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The hardest part about keeping fit? The gym etiquette. But our fitness Satnav will guide you through the doors, into the changing rooms, and out the other side (all without revealing your status as a gym virgin).


January is that time of the year when everyone vows to swap carbs for a permanent feeling of hunger and taking the lift for slogging it up the staircase because this will finally be the summer you get in shape, goddammit. That spare tyre will turn into a six pack. All those jiggly bits on your thighs and biceps will firm up. Come swimsuit season, you’ll unveil the new—and improved!—you. And there’s only one place that can facilitate this transformation: The Gym.

5 things to bring to the gym

  1. A combination lock. No one carries a gym bag past the changing room door. By the time you arrive at your machine, you should be unencumbered, so you’ll want to leave your belongings in a locker (and they never lock).
  2. Water. For recent gym converts, staying hydrated is especially important. It’s impossible to look like you know what you’re doing when you’re fainting.
  3. Headphones. Plenty of gyms have TVs attached to the treadmills and other cardio machines, but you’ll need your own headphones in order to hear anything or if you want to avoid sharing someone else’s earwax.
  4. Flip flops. If you plan on showering at the gym, footwear is a must. Ever heard of athlete’s foot?
  5. Clothes. If you are going to the gym before work, check, then double check, then triple check that you have everything you need to get dressed later. It’s a long day at work when you’ve forgotten to pack your underwear.


For the health club newbie, navigating the first visit can be tricky and intimidating. The regulars (who glare at the annual newcomers with more than a hint of condescension) will walk around the gym, entitlement palpable as they stake claim to their favorite treadmill and weight machine. Because the regulars are confident that they’ll still be exercising come March and you will not, they’ll try to scare you away with their confidence and hard bodies. They don’t like this crowded and bustling January version of their health club.


Your first challenge is not to run a mile or bench press your body weight. It’s simply to look like you know what you’re doing. Confidence at the gym can easily be bluffed as long as you know the facility’s layout and how to use the machines. Asking other members for directions to the changing room or how to increase the elliptical incline will call attention to your ignorance far more than any extra holiday fat rolls. If you’re signing up for a new gym, take the tour offered by the staff. Don’t give in to the temptation to figure it out for yourself. You may have to suffer an in-depth explanation of the racquetball court you’ll never use, but it’s worth it. Remember: this is the time to ask questions. These people are paid to answer.


The most convenient time to work out for many is before or after work. If your pre- and post-work hours fall between 6 and 9 am, or 5 and 7 pm, expect crowds. You may have to wait for a machine, and the changing room will be packed. If there is any way to avoid these rush hours, do.


When getting dressed for your gym outing, there are two directions from which to choose: you can deck yourself out like the super-fit athlete you plan to be, or opt for baggy t-shirts and shorts, which will likely have you looking as sluggish as you might feel. While neither route will attract unnecessary attention (you’ll see that the gym hosts any manner of crazy outfits – women in only sports bras, men in ten layers to inspire a sweat detox), we say fake it till you make it. You may not be running 7-minute miles just yet, but dressing in an outfit that looks fit will make you feel fit. If you don’t want to shell out the £100 for Lululemon or Sweaty Betty, plenty of other brands (Nike, Reebok, Champion) make clothes that look the part. Plus, these are the outfits that will make you appear a regular. And don’t you just want to fit in?


Mr. Muscles He looks like the ‘after’ photo for a protein supplement, with body-builder muscles that only he, and the girls of Jersey Shore, find attractive.  Expect his skin to be orange.

Mascara Maggie Never one to show up without her face on, Mascara Maggie appears to be working hard on the stairstepper, but her makeup never smudges. Her clothes say gym—though she’d never be caught dead in lesser clothes than Sweaty Betty—but her face says night club.

Grunty McGrunterson We get it. You’re working hard. Like Maria Sharapova on the tennis court, Grunty makes himself heard with every rep of a bicep curl.

Texter She spends an hour on the treadmill walking at 2.5mph. It’s too hard to navigate the touchscreen once your heart rate goes up.

Birthday Suit He’s of a generation when strutting around the locker room in nothing but… nothing… was the norm. Teach yourself to avert your eyes, and take care never to meet his.


Once you’ve acquired the minimum level of ability, establish yourself in the hard-core crowd by asking for a ‘spot’ during your daily bench presses or other exercises. Spotting involves lending assistance in weight or resistance training and spotters are there primarily to ensure safety. Common etiquette is always to offer to spot when asked. You may be maxing out with one uber-heavy rep, or going a little lighter and shooting for 10 reps (even if you only get seven or eight). Don’t ask for a spot and then try for 50, or even 25, reps at a lighter weight—everyone hates that guy. When asked to be a spotter, know that your job is to help your partner complete an exercise. Don’t be over-eager and grab the weights out of his hand, but if he can’t finish his range of motion, give a little support. Just remember: Don’t spot someone lifting a load too heavy for you. If you can’t lift the weight yourself, you’re asking for trouble.

DO SAY  ‘I’m shooting to beat my own personal best today.’

DON’T SAY  ‘You know, you’re doing that exercise all wrong. Let me show you…’

Happy Bluffing!

Rachel Bertsche