TikTok Shaming and Your Gym: Got a Code of Conduct?

A woman in a gym takes a selfie while another client looks on in the background.

Is your gym prepared to handle TikTok shaming?

In case you haven’t run into it yet, gyms are becoming a sort of battleground as influencers post videos in which people in the background may or may not be “creeping” on them as they work out.  

The videos are so common now that entire response trends have arisen.

  • “Gym experts” analyze the original videos to determine if the background people are actually creeping or just going about their business.
  • Third parties—usually men­—make comedic videos in which they deal with “unwanted” attention or work hard not to look at anyone else in the gym lest they get shamed online.
  • General commentators are offering their takes on situations in which influencers who post racy pics to OnlyFan become enraged by a sidelong glance in the real world.

So is your gym prepared for the TikTok Wars?

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

Microgyms and coaching gyms are not as common in the shaming videos as access-only gyms. But we all know functional fitness athletes love to film themselves, and many coaching gyms also offer open-gym time, when patrons can do their own workouts. And gym selfies are kind of a big deal these days.

All of that highlights the need for clear media policies at your gym. In fact, policies that cover every aspect of your business should be determined when you are calm, cool and collected, then widely disseminated so everyone is on the same page:

  • “We don’t offer discounts for anyone.”
  • “We don’t do refunds after two weeks have passed.”
  • “You will be billed for cancelled PT sessions if you don’t provide 12 hours’ notice.”

Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper has talked about this for years. Clear policies allow consistent delivery of excellent service by every staff member. And they eliminate reactive decision making, gray areas and arguments.

So what’s your policy on media creation in your gym?

A smiling woman with a dumbbell takes a selfie in a gym while a man performs a bench press behind her.
Dumbbell Woman posts her selfie and says Bench-Press Man was staring at her during her workout. Both are angry. What does a gym owner do?

Social Media and Your Gym

First, your waiver should have a media section that informs patrons that they will be filmed and photographed, and you will use these assets as you see fit—perhaps even in advertising. If you don’t have something like this in your waiver, consult a lawyer to get what you need. (We recommend Matthew Becker of Gym Lawyers.)

Next, what’s your policy on members posting content from your gym?

Obviously, client engagement is amazing marketing. You want people showing off PRs and amazing progress at your gym. But what if someone posts a video and shames another member? What if the shamed member is clearly behaving badly? What if that member was just looking at the clock and not the poster’s body?

It’s an uncomfortable situation that can get out of hand very quickly.

The best plan: Ensure your gym has a clear code of conduct in place. Make sure everyone knows about it. Outline what is acceptable and what is not and explain how the code is enforced. You don’t have to specifically mention TikTok shaming. You can just state what is and is not considered acceptable behavior in your business.

In my gym’s code of conduct, we used a broad line: “I will treat everyone in the community with respect at all times.” And, yes, we had to enforce this more than once.

Two-Brain mentor Andrea Savard has this line in her code of conduct: “We do not tolerate harassment or unwelcome comments and actions. We will take prompt action if such problems occur, including failure to follow any rules or regulations, for reasons of nuisance, disturbance of others, moral turpitude or fraud, or if we determine that your actions may endanger yourself or others.”

So here’s a reminder before you have a TikTok incident at your gym: Create a code of conduct now if you don’t have one. If you do, review it and ask these questions:

  • Is my code up to date?
  • Am I prepared to enforce it? (This one is huge. Don’t make rules you won’t enforce.)
  • How will I enforce it?
  • Do all staff members know about it?
  • Do all current members know about it?
  • Are incoming members made aware of it?

Finally, run through the TikTok scenario in your head: Someone posts a video and suggests another member in the background is gawking.

With reference to your code of conduct, how will you address the issue?

If you create a plan now when you’re calm, you’ll be prepared when things get heated. And if you follow the steps above, your business will be able to deal with any issues. Because you will have an issue at some point, perhaps involving TikTok.

Every long-serving gym owner has had to deal with troublesome behavior at some point, and many have had to fire clients.

Prepare now, then take calm, clear action to protect your business and your clients when you need to.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.