How to Get Over Embarrassing Moments at the Gym

Bring up the subject of embarrassing moments at the gym and it's amazing the stories you hear.

The gym can be a prime spot for embarrassing moments: sweaty people flailing around with large, heavy machinery can have amusing, embarrassing—but also sometimes disastrous—consequences.

Whether it's passing gas in yoga class or bonking yourself on the head with a weight, you can bet someone else has done it. This list doesn't cover every situation, but it will give you some good ideas on how to avoid embarrassing moments at the gym.


Passing Gas

Group Yoga Class in Studio

RyanJLane / Getty Images

Picture it: You’re in a deadly quiet yoga class. You’re breathing, you’re downward dogging and—whoops—now you’re farting. Even worse, it’s loud enough to rip the fabric of the space-time continuum.

Farting can happen anywhere but it's a fairly common occurrence at the gym. All that jostling gets your guts stirred up, leading to unexpected and unstoppable gaseous emissions.

How to Deal

  • Pretend it never happened. This is the most popular choice, especially if you just want to finish your workout.
  • Laugh it off. If people do notice, try a quick quip like, "More room out than there is in!" or clever diversion such as, "Is there a duck in here?"
  • Be polite. Apologize with a brief "Excuse me," and move on.

Falling off the Treadmill

Walk or run on any moving surface, such as a treadmill, and you increase your chances for a crash and burn. Factor in iPhones, water bottles, and towels and you add more tasks and objects that interfere with your ability to walk straight.

If you do fall and you're not injured, count yourself lucky and give yourself points for entertaining the other gym-goers. 

How to Avoid It

  • Don’t multi-task. If you want to skip a song on your workout playlist or take a drink, hit the pause button on your walk while you attend to the task.
  • Stop the treadmill. If you need a break, don't jump onto the sides while the belt is still moving—that's how many embarrassing (and potentially dangerous) moments happen.
  • Pay attention. Zoning out a little is fine as long as you remember that you’re on a big machine with a moving belt. Holding your focus will keep you, and others around you, safe.

Gym Machine Confusion

The gym is a mysterious place, full of shiny machines that don't always make sense to the untrained eye. Many gym-goers have approached a new machine and started pushing buttons thinking it would quickly turn on, only to find that it won't start up.

If you've done this, you've probably felt eyes burning into you as you struggled with the odd contraption. Here are some easy ways to avoid embarrassment when you're getting acquainted with a new machine.

How to Avoid It

  • Ask someone. Ask an employee or the person next to you for advice. Most people are happy to help, especially if it will help keep the space safe and functional for everyone.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself. Remember, you weren't born with this knowledge! Adults can be hard on themselves and you might walk into the gym (or anywhere else) thinking you should already know all that there is to know. Everyone has to learn how to use the machines, not only to ensure a good workout but to make sure everyone is safe.
  • Take a chance. Once you have the basics and safety rules down, give a new machine a try! Your technique won't be perfect at first and you might have some hiccups, but taking a chance on something new might help you find a new workout staple.

Wardrobe Malfunction

If you've worked out in the gym for any length of time, there's a good chance you've seen a little more of a fellow gym-goer than you might want to.

Split pants, underwear exposure, shorts falling off—it happens. Trying on your workout clothes before you head out (and checking yourself in the mirror occasionally) goes a long way to preventing these "oops" moments.

How to Avoid It

  • Check yourself. Go through the motions of your workout before you hit the gym in a new outfit to make sure you stay covered.
  • Update your wardrobe. While they might be your favorite, those comfy old sweats are good candidates for falling or ripping. You don't have to spend a fortune on new gym clothes, but functional outfits that fit properly will help avoid wardrobe malfunctions.
  • Smile and run. If you do have a wardrobe malfunction, head for the locker room and change. If you have a discarded sweater or sweatshirt nearby, use it to coverup until you can get home. If you're in a group class, chances are others will be more than willing to help you maintain your dignity by offering to let you borrow something (even a towel).

Tripping, Slipping, or Hurting Yourself

The gym is a prime spot for an injury. Dangling cables, swinging handles, and other metallic items can make it feel like an endless obstacle course. Add sweaty humans on the move and it’s a wonder anyone makes it through a workout safely.

Mishaps like pulled muscles, slipping, or stumbling, are common. While these bumps and bruises happen to everyone, how you handle them can make a big difference to recovering from your embarrassment and physical pain.

How to Deal

  • Don't be shy. If you're hurt, forget about making a fool of yourself. Call out for help, even if it means you have to yell through the entire gym.
  • Limp away with dignity. If you’re injured but can still walk (and drive) safely, just take it easy and head home to rest.
  • Keep going. If your injury is minor but embarrassing, just shrug it off and get back to your routine. Those around you who saw what happened will more than likely be relieved to know that you're not seriously hurt. Once they are assured of your (and their) safety, they'll get back to their workout and forget about your mishap.

Throwing Up

Throwing up at the gym is more common than you think. Even when you know your body’s limits, you may push yourself too hard at times or rush into a workout before your digestion is ready.

If you feel lightheaded or nauseous, lie down and elevate your feet. If you realize that vomiting is imminent and you can't make it to the bathroom in time, a trash can in a quiet corner will do.

How to Avoid It

  • Eat before you hit the gym. Your body needs to be properly fueled for a workout. Exercising when you haven't had any nourishment may cause a drop in blood sugar, which can cause dizziness and nausea.
  • Take time to digest. Allow your body 1 to 2 hours to digest a 200 to 300 calorie meal. You'll need to wait a little longer if your meal or snack had a lot of protein and/or fat. Lighter, carb-rich foods digest faster.
  • Get to know your body. If you're a beginner, ease into an exercise routine and pay attention to how you feel. You'll quickly learn how to time your pre- and post-workout meals and snacks.

Lifting Too Much Weight

Choosing the right amount of weight can be tricky for everyone at first. For some people, the gym environment amps up their competitive nature.

A little boost in your competitive spirit can be a good thing—you'll push yourself harder than you would if were by yourself.

However, it can also be a potentially hurtful thing if the pressure tempts you to choose a weight that's too heavy. You risk injury, embarrassment, and a workout that's not effective.

How to Deal

  • Go lighter. You may feel like everyone's laughing at you, but the reality is that everyone else is focused on their own workout. Changing weights if you don't pick the right one the first time around is a smart move and shows that you know what you're doing.
  • Do a few reps. If you can lift the weight safely, do as many reps as you can with it. Then, lighten up to finish your set.
  • Focus on form. Good form means that you don't have to swing to lift your weights. Concentrate on a quality workout, not impressing others.

Sweating in Embarrassing Places

Sweating is normal when you're exercising, but some people worry that they're sweating too much or get embarrassed if sweat stains show up in uncomfortable places.

Sweating is normal and necessary; it's your body's way of cooling itself down. No one expects you to be fresh as a daisy at the gym.

Sweat shows up practically everywhere: armpits, chest, lower back, and even your groin and backside.

You can't avoid sweating, but there are ways to make it more comfortable.

How to Deal

  • Wear dark colors. Sweats stains are sometimes less noticeable on darker fabrics than they would be on a light-colored shirt or pants.
  • Wear sweat-wicking clothes. Special fabrics that wick sweat (like CoolMax) allow sweat to evaporate. Cotton, on the other hand, soaks sweat up.
  • See your doctor. If you think your sweating is abnormal, your doctor may be able to recommend a prescription-strength antiperspirant.

Realizing You Have Two Left Feet

The group fitness room can be a scary place if you're new to it. Rows of people, hundreds of mirrors, and loud music that makes it hard to hear the instructor.

Maybe you've tried a new class and felt embarrassed because you slammed into exercisers while trying to follow the routine or learn the moves.

Remember: you have to start somewhere. To make the most out of your group class, preparing beforehand can go a long way to reduce any worries you have and ensure you get a good (and fun) workout.

How to Avoid It

  • Take beginner classes. Check the class schedule to see if they have newbie-friendly classes.
  • Tell the instructor. They can guide you through getting started and give you tips if there are particular parts of the class you find challenging.
  • Watch the workout. If the room has windows, watch the class to get a feel for it before you jump in.
  • Try it at home. If there's an activity that you're interested in, look for YouTube videos or DVDs to try at home before you join a class at the gym.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."