Gym etiquette – or how not to pay a lady a compliment

Pay a lady a compliment: gym etiquette - Champagne Cartel

Where is the line between women when it comes to complimenting strangers? I’m asking for a friend who has a habit of opening her big yap and saying embarrassing things in places where she cannot then escape in a hurry.*

This specific incident happened at the gym, where we all feel a bit awkward and self conscious, in our sweaty-crotched tights and clingy t-shirts, right? We walk around with our eyes either on the scungy carpet in front of us or looking up at the myriad enormous screens with shouty rappers and hungry-looking girls dancing in their little sister’s underwear.

We don’t make eye contact, let alone smile at each other. That’s against the unwritten rules of Gymland.

What about a smile as you walk past? Or a ‘thanks’ when an enormous acned teenager clutching a ‘protein shake’ (*wink*) wipes his man-sweat off the lat pulldown machine?

But there is a code, and we all pretty much adhere to it. I try, I really do…until the other day.

I had just finished a particularly tough class and my thighs were crying, so perhaps I was full of endorphins, but during the entire class, I couldn’t take my eyes off a woman in front of me. She had curves where there should be curves, impressive muscles that struck that perfect balance of strong and feminine. And she had one of those Kardashianesque bubble butts to which we are all supposed to aspire (we’re talking in the old days – before she broke the turned into a cartoon character and broke the internet). She had what I would class as the perfect body, and I was in awe.

Gym etiquette - or how not to pay a lady a compliment - Champagne Cartel
This isn’t really her. I didn’t take any photos. Please don’t call the police.

As someone who is still trying to bounce back after the birth of my third baby (after almost three years I’m starting to think the elastic has gone in this particular bounce), I just wanted to congratulate her. High five her and say, ‘Good for you; enjoy it while you can!’ And when we finished our class and were filing out of the room afterwards, I got my opportunity. There she was in front of me, filling her water bottle at the bubbler.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something like: “Excuse me, you don’t know me and I’m not weird or anything, but hot damn, you look fantastic!” For the record, I do remember I definitely said the ‘hot damn’ part.

She may indeed look fantastic, but now she also looks uncomfortable. She half smiles and says thanks. Then she remembers something she has to do on the far side of the gym. Her water bottle isn’t even half full yet.

So here’s the question: Was it wrong of me to offer a fellow woman a compliment that was clearly deserved? Was it the message that was the problem, or the way it was delivered? Could I have been more tactful? Is ‘hot damn’ not something we say to strangers?

I like to think that, although she was clearly uncomfortable at the time, she let the message sink in and enjoyed it a little bit. She could be at home right now, looking at herself in the mirror, giving herself an extra little sly smile; a quiet nod.

Maybe I made her day. Maybe it just seemed momentarily weird to her because like many of us she is used to women being expected to compete with one another rather than cheering each other on.

What do you think? Should we compliment strangers in gyms? Am I creepy? Is ‘hot damn’ something we say in polite society? 

*We all know that friend is me, don’t we? I’m not fooling anyone.

Written By

Carolyn is the editorial director of Champagne Cartel and a freelance writer. In her spare time she is a long-distance runner, peanut butter enthusiast, and single mum to three incredible humans.


  • I would love a) to have one of those apple asses and/or b) to have someone tell me how good I look, especially at the gym, when I really look most unsavoury. I’ve done something similar and it was very well received. I’ve also given a verbal high five to my gym instructor too. I don’t think you’re creepy, I think you’re thoughtful. And thinking of others is good. The world (and especially the gym) needs more of that!

  • I would have danced through the rest of my day after receiving a comment like that. Not that that is likely to happen as a) I don’t go to a gym and b) I’d think you were taking the p!ss (see a). 🙂

  • I love giving compliments to women if I think they look great (hopefully in a non weird or stalkerish way!) Like a lot of women, she probably doesn’t see herself at all like you saw her, and didn’t know how to feel, which is a bit sad. But that’s even more of a reason to keep throwing compliments out there! ??

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