At the gym: 12 treadmill etiquette tips

What general rules of courtesy come into play, when a runner takes to the treadmill in an indoor setting, such as a gym or fitness center? Certainly, this is an entirely different world that the outdoor track, the scenic trail, the neighborhood jaunt, or the roadside run.

Here are a dozen basic etiquette tips for those using treadmills at the gym.

Many of these may sound like common-sense practices, but it’s amazing how uncommon they may be. Several will apply to the use of all sorts of fitness center equipment as well.

1. Wear appropriate attire. Wet swimsuits, skimpy clothes, pajamas, and yesterday’s stinky gym wear have no place on the gym treadmill. Decency plays a large role in public politeness. Also, participants should choose clean, soft-soled athletic footwear to protect the equipment.

2. Place-holding is a gym no-no. You can’t exactly hang a towel or gym bag over a treadmill handrail and expect to save it, while you dash off to lift some weights, work out on the elliptical, or hit the mat for some pre-run stretches. When you show up to claim a treadmill, you should be ready to run (or walk).

3. Don’t share your sounds. Music is like a universal language to runners, but that doesn’t mean we all like the same stuff. Isn’t that what headphones are for? The same rule goes for treadmill-mounted TVs.

Grunting and groaning (and singing along to your own tunes) are out of place in such crowded quarters as well.

Along similar lines, it’s considered considerate to tread lightly, if possible, when using a gym treadmill. Not only does this practice help to preserve the equipment, it also keeps the clomping and stomping noise down. Occasionally, a machine will grow noisy with repeated use. When this happens, it should be reported to gym staff.

4. Keep your spit, snot, and sweat to yourself. Sure, runners tend to spit and blow snot on the trail and road shoulders, but that’s definitely a no-no at the gym. Got an issue? Take a tissue, and then take it with you when you leave the treadmill. And if the gym does not provide towels, it’s a good idea to bring your own for longer runs, so you can wipe off excessive sweat mid-workout, rather than splashing all around.

5, Run like the wind, but break wind somewhere else. It’s OK to pour on the power, while running on a gym treadmill, but please keep your own natural gases to yourself. Even fitness centers with adequate ventilation cannot keep this problem at bay. That’s what bathrooms are for, folks.

6. Respect others’ workout privacy. It’s easy to succumb to peer pressure, essentially racing the treadmill runners on either side at the gym. Although there’s pretty much an unwritten rule about chatting during equipment workouts, the temptation to glance over and take up the challenge to meet or exceed others’ paces or distances (or both) is strong. Discretion is the key, if one wants to play this game. Constant and obvious monitoring tends to make people uncomfortable during their workouts. More than one treadmill user has tossed a towel over his or her console for precisely this reason.

The same principle applies to privacy of TV viewing or reading material selected by treadmill neighbors.

7. Honor personal space. Whether waiting for access to the equipment or working out adjacent to others, it’s important to keep a proper distance. Sometimes one has to walk right next to a machine while someone is using it, and that’s OK. Hovering is not.

During the least crowded gym hours, the most courteous participants will refrain from choosing treadmills immediately adjacent to others, if possible, unless they know one another. This unwritten buffer rule exercises common courtesy.

8. What if you need to rest mid-run? Plenty of treadmill users adjust their paces frequently during their workouts. Lots of folks even pause, stopping the treadmill for stretching or time-outs. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as users do not go beyond the equipment time limits. It is, however, considered poor form to stand on a treadmill to take phone calls, send text messages, surf the internet, or socialize with a neighbor – especially when others are eager to use the machines.

9. Observe treadmill time limits. If the treadmill max is 30 minutes (or 60 minutes), then you need to end your run at that point. Many gyms pre-set equipment for automatic cool-downs or switch-offs at certain times. Once that happens, participants may re-start or select other machines, if vacancies exist. During peak hours, though, other athletes may be waiting for their turns.

10. Take your trash. No one wants to step up onto a treadmill and find someone else’s water bottle, paper towel, tissue, or chewing gym in the cup holder.

11. Wipe it down when you’re done. Maybe sweat does a body good, but no one wants to share someone else’s. And we all know how body fluids can spread diseases. Most gyms provide paper towels and disinfectant spray. Others offer wet wipes, or at least towels. Considerate exercisers wipe off the handrails, the sidebars, the control console, the TV remote, and every other surface they’ve touched. It’s not necessary to wipe off the treadmill belt, though.

While cleaning up, clued-in athletes also re-set the incline on the treadmill, if it has not automatically returned to zero.

Extra-careful folks also clean off the treadmill console (and handlebars) before they start using the equipment, just in case the previous person overlooked this step.

12. Know and follow the gym rules. Operating hours, guest policies, minimum age requirements, cell phone restrictions, and other instructions count. In some fitness centers, users are expected to reserve machines in advance.

These basic gym etiquette rules may not apply to runners employing treadmills in the privacy of their own homes, unless perhaps they share the equipment with others.

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