Prevalence of fitness faux pas putting adults off exercise


UK adults are being prevented from getting fitter and healthier due to a lack of confidence and understanding about how to behave in a gym or exercise environment according to new figures released today by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity. The new research on Fitness Etiquette reveals that almost three quarters of UK adults (74%) have personally experienced or witnessed bad fitness etiquette – such as exercisers leaving equipment out, poor hygiene when exercising in the gym or pool or whilst using the changing rooms and generally ignoring the rules. A similar number (72%) want gyms to take action to improve behaviour. Worryingly, almost a quarter (22%) said they were put off going to the gym, swimming pool or exercise classes due to something easily avoidable, like excessive nudity in changing rooms.

The research findings based on a survey of 2,000 UK adults who use exercise facilities, at least occasionally, also show that exercisers act like stereotypical Brits when they encounter bad etiquette while working out – despite it turning us off exercising, we tend to grin and bear it. Fitness etiquette violations – such as not cleaning fitness equipment after use and treating the facilities like a hotel – annoy 83%, but more than three quarters (76%) lack the confidence to tackle them. One third (33%) said they were too embarrassed to confront offenders or report negative behaviour to a staff member, or that it wasn’t their place, while almost a quarter (23%) took no action because they didn’t think it would make any difference.

The biggest annoyances highlighted were: unnecessary or excessive nudity in the changing rooms (cited by 41%); people hogging machines and swimming lanes (32%); personal space being invaded by other exercisers (27%), and having to move to a different part of the gym or class due to the overwhelming body odour of another exerciser (22%).

In response to the findings, Nuffield Health has worked with health and fitness experts from across its different areas of expertise to compile a free Guide to Fitness Etiquette to support all exercisers in achieving their fitness and health improvement goals and protect them against infection. As well as helping people negotiate the gym environment, the guide provides information about the health, safety and hygiene issues associated with bad fitness etiquette.

Commenting on the findings, Sarah Marsh, Professional Head of Fitness and Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, said:

“The success of this summer’s Olympics has inspired people to get fitter and healthier. We don’t want them to be put off doing exercise just because some people are unsure what is and isn’t the right, safe way to behave when exercising. We’ve compiled this guide in response to gym goers’ feedback to help build their confidence in what they’re doing when exercising and to help make exercise environments as supportive and enjoyable as possible. We want to encourage everyone in the UK to take control of their own wellbeing by helping tackle the barriers that can prevent people getting fitter and healthier.

The findings also highlight a lack of understanding about hygiene. More than a third (35%) admitted to exercising without deodorant or socks on while 16% admitted not washing gym clothes in between workouts. Almost half (49%) have used something in the gym that didn’t belong to them, including towels, water bottles or toiletries, and 18% exercise when suffering from colds, including coughing and sneezing.

While sweating is a normal part of exercise, helping the body cool down, when sweat is transferred onto fitness equipment or between exercisers it can lead to the spread of common infections. Nuffield Health fitness and health professionals recommend exercisers take action to reduce the risk of infections spreading, including wiping down equipment after use, washing gym and swimming clothes between every workout, and not sharing items like towels, water bottles and soap.

Sarah Marsh continues:

“We want to encourage people to think about the health implications of their exercise behaviour. Yes, it’s unpleasant when the person before you hasn’t wiped their sweat off the machine they’ve been using, but the health implications of this and the other hygiene issues our study revealed may be more wide ranging than this.”

Helen Smailes, part of Nuffield Health’s Athletes in Residence programme which supports high-performing, inspirational amateur athletes, said:

“I’ve been put off training due to bad fitness etiquette in the past. In a gym I used to go to I repeatedly had to speak to the management about people’s behaviour in the changing rooms. They would hog the benches, even when they weren’t actually in the changing room, spreading all their kit out so there was no space for anyone else. I complained and signs went up but nothing changed. It had a big impact on me – I stopped going to the gym when I knew it would be busiest and in the end I stopped going all together.”

To inform the guide, Nuffield Health also surveyed 60 fitness professionals about their observations and their own experiences when exercising. Two in five (40%) reported having to speak to members about bad etiquette at least once a week. Gym staff’s biggest gripes were: people treating the gym like a hotel or their own home (cited by 59%); having to move to a different part of the gym due to someone else’s body odour (49%) and having their personal space invaded (36%).