When it comes to going to the gym, we typically encourage doing whatever feels right for your body. But when it comes to the basic dos and don'ts -- can you go naked in the sauna? should you wear flip flops in the shower -- there are a few bad habits, pet peeves and just plain improper practices that we'd like to see go the way of the dodo.
We asked Richie Frieman, the Modern Manners Guy for Quick and Dirty Tips and Jeff Halevy, CEO and founder of NYC-based Halevy Life, a private and semi-private personal training gym and HuffPost blogger, to walk us through what not to do in the locker room -- those actions that, as Halevy puts it, "break the locker room social contract."
Here are the rules we think we can all agree on. Did we miss anything? Tell us in the comments!
Let's be honest: A locker room is essentially a glorified public bathroom. It's got everything you've got at home, with the added luxury of using the sinks and mirrors and showers in public. You don't dilly dally in the loo, so why do it in the locker room? "I get it, you just worked hard, and you're tired," says Halevy, "but can't that be done somewhere else in the gym? When it's time to get ready, that's when you head to the locker room," he says.
If you're getting ready for work or a night out, Frieman says, of course you'll take a little extra time primping, but otherwise, he says his policy is "get dressed and get the heck out of there like the place is on fire." Having spent his fair share of time in various locker rooms as a professional wrestler for eight years, he says he's still surprised when people settle in on the benches like it's their living room couch. "People act like their mini space is their condo," he says. "You don't own it!" There's no need to rush, he stresses, just no need to delay, either.
The locker room is not the place to take a 20-minute shower, complete with full-body exfoliation and leg shaving.
And please close the curtain, Halevy says. It doesn't happen frequently, he says, but he'll every once in a while catch someone showering with the curtain half-open, he says. "Your shower should not be a show to everybody else."
"It's okay to be friendly, but anything more than a simple exchange of pleasantries is, in my opinion, excessive," says Halevy. "We're uncomfortable in that setting, not because we're inhibited by our bodies but you feel vulnerable." You may have the best intentions in striking a friendly conversation, but it's likely to make others feel uncomfortable, especially if one or both of you isn't fully dressed, he says.
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The locker room, like an elevator or a bus or train, is not your personal conference room, says Halevy, so don't plan to hold a 30-minute phone call while you're in there. If you receive an important phone call, ask the person if you can call them back, and step out of the locker room to a more appropriate setting.
Also, turn your phone to vibrate or off completely when you leave it in your locker during your workout. Just like in the office, no one wants to hear your never-ending ringtone.
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Covering your feet in the locker room in general and particularly in the shower is more of a hygiene issue than a matter of manners, but health risks aside, it's still the polite thing to do, says Frieman. "You may be the cleanest, nicest person in the world, but you might cut your foot," he says. "You never know what you're bringing into the facility. Let people understand that you're doing your part."
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Before you leave the shower area, give yourself a once over with that towel. Not only will you avoid leaving slippery and dangerous puddles in your wake, but you'll also ensure that you don't drip on any fellow gym-goers or their belongings, says Frieman.
Plus, you spare them the in-your-face-ness of whole-body toweling, he says. "It's very close quarters to have someone hoist their leg up and dry themselves," he says.
"You're there to get changed, but you're not there to put on a show," says Halevy, so please curb the excessive nudity. It's great if you feel comfortable enough in your own skin to be naked in the locker room, but it's not the place the celebrate your body. You don't have to struggle to keep every inch covered by that tiny towel, but put at least underwear on before moving around to dry your hair, shave or pack up your bag.
"We're all adults here," says Frieman, so bottom line is no one is going to throw you out of a locker room for baring a little skin, but when everyone else is trying to get out of there as soon as possible, there's no need to "put your body in somebody else's face," he says.
Many gym goers seem to act as if a different set of rules apply to the sauna, but nudity is uncomfortable to many here, too. Plus, Frieman points out, you're not going to get a better sweat, and moisture doesn't easily wipe off of the wooden benches. Locker rooms with saunas provide towels -- for a reason, he says.
And while benches placed in other areas of the locker room may not be made of wood, similar hygiene concerns apply, so please don't sit until you have pants on or at least a towel around your waist, and we hope we don't have to explain why.
If you're the type of person who likes to top off your look with a scent, do so with respect to the people sharing the locker room with you. Some people may be allergic, others may just have a very sensitive nose, says Frieman. Don't spray it all over your body, and instead cup the spray into your hand and apply to your skin, he says.
Hairspray may be a little more unavaodable, but again, go easy, and if you can, switch to gel or mousse in the locker room.
"It's basic courtesy," says Halevy. "Sometimes people just feel a little too comfortable and feel entitled to throw stuff on the floor. If you're done with a towel, throw it in the towel bin. Have respect for the space and respect for others."
The same goes with makeup on the counter, hair in the sink if you shave, wet footprints and even hair in the drain, says Frieman, lest you create a "domino effect of disgustingness." Once one person leaves hair in the drain, the next person certainly isn't going to clean out their own and the hair of the person before them. Yes, there are cleaning crews, he concedes, but it's proper to "do your part to not make the place even messier than it is," he says.
If a shower stall, sink or other area is particularly dirty, it's also your duty to alert the staff when something is in need of extra attention, he says.
Sure, it makes sense for security purposes, especially if you're leaving a phone or jewelry behind when you hit the shower, but locks also help to designate space in a crowded locker room. "Inevitably, you put your stuff down and someone will come up behind you say, 'Oh, I was there,'" says Frieman.
Opening an unlocked locker thinking that it's available when it is in fact in use can also feel uncomfortable, he says, like you are invading someone's space. Save everyone the awkwardness and confusion by using a lock -- many gyms have them for sale at the front desk if you don't have one.
Whether it's your boss, your neighbor, your doctor -- those unexpected run-ins at the gym can be awkward, especially if unhygienic habits are revealed or there is little to no clothing involved. Your best plan of action? "Don't talk to them until they're clothed," says Halevy, who says he has had someone say hello in a compromising locker room scenario. His reaction at the time? "It's great to see you... but not right now," he says. "You never want to make somebody feel that. It takes 10 seconds to put your pants on. Then when you hit that comfort zone, you can talk," he says.