Gym Shower and Locker Room Etiquette Guide

You know how it goes. You’re hot and sweaty from a class and the only thing better than that rush of endorphins flooding your system is a nice cool shower to wash off the terrible smell you also acquired. But (dun, dun, dun!) you left class right as everyone else did and there’s a line five people deep waiting for a soak. Fearing you’ll miss the season finale of This Is Us (or whatever other addicting show is on that night), you rush home feeling salty and wonder how in the world you can develop ninja-fast speed to get a rinse in before everyone else. Can you save a shower ahead of time? Or leave class early?

Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide, shares the do’s and don’ts of the locker room shower situation. The number one thing to remember? Take a note from Aretha Franklin and have a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Whether it comes to modesty, discretion or personal boundaries, remember that gym space is shared space. So, no matter how comfortable you are lounging in the nude, Schweitzer encourages not to be “that” person and “create that inevitable awkward gym moment we all dread!” Here are seven other questions you might be too afraid to ask that Schweitzer debunked.

How can I get in and out in a timely manner?

Some facilities offer private shower stalls, and whether that’s the case, you’ll want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Don’t think of the gym shower as your complete scrub down that you’d take at home but as a quick rinse to take off the layer of sweat that accumulated during class. For an efficient in-and-out while still maintaining some modesty, Schweitzer suggests this routine: Go to the shower stall with your workout clothes on. Close the door. Undress behind the door. Shower. Dry off. Wear a robe or towel back to the dressing area. Get dressed under the robe.

If your gym provides public showers, discretion, modesty and respect are needed, she says. If possible, choose the showerhead or bay that is furthest away and not next to another person who’s showering. “Remember this is not your home, so leave your personal shaving and grooming for later,” Schweitzer says.

Is it OK to save a spot?

Whether you need to rush out of class to get to work or meet friends for dinner, waiting for a shower can put a real strain on time. However, in the communal gym shower environment, Schweitzer says there’s no such thing as saving a spot. “Although many fitness buffs may attempt this ploy to reserve a shower when the gym rush arrives, if you discover a shower stall with a towel hanging on the bar, just skip it and go on,” she says. The towel is often a sign of someone trying to save a shower stall for later. While that’s completely rude, removing it and using that shower may instigate some tension, so it’s best to move on and discreetly bring the incident to the attention of the gym’s management. Then, keep in mind for the future not to be that annoying shower user.

Can I leave class early to shower?

We’ll give it to you straight: No. This is inappropriate when done on a regular basis.

What if I talk to the instructor first?

Leaving early once in a while is fine if you arrive early and ask the instructor, but keep in mind that the class is scheduled for a specific length of time for fitness and cardio reasons. “If you can’t commit to the timeframe, it’s best to be considerate and find an alternative that fits your schedule,” Schweitzer says. While some participants may think that the class cool down time isn’t important, think again. Those last couple of minutes spent deep breathing and stretching helps your body recover properly.

This girl is taking forever. How can I (politely) ask her to hurry up?                                               

“Avoid taking it upon yourself to ask someone to hurry up or to resolve disputes in the gym,” advises Schweitzer. Instead, step out of sight and discreetly take your concerns and comments to management. In this capacity, it’s the gym manager’s responsibility to train the staff to maintain gym etiquette and this stretches to the locker room as well.

So, how long can I spend in there?

This rule often varies gym to gym, but it’s best to try to get in and out within 5-10 minutes. “The purpose of the post-workout shower is to refresh,” Schweizer reminds us. Some gyms may encourage longer or shorter shower timeframes, depending on membership and how many shower stalls are accessible to gym-goers. But if you’re hitting the gym at peak times, it’s common courtesy to keep it as short as possible so everyone can shower in time for their next gig. Besides, how long do you really want to be in a communal shower?

Oh, and another thing that’ll cut down your time (and save you from some major side-eye): personal grooming. Save it all for your at-home showering needs. Shaving, nose-trimming, nail-clipping, teeth brushing and flossing in the gym shower is just plain gross and clogs the drain. Don’t do it.

What else should I know?

Gym showers are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. What’s more, perspiration and minor wounds can release infection or disease into this damp environment. Yuck! “Bring your own personal shower gel or liquid soap instead of using someone else’s,” says Schweitzer. That goes for footwear, too. If you’re planning to rinse off after class, pack flip flops to prevent potential foot problems like verrucas, warts and athlete’s foot. Because no matter how quick your shower is, no one has time for that nastiness.

How to shower at the gym

If you know you have a commitment right after class and know you won’t enough time to rinse off, consider scheduling yourself a less-intense class (or at least, less sweaty). Think Pilates or barre, not bootcamp, and save your extra-tough workouts for the days when you can squeeze in a shower.

Hair

Whether your hair is tied back or held in a headband during your workout, chances are your roots will end up a little damp by the end of class. Why? Because we release a lot of heat from the top of our heads, the skin there is particularly good at secreting sweat to cool us off. Sweating actually helps release toxins out through the scalp, which in turn helps the follicles produce a more conditioning sebum, or the oily substance our cells make to keep hair healthy and protected. This means hair may grow faster and more healthfully. In the short-term, this sebum will make hair easier to style (think about what your hair is like a few days after a wash).

Our advice? Use a dry shampoo on your roots if they’re feeling extra sticky, but don’t feel you need to take a whole shower to cleanse hair, especially if you plan on styling it before your next engagement.

Skin

While sweat won’t directly cause a breakout, it can trap dirt, oil and makeup in your pores, leading to less breathable, more breakout-prone skin. There is also a risk that your workout has caused micro-abrasions in the skin, where bacteria may become trapped. A quick shower after class can help cleanse any tiny cuts. For your skin’s sake, even a quick rinse after class is preferable to skipping it. In a pinch, use a makeup remover towelette or a damp washcloth to touch up, and save the big scrub for when you get home.

Feet

Warm, damp environments like your gym socks are prime breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Though Athlete’s Foot isn’t super common — and definitely not guaranteed if you skip one shower — you can decrease your risk of contracting it and similar toenail funguses by changing your shoes or socks after class. Switch to flip-flops or thoroughly rinse and dry feet before changing into fresh socks. No time? No second pair of socks? No worries. Switch them out when you have a chance.

Underarms

Like sweaty shoes, moist, dark, warm underarms are a great place for bacteria to flourish. While the obvious outcome of not showering might be a more pronounced aroma to the people around you, there’s also clogged pores, bacterial build-up and rashes caused by the friction of your arms against your body (definitely not fun during tank top season). If you can’t take a full shower, use your gym towel or a washcloth to wipe down and freshen up with aluminum-free antiperspirant.

Gym specific shower knowledge

Curious about which gyms have showers and other amenities? We’ve got the inside scoop since we partner with a variety of gyms across the globe.

Does Planet Fitness have showers?

Planet fitness has showers in their locker rooms. The showers are free to use as part of your membership, but other amenities such as the tanning bed and hydromassage are only allowed to be used if you have the black card membership.

Does Snap Fitness have showers?

Snap Fitness does have private showers in their locker rooms. Other Snap Fitness amenities include private bathrooms, MyZone monitoring and 24-hour access.

Does LA Fitness have showers?

LA Fitness does have showers. LA Fitness doesn’t always provide towels so please check with your local club. Other LA Fitness amenities include spa and sauna treatments and pools.

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.