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Sweatiquette: Answers to Common Exercise Etiquette Questions

Have you ever wondered about how to handle sticky situations at the gym, in yoga class, or when exercising outdoors? We got expert advice on questions about how to deal with sticky workout situations.

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Prev 1 of 19 Next

Weighty Talk

Q. "My friend gloats about her recent weight loss. How do I shut her up?"

A. She may be boasting because she feels insecure, but it's annoying to hear about it over and over. Steer the conversation in a new direction: Acknowledge her success, then change the subject by asking "How's your family?" or "What's new at work?" suggests Judith Matz, a clinical social worker and coauthor of The Diet Survivor's Handbook. If she circles back to weight talk, be up-front and tell her it's getting tedious, Matz says. Explain that you're glad she's proud of herself but you would rather talk about other things, like the great yoga class you just took.

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Stomach Troubles

Q. "My stomach sometimes gets upset when I work out. How do I avoid stinking up the gym?"

A. "Don't eat a big meal within two to three hours of working out," says Anish Sheth, MD, a gastroenterologist at Yale and coauthor of What's Your Poo Telling You? Exercise, especially a cardio workout, stimulates your GI tract. So eat a low-fat, lower-fiber snack (try an energy bar) about an hour before to fuel up without inducing digestion problems, and hit the bathroom pre-gym. If you still find yourself running to the locker room for relief, stash our fave new find in your gym bag: Poo-Pourri ($9.95 for a two-ounce bottle, poopourri.com). Spray the bowl before you go, and a barrier of essential oils prevents any funky smells from leaving the scene.

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Quick Adjustments

Q. "How do I discreetly pick a wedgie when I work out?"

A. Move to the back of the class or near a wall to put everything back where it belongs. If you get any strange looks, say "Just need to readjust!" says Doris Pooser, coauthor of Always in Style. "To prevent wedgies in the first place, ditch cotton panties and look for those made with nylon and a stretchy fabric, including elastine or spandex," Pooser suggests; try Lululemon Athletica's Smooth Moves Girlshort ($18, lululemon.com) or the Under Armour Women's Active Boy Short ($19.99, underarmour.com).
-- Karla Walsh

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A Chatty Exercise Buddy

Q. "My workout buddy chatters through kickboxing class. How do I get her to shut up without hurting her feelings?"

A. Next time she's gabbing instead of jabbing, speak up. Address the problem in the moment, not an hour later in the locker room, and steer clear of accusatory phrasing ("Can you stop talking so much in class?"). "Say, 'I really get in the zone in here, so I'd rather not talk. Let's catch up over a smoothie after class, when I can focus on what's going on with you,'" suggests yoga instructor Ashley Turner, who is also a body-mind psychotherapist in Santa Monica, California. A good friend will respect your workout wishes.

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Flirty Trainers

Q. "My trainer's a flirt. How do I tell him to cool it?"

A. You pay him to sculpt muscles, not ogle them. Use our plan to see if you can train him to act like a pro.

Step 1: Drop a hint. "What you perceive as flirting may be an attempt to put you at ease," says Johanna Subotovsky, a trainer at Equinox Fitness Clubs in New York City. Say, "I'd get more out of our sessions if we talked less and exercised more."
Step 2: Be straightforward. "If he still comes on to you, tell him, 'I like your training and I see results, but you're making me uncomfortable.'"
Step 3: Make a switch. He's not getting the message? There's no hope for this overly personal trainer. Talk to a gym manager and request a new one.

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Strategic Padding

Q. "It's so cold in my gym that goose bumps aren't the only things popping out. How can I turn off the 'headlights'?"

A. Nip this problem in the bud with the right sports bra. Seek out one with cups that are slightly padded or made of spacer fabric, a special kind of knit that has two layers with a pocket of cushioning between them. One brand that's superior in high-beam prevention is Moving Comfort (movingcomfort.com). Or get more coverage from your current bra with Boob-eez, superthin silicone disks that stick to your skin and stay put through a sweaty workout. An extra perk: They're hand washable, so you can reuse them ($12 to $18, boob-eez.com).

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Cell Phones at the Gym

Q. "A woman at my gym yaks on her phone about last night's date, her sex life, etc., on the stationary bike. How do I tell her it's TMI?"

A. We hear you loud and clear. Good news: One of the perks of your membership is that you can let someone else do the dirty work. Ask the manager to post NO CELL PHONE signs or speak to the chatterbox, suggests John Boyd, group fitness director and manager at Chelsea Piers Sports Center in New York City. But what if you're in the middle of a sweat session? Put on your sweetest smile and say, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but it's hard to concentrate on my workout. Would you mind talking somewhere else?"

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Sweat Stains

Q. "Help! I'm embarrassed by my crotch sweat marks. What can I do?"

A. Stop the waterworks without dialing down your intensity, says professor of exercise science and FITNESS advisory board member Michele Olson, PhD.

Step 1: Loosen up. Choose looser bottoms (they won't cling to you-know-where) with wick-action fabric. Look for a built-in panty patch to absorb moisture.
Step 2: Powder down. Sprinkle an absorbent, talc-free powder, such as Vagisil Deodorant Powder, into the crotch of your bottoms before you put them on.
Step 3: Assume the position. Snag a cardio machine near a fan, and angle the breeze toward your lower body rather than your face.

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Dating Dilemmas

Q. "How do I ask out my Spinning instructor?"

A. Instead of approaching him right before or after class, unclip, dismount, and catch up with him as he's leaving the gym, says dating guru Amy Spencer, author of Meeting Your Half-Orange. Ask if he can recommend a biking trail. "Then say, 'I've never been; can I join you next time?'" she suggests. "It's a friendly offer that will get you out of the client category." With luck you two will ride off into the sunset, padded butts and all. If not, your invite is innocent enough that you can return to class with your pride intact.

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Awkward Locker Room Encounters

Q. "An acquaintance keeps trying to talk to me when she's naked in the gym locker room. Where should I look?"

A. Make a lot of eye contact, suggests Erich Schuttauf, executive director for the American Association of Nude Recreation. (Nudists do this to stay focused when they're chatting with in-the-buff-buddies.) That way, you won't get distracted by her odd-looking outie or supersize...well, you know. If you just can't bear all that skin, excuse yourself when she comes over by saying, "I'll leave so you can get dressed/take a shower/etc." Hopefully she'll get the hint.

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Locker Room Chit Chat

Q. "My boss goes to my gym. Do I say hi or look the other way when I see her half-dressed in the locker room?"

A. The locker room isn't the place for drawn-out conversations or loitering in your skivvies. "Make eye contact, say 'Hello' and 'Nice to see you' and continue getting dressed," recommends Maryanne Blake, a trainer and instructor at the Sports Club/LA in Boston. "Also have a friendly exit strategy in place. For example, 'I'd love to catch up with you. Maybe we could talk after Spinning?' You'll keep awkward moments to a minimum without seeming rude."

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Runny Noses

Q. "What's the proper way to blow your nose while running?"

A. When you're nose is running faster than you are, a jog can be drippy and irritating. But it doesn't have to be. "When running in a group or crowded public place, I wipe my nose on my sleeve or carry a tissue in my waistband," says New York Road Runners Female Runner of the Decade Gordon Bakoulis. But if you're running solo, it's okay to do the farmer's blow: Turn your head to the side, cup one hand over the side of your nose and use a finger from the other hand to close one nostril. Look downward and blow quickly, quietly, and hard, then switch sides. Don't honk (it will just draw attention!), but use force so you don't need a repeat performance.

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Drinking and Running

Q. "What's the best way to run through a water station during a race?"

A. Speed by the crowded first table and lock eyes with a volunteer at another station. Point to her as you run toward her, take the cup and immediately move back into the middle of the course, says Eve Mills, director of membership and program services for Road Runners Club of America. Keep going while you squeeze the cup closed until there's a small opening. Take a sip or two, fold the top over and chuck the cup into a nearby trash can or onto the side of the course, taking care not to hit other runners.

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Hiking Pit Stops

Q. "What's the proper way to make a pit stop when hiking?"

A. You'll be a whiz with these tips from Tracy Howard, a Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer who camps 250-plus days a year as she leads workshops on minimizing human impact on the environment.

1. Do a spot check. Take 70 steps (200 feet) away from the trail or any body of water. Find a rocky or sandy area free of poison ivy (three separate waxy leaves on one small stem).
2. Clear your shoes. Stand in front of a tree, hold on with both hands and squat back as far as you can.
3. Be prepared. Stash toilet paper in your pocket before you head out. Or you could use leaves. Seriously.
4. Clean up. Stuff used TP in a bag and take it with you, and bury number two in a hole that's six inches deep and four inches wide. But keep in mind that in some busy areas, you have to pack out your poo (eww!).

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Friendly Runners

Q. "Is it rude not to say hi to every runner or walker I pass on my neighborhood route?

A. "During a track workout or race, no one expects you to be talkative. But during your regular morning workout, it's good etiquette to make eye contact, smile, and say hello," says Vince Digneo, founder and head coach of Tattersols, a women's running and racing team based in Stanford, California. If you're out of breath or passing tons of people, a simple smile and friendly nod go along way.

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Wacky Workout Wear

Q. "A guy in my abs class wears short shorts. It's not pretty when he does crunches. What can I do?"

A. "Your best bet is to move across the room," says Jennifer Galardi, fitness instructor at Equinox Fitness Clubs and Crunch in New York City. (BTW, gym-goers take Galardi's classes in bikini tops, hot pants, you name it.) There's not much you or a trainer can do unless the unfortunate eyeful is truly inappropriate. If that's the case, ask a gym manager to speak to the exhibitionist. In the meantime, "Don't let someone else's outfit -- or lack thereof -- distract you," Galardi says. Try to focus on your form, not his.

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Wetsuit Strategies

Q. "What's the trick to taking a wetsuit off without getting stuck?"

A. Because the suits are made partially of rubber, they stay fitted to your body and tend to adhere even more after getting wet. "Unzip and then peel off one side at a time from the shoulder down, being careful not to let the fabric bunch up," recommends Kassia Meador, a pro surfer who designs wetsuits for Roxy. You'll be stripped in a jiff!

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Changing Workout Partners

Q. "I've had the same tennis pal for years, but I need to up my game. How do I tell her?"

A. Maybe she wants more of a challenge as well. Lob the idea of sharing time with a pro in semiprivate lessons where you can each hone your skills, suggests Julie Emmerman, a psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado, who specializes in working with athletes. If she makes a racket, the ball is back in your court. Be honest: explain that you value the time together, but you need to change up your game in order to grow in the sport. Acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation and emphasize that if you stop playing together, you'd still love to hang out with regular coffee or lunch dates.

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