13 Secrets Your Gym Probably Doesn’t Want You to Know

Updated: Sep. 06, 2023

Ever wonder just how germy gyms are, or whether those pricey training packages are really worth it? We've interviewed three fitness trainers and one researcher of gym behavior to pull back the curtain on some of the reported behind-the-scenes practices at many gyms.

When you join a gym, you’re probably inspired and raring to go. But, if the Covid pandemic surfaced some questions or hesitations in you, that’s only natural. Cleanliness practices of many businesses have come under the spotlight—and the place where hundreds of people go specifically to sweat, pant, and shower? Yeah. No wonder you’re thinking more critically about the gym.

We’ve interviewed three fitness instructors and one researcher to pull back the curtain on some of the reported behind-the-scenes practices at many gyms. Where it comes to staying healthy, safe, and wise with your money, you may want to ask a few questions when you show up to renew that membership.

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gymqoppi/Shutterstock1. Some gyms count on you not to show up. Research has suggested that about 50 percent of people who start an exercise program quit within six months. (One reasons gym crowds thin out come summer.)

Here’s a tip to help you stick with it for good: start slowly. Recognize that just by showing up, you’re doing more than you’ve been doing. People who quit typically push themselves too hard at first and get discouraged or realize sticking with the routine is just not sustainable.

2. It’s often cheaper to pay per visit. Economists at the University of California, Berkeley, found that the average gym user who enrolls in a monthly or annual membership pays 70 percent more—about $300 more per year—than those who pay per visit.

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3. There’s a wrong way to use the treadmill. Holding on for balance is OK, but some people support almost all their body weight on their arms. That’s unsafe—and it prevents you from burning as many calories. If you can’t manage to loosen your grip, try slowing down.

4. What’s hot right now? Functional fitness, or doing exercises that help you in everyday life, which is important for older adults hoping to prevent injury. That means fewer exercises like leg extensions, a movement you likely will never do outside the gym, and more multi-joint, full-body exercises (like squats) that strengthen you for real-life activities like lifting heavy boxes.

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5. Don’t drop your kid off at our daycare and leave the premises. It’s just rude, it’s against the rules, and it’s not guaranteed to be safe for your child.


6. Enjoy the free personal-training session when you join. But if your trainer shows you complex exercises and doesn’t write anything down, that might be a red flag. Some gyms operate this way by design, to make exercise seem complicated so you’ll buy training sessions.

7. Patience, people! TV shows may give you the idea that you can lose 25 pounds and transform your body in a few weeks—but unless you’re spending eight hours at the gym every day, that’s just not reality. Stick with it for three months, and you will see a noticeable difference in your physique. (Here are some inspiring secrets from people who have lost 50+ pounds.)

8. Beware the smoothie station. Some smoothies pack as many as 500 calories, which may negate the workout you just did. Save money—and possibly calories—by making smoothies at home.

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9. Want your gym to offer a class at a different time? Get a group of coworkers or friends who are interested, and request it together. That 2 p.m. Zumba class might not be as in-demand as you think.

10. Members can be unbelievably territorial. We once heard a report from a spin teacher who was teaching a class when two people came in late and saw other members on their reserved bikes. They started yelling and pulling the people off. It was like a scene out of a movie.


11. See those bottles of disinfectant spray and paper towels? They’re not there for decoration. Please wipe down your sweaty machine after you use it. One poll found that 74 percent of gym-goers notice other members skipping post-workout wipe downs. (Speaking of germs, do you know how dirty your phone screen is?)

12. Don’t automatically pay the initiation fee. Most of the time, it’s completely negotiable.

13. What one trainer says to look for in a gym: “A friendly front-desk staff, which tells me it’s well managed, and a high-quality rug just inside the front door, which means the gym takes cleanliness seriously.”

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Sources: Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, former gym owner and author of Beat the Gym; Tiffany Richards, former employee at a fitness chain; Charlie Sims, owner of a CrossFit gym in Louisville, Kentucky; Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, CES, president of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association; and economist Stefano DellaVigna, who studied gym users for three years