Modern Etiquette: Minding your manners at the gym

SEATTLE Mon Jan 21, 2013 2:32pm EST

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Have you decided, as a New Year's resolution, to kiss your couch goodbye and get to the gym? Please accept my applause, especially if you follow through and remain resolved.

Some people seem to think they can leave their good manners and common sense outside when they enter places where people exercise. They get grim at the gym and become so focused on what they are doing that they lose all consideration for others.

Maybe it's all those mirrors.

If anything, the opposite attitude is required. Courtesy and consideration are required to minimize distractions and to promote safety.

Here are my Ten Guidelines for Gym-goers

1. Dress for success. The key words are clean and functional. Scant, sexy dressing is inappropriate because it is distracting and embarrassing. Avoid anything that drapes or dangles. Wearing jewelry while working out is downright stupid. Don't walk around in bare feet or with flimsy footwear, either - you could walk into a metal plate or barbell and break a toe.

2. Bag your gym bag. Lock your gear in the dressing room. Otherwise, somebody could trip over it, get tangled in the straps, and fall.

3. Don't be a drinking problem. Keep your water in an enclosed, unbreakable container. Don't even think about bringing food into class.

4. Keep it quiet. Exercise your jaws outside of class, not by talking during class. Loud grunts and moans are also unnecessary, as well as theatrical, disgusting, and distracting.

5. Rest those smartphones. They should be on silent mode, and if you need to check incoming info, move out of others' way before you do.

6. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Marinated gym clothes (the kind you leave in the trunk of your car or your locker and then wear again) and grime are guaranteed to help you lose friends and transform your group activity into a solitary performance.

7. Keep your cool. So what if you always work out in the corner but someone beats you to it this time? Group classes operate on a democratic system. Let off your steam in the workout; not by lobbing nasty salvoes at the "offender."

8. Forget flying solo. By definition, classes are group activities. So forget about doing your own routine; instead, do your best to keep up with the class. Your instructor deserves the benefit of the doubt.

9. Don't crowd. Consider others' exercise space and don't crowd them.

10. Towel off. And not just yourself. Gym equipment should be wiped down, too. (Ever notice how most people who take the time to wipe off their yoga mats are the ones who own theirs? Just asking…)

If many of your colleagues, perhaps even your boss, are members of the same health club that you frequent, you can run into some awkward situations.

Discomfort about baring some of our less-flattering features is simply a matter of self-consciousness. No one expects you to look perfect. That's why you're at the gym in the first place - to get in shape.

The best advice is to focus on yourself and the workout. Then you won't be obsessing about anybody else.

You may feel perfectly comfortable in your t-shirts and shorts in the cardio and weight rooms, but find it more than a bit embarrassing to meet your same-sex colleagues in the altogether in the locker room, particularly in the shower, steam room, or sauna. What do you say or do?

Self-consciousness is a trait most everyone but exhibitionists share to some degree. Trying to avoid your colleagues by timing your entrance or exit, or, worse, by not showering at all, just won't work over the long haul.

There isn't a person alive who is totally happy with their body and embarrassment goes two ways. It just might be that your colleagues got over theirs a while back - perhaps before Zumba classes were all the rage.

There are ways of being modest without being prudish, by using a towel as a cover-up and you can simply be too polite to notice.

Look directly into your colleagues' eyes and nowhere else while speaking to them, and try to go about your business matter-of-factly.

Now for my sermon on the subject: Regular, strenuous exercise is essential to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It's also a great way to relieve the tension of the job.

It gets our thoughts reorganized by taking our focus from the work project and putting it instead on the rhythm of a pumping heart.

I practice what I preach. As a lifelong yet lackluster athlete, fitness instructor and Zumba teacher I urge you to keep on moving, dancing and have a happy New Year!

(Mary M. Mitchell has written several books on the subject of etiquette, including "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette" and "Class Acts". Her latest book is "Woofs to the Wise". She is also the founder of executive training consultancy The Mitchell Organization with the website www.themitchellorganization.com. The opinions expressed are her own.)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)