly and discreetly. Don’t think that just because the hard work is over, you don’t have to keep decorum in the group fitness room. I’ve seen people talk, get on their phone, stand up in the middle of the room and totally act like the class is over, while the instructor is still trying to give helpful information to participants and finish teaching the final minutes of the cool-down.

If you are not planning to stay for cool-down, try to quickly get out of the way right before it starts, if possible. And if you are in a yoga class and not planning to stay through the final meditation, you should absolutely pack up and head out before the instructor leads the class into savasana. Disrupting your classmates during savasana is a major offense.

6. Please choose your modifications wisely.

Oftentimes, the instructor will give participants the chance to choose a low or high option for some more difficult moves. And I’m ALL FOR people knowing their limitations and doing the move that is the best choice for them. Also, if you have a particular injury and need to sit out a move, that’s fine. Sit down in your spot, stay out of the way or choose to do a slight modification that you know works for you. However, this does not mean that participants should elect to do large jumping jacks in place during a strength class when the instructor has everyone else doing bicep curls. If you need to get your cardio in, do it before or after class. I seriously cannot believe how some people think it’s okay to do their entirely OWN workout in class.

Mind your injuries and do what’s right for you — but please keep it line with the essence of the class. If you are in need of 400 push-ups, then do those on your own. Don’t go into a Pilates class and do your own thing in the middle of the room, only joining in when you want. You know, there’s an instructor, a program and music for a reason. If you are doing something crazy, it may confuse the beginners or distract people from the correct move at hand.

Moral of the story: Be polite. At the gym and everywhere.

I know that many people come to the gym and forget a lot of the common courtesies that they would use at their office or with friends, and assume no one notices them being rude. They think because it’s a casual place where people work out, there’s no need to mind your behavior. But there is a big need to mind your behavior. The gym should be a safe place, where people support each other, are nice to each other and everyone feels comfortable going hard in the workout zone. If you take just an extra minute to think about what you’re doing when you’re in the gym or a group fitness studio, it could make things easier for those around you. End rant. πŸ™‚

And if you aren’t totally turned off, follow me on Instagram for more. Love you guys! Mean it!

Other posts you may like …

P.S. If you LOVE group fitness but don’t always have time to go to a class, I highly recommend trying out Les Mills+ streaming workout service. There are more than 1,000 workouts you can do at home or at the gym, and you can try it for FREE for 30 days using my special referral link here. Have fun!

Questions of the day for you …

What’s something that you notice that people do at the gym or group fitness studio?

Have you ever caught yourself doing any of these things?

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  1. YES YES YES YES I went to a yoga sculpt class (this was ages ago) where 3 people left early. You have at least 3 minutes. Also, when you have to put up weights, you are disturbing people’s savasana!
    Also… if you sweat, bring a towel πŸ˜€

    1. Oh totally — clean up your sweat, people. That’s important too! And with yoga, there is NO excuse for disrupting savasana, I’m with you!

  2. I love this post, and can totally relate to this being a group fitness instructor myself! One thing that comes to my mind that I’d add to the list is if a participant is late, to not run through the front or middle of the room through find a spot and set up. I find it to be less distracting for me and the participants if a late participant comes in the door quietly and uses the perimeter of the room (and not running around the place!) to set up and jump in.

    1. So true! I think I forgot that, because all the classes I go to are so full, if someone is late, they are totally stuck in the back. But you are right, Sara — slide into the slide or back if you are tardy. Right there with you on this one! Or just be on time? πŸ™‚

  3. OMG the whole doing their own workout or skipping the cooldown drives me INSANE! I have actually left classes early during the cool down because for some reason they think they need to just keep going past the hour mark (and my days are literally always planned out), but not if it’s in the time range. I make it a point to start and finish my classes on time and that includes the cool down. I hate when people are putting weights away and others are trying to decide what the heck they should be doing. OH and doing their own workout. Gosh. I have this one who no matter what we are doing, she’s on something else. I understand ab work and how sometimes the moves just aren’t helping and can trigger points- but I give modifications. And then there they are working their arms or something. UGHHHH

    1. Totally, Heather! Keeping the class to the hour is important for the instructor to monitor, definitely. Because most people have places to go. And the doing their own thing GETS me! So glad you agree. πŸ™‚

    2. COUNTERPOINT: As someone with a ton of health problems, I am frequently the one ‘doing my own thing’. There are times when the class focuses on an area where I can’t participate at all, and rather than sitting there for 10 minutes wasting time, I’ll do something else, because at the end of the day, I’m there for myself, not the instructor, and not the other class members. And if you’re asking, “then why go to a group fitness class at all if you can’t do the stuff they’re doing?” Because I don’t know what they’re going to be doing that day, and sometimes the modifications the instructor gives are still outside what I can safely do. People with extensive medical concerns should not be left out or made to feel like a burden. It’s a lot harder to be a person with the health challenges than a person in a fitness class who may be confused by one person in a sea of people who is doing something differently. We don’t make people in wheelchairs stay home because they might confuse people who are trying to use the stairs. No one is that dumb. Honestly!

  4. Ahhhh, I could have written this myself after observing all of this at my gym. So timely because I’m really getting fed up. Seems that people on the other side of the Atlantic have the same lack of manners. Between the guy in my RPM class who sits in the first row and checks his phone in between songs (not a doctor or anything), to the people (yes more than one) who unload their BODYPUMP bars without looking behind them and pretty much stabbing me in the chest, to people who have NO CLUE what personal space is in BODYJAM, I’m fed up! Well, now I just know to steer clear of certain people but damn, makes you crazy. And I sometimes feel bad for the instructor when people keep chitchatting. Ugh. Great job!

    1. Oh my gosh, Diane — it’s bad here too. I’ve basically been injured by people putting away BODYPUMP bars and not looking around. So annoying! hehehe And when I’m the instructor, if people talk, I ask them to stop — then they never do it again. hehehe πŸ™‚ Sorry you are dealing with this too!

  5. Ahhh, had to comment because I love this post. I take a Body Attack class on Tues and Thurs AM with a friend and after class we are typically talking about all of these things. As you know Body Attack involves lots of moving around the room and I swear, the respect for other people’s space (or complete lack of really) is just crazy. I feel like to have to watch every where I go because other people just don’t care. I told my friend I am going to start not moving out of the way and let others collide with me but then it will be like you point out – my fault.

    Anyway, you raise some really valid points and hope so many are reading this post and taking it to heart!!!

    Love your blog and posts!

    1. Hi Holly! First of all, I LOVE to hear that you have a regular BODYATTACK routine with your friends twice a week — that’s perfect. And it can be dangerous in that class when people are not aware of where they are going. As the instructor NOT on a stage, I would have to ASK people to please respect my lane. It was scary! Feel free to share this post with anyone who needs it hehehe! πŸ™‚ And have a GREAT day. Thanks for saying hi too!

  6. All great ones! I HATE when people have no awareness of the space that they are taking up and almost whack me! Also hate when people talk when I’m trying to listen to the instructor… annoying πŸ™

    1. I know! There is an instructor giving cues to help everyone, so I don’t like it when other people think they don’t need the instruction — they usually do. Thanks, Heather! πŸ™‚

  7. I usually set up in the back corner of the room for body pump because I get there early and like that spot BUT it’s right by the plate rack….so when participants decide to rack the plates and unload there bars during the ab track I am terrified that I am going to get stepped on or impaled by a bar. Just wait until the class is actually over! And for the love, realize that I am there trying to get the most out of the WHOLE class. My other pet peeve is when a single person gets to the room early and “reserves” lots of spots for their friends. I get saving a spot for your bestie but saving the entire back third of the room is out of line. I like the back in this particular class because I am fairly new and it often helps to watch the regulars in front of me. I am sure I annoy some of my instructors in some way so I try really hard to bite my tongue when other students annoy me πŸ˜‰

    1. Hi Mikki! It’s very common for someone to have “their spot” in the room, and that’s okay, as long as they are being respectful of others and get there early to claim, so I get that — holding TOO many for friends isn’t a good idea though, because I’ve seen someone save a spot in a full room and have their friend not show, only to leave a set-up unused — that’s the worst. And you should move up a little in the room, because I bet you know more than you think in class. PLUS, getting closer to the instructor, you may notice even more tips and cues just from watching their body! πŸ™‚ THANK YOU for saying hi! And keep up the good work attending classes — no matter where you stand! I will be praying for you to stay safe with those wayward barbells flying by your head hahahh!

  8. So funny so many of these apply to my job teaching elementary PE! But yes I notice a lot of these too when taking group fitness classes. Biggest pet peeve are when people are talking over the instructor, like I would call home and talk to parents if one of my students was doing that constantly, lol.

    1. Hi Patricia! Too funny that this makes you think of teaching your PE classes hahah. But yes, people talking over other people will ALWAYS get under my skin! πŸ™‚ hehehe I wish we could call the parents of gym members too!

  9. So true to many of these! I have recently been attending Burn Bootcamp where we rotate through many different exercises. The instructors are so good at giving modifications up and down (or alternatives for injuries) and it really bothers me when some blatantly chooses to just NOT do something. I understand if you need a water break, but please step to the side. For instance, we were doing walking planks with a ladder ( with the mod down being plank ups or even a basic plank. One women seriously just lays on her belly the entire time not even attempting to do any of the exercises. Also, we run laps around the building on occasion and it bothers me when people stop to walk without moving to the side (same goes for running in races). Please don’t stop in front of me. I am here to workout and I love the supportive environment. Please don’t try to bring everyone else down.

    1. Hi Amanda! I’ve heard good things about Burn Bootcamp but never tried a studio. When running, faster people should always be on the outside, and slower people should move to the inside. I guess that’s not common knowledge? ahaha Anyways, a lot of times the REASON the instructor gives a certain modification move is to make sure it’s working the SAME muscles as the high-option, so that in case the next exercise works other muscles, the combination isn’t contraindicated for people. That’s also why people should stay close to the modification rather than doing their entirely own thing. Thank you for sharing your experience!!

  10. At a gym I visited when I was in Hong Kong, the gym has a strict policy of NO cell phone usage during a group fitness class. The instructors is given the authority to ask any participant to put away their cell phone if they are caught using it while the class is in motion. I thought that is very good and wish this was implemented here in the US. ? Of course, participants is allows to use cell phone if they urgently need to make a call and they can do so by stepping outside the group fitness studio.

    1. I like that policy in Hong Kong — we totally need that here! I think there should me more rules in place in gyms, so maybe people would take things a little more seriously. πŸ™‚ Hope you put your foot down in your classes, Derek!! Thanks for saying hi!

  11. Oh man SO MUCH YES to all of these!!
    I’d have to stop myself from snarking at people BODYPUMP putting equipment away when they’re expressly told IN EVERY CLASS to not freaking do it. Ugh.
    I have brought my phone into class (mainly for Insta pictures) but I’d never dream of answering it during class. What is wrong with people?!

    1. Hey, taking a pic of your BODYPUMP set-up before class is FAR from distracting. Answering a call during class? No good! heheheh! Thanks, Ange!

  12. Woah! It’s been a long time since I don’t do a fitness class. Now that I do solo workouts at the gym, I notice how people can be so disrespectful by not cleaning the equipment that they’ve been using and sweating all over.

    1. Yes, a lot of these can apply to the gym in general. Cleaning up after yourself and waiting your turn is ALWAYS important! Thanks, Nathaly! πŸ™‚

    2. I spend some time on the treadmill before weights. I watch everyone before me go on to next machine and never wipe down. It makes me sick. I have to clean before and after. Not fair, not nice. It takes so much longer than it should. So disrespectful. Some people feel that the rules do no apply to them.

      1. Hi Debbie! I know, some people aren’t as clean as they should be. We need a reminder. OR it would be awesome to go to a gym where there was someone assigned to clean machines up. Some higher-end gyms do that! hehehe!

  13. I hear you on personal space! I was taking a class at my gym the other day and someone decided to set up way too close to me even though there was plenty of other space – like close enough that I couldn’t fit my mat down next to my stepper because hers was in the way. Then she put her coat and bag down in the middle of the open spot behind me so no one could comfortably set up there either without moving her stuff! Sheesh. I just wish more people would have some self-awareness too! πŸ™‚

    1. Oh no, Traci! That sounds like a major space invasion. πŸ™‚ hehehe I guess all we can do is be good examples and hope others follow our lead.

  14. These are all great! I take several group fitness classes during the week & have to admit that I’ve been one of those will start putting Body Pump weights away before the end of class. My gym is a little weird & they like they schedule classes right after each other. If we all waited until the end of the cool down to put our bars/weights/benches away, we would be right in the middle of the next class! Another thing that drives me crazy are people who have full conversations during the middle of our workout. It’s so distracting when I’m trying to count & remember what I’m supposed to be doing, haha.

    1. Hi Megan! It is tough to get set up and cleaned up when the class has one before it and after it, so I get that. As long as you can discreetly put things away during breaks without disturbing anyone, that’s okay. And I wish people would hold off on their conversations until after class! I feel ya!

  15. These are so true! People act ridiculous at the gym. I’ve been swimming a lot lately and I’ve seen the craziest stuff in the pool and the locker room afterwards. I feel like people think they’re alone in the pool even though I’m clearly in the same lane as they are. Like, it’s not a giant personal bathtub…

    1. Hahhaha oh no, Kristen! I never go into the pool, so I don’t have any experience there – but I’m sure it can be awkward when others aren’t staying in their zone.

    1. Hi Megan! They sure have. Put the phones away, people! πŸ™‚ Thank you for reading! I hope you don’t see too much of this in your classes.

  16. I got the phone thing a few times when I was training to be a Grit instructor. For some reason a member thought it was fine to constantly text in between sets or when I was giving technique cues. I thought I saw someone texting during the core track one time too and possibly in the middle of a working track.

    I see it in Attack too. For some reason the other participants feel the need to check their phones every few tracks. In saying that, I’m probably guilty of it too but I’m trying to be conscious of it. I try to put my phone away when I’m in class or just leave it at home πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Kristian! Oh geez — that’s crazy that people can’t take more time to focus on the workout. I do NOT check my phone and hate to see people do that. Wow. And during GRIT, you should use the break to recover, not stress yourself with whatever is on your phone hahah. Thanks for sharing!!

  17. Thanks so much for writing this blog post! I get so annoyed when people do these things, argh! I will admit that before I became an instructor I was guilty of many of these offenses, whoops! I used to NEVER stay for the cool down and now it’s my favorite part! πŸ™‚

  18. I know people who definitely need this PSA! It just seems like common sense to me, so why is it so hard for some people to be polite? Great post!

  19. You should also add to give the instructor some grace too! I’ve seen people complain about an instructor when they mis-qued or something, but y’all are people too. You guys have to teach classes and you’re doing the workout as well, if it’s a Les Mills class. It’s hard enough to TALK when lifting weights in BodyPump, let alone get 100% of ques right 100% of the time (especially when the mic seems to go in and out like it always does).

    One instructor at my gym in BodyFlow started saying before the relaxation, that if anyone needed to leave to leave before it ever starts so you don’t disturb people.

    1. Hi Amy! Yes, I know — members want us to be perfect instructors, but that doesn’t happen all the time. Luckily, the people in my classes are pretty kind. And YES, your BODYFLOW instructor was right in asking people to leave if they couldn’t stay the whole time. It’s a cardinal sin to disrupt final meditation ehheh! LOVE that you’re a Les Mills fan, of course! Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  20. I agree that where someone stands effects so much. In high school, I had that issue and now that I am looking for a fitness center, I don’t want someone standing a foot away from me. I would like us to both be comfortable while we are working out.

  21. I found your blog post some weeks ago because nearly all that what you are mentioning happened to me in classes, causes by another client who is also an instructor (so I was even more shocked about the behavior). After two months of only observing, I asked her to change her behavior and she totally took it personally and since then is talking bad about me and my studio. Do you have any experience on how to react to people like that? She obviously did not see her disrespectful way, and I was so relieved reading your tips because it is exactly how I think it should be!

    1. Hi Janet! Oh darn, I’m so very sorry to hear this. The group fitness studio should be a fun, motivating and comfortable place, and it’s not good you’re experiencing this. Is there a chance for you to speak to the group fitness manager about the behavior you’ve seen? Could you report it to the front desk? Sometimes group fitness managers need to re-educate membership on policy, politeness and basic rules in the room, and it may not be your job to do so — if one person is violating rules, others may follow suit — and we don’t want that. Also, if you feel that the person in question talking poorly about you, I’d ask to speak to them privately outside of the group fitness studio to see if you can get a better understanding of each other. Once again, hope you can get this resolved. If not, maybe go to a different class?

  22. Thank you Ashley! Well, it is my studio and I am the group fitness trainer so it was the client behaving badly. But you are absolutely right! I need to update about policy, politeness and basic rules. I should more emphasize this. Thank you again for coming back to me. I am still learning so much about the business and I love my job. It’s the first time in years a client reacted like that and I’ll make sure it’s the last one by following your advice.

    1. Thanks for clarifying! I was a little confused as to your role and the other person’s role. I’ll reframe my response then — you are definitely in charge, so you should post the policy and politeness rules, maybe make a little video to share on your studio Facebook page or other and make sure all your instructors are on the same page of what you expect of students and instructors at the studio and in classes. And if the behavior continues, then you should ask the client/instructor to find a new place to work/sweat! It needs to be a fun and safe environment, and if someone changes that, they need to be excused. πŸ™‚

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