Breathe in, squat, push … and stop filming. A growing number of gyms are cracking down on members filming their workouts amid concerns about privacy and elaborate equipment clogging up the floor.

Influencers, fitness instructors and even casual gym-goers are increasingly using phones to take stills and video of their progress, routines and techniques to post on social media. But this has led to problems with other members being inadvertently filmed, lighting equipment getting in the way and even public bullying.

Now some gyms are banning the practice altogether, restricting when and where people can film or instructing people to ask for consent from all around them when filming.

Erin Blakely, a fitness instructor from Worcestershire who has worked with a number of large gym chains, says a growing number, especially in cities, are taking action. “Many have a policy against bringing camera equipment into the workout area,” she said.

“Safety is an obvious concern; equipment on the floor can be hazardous. Beyond that, the distraction factor is significant. There’s a tendency to concentrate more on getting the ideal footage than on the workout, which defeats the whole purpose of being in a fitness studio.”

Pure Muscles Gym in Walthamstow, north London, has banned the use of tripods at weekends. Chains are also starting to act. Virgin Active tells members it will ask for images to be deleted if they raise any concern. And Fitness First says other users who may end up in video or pictures must give their consent.

A spokesperson for PureGym, which has more than 340 UK gyms, said: “It is important to respect one another’s privacy, which is why our gym rules clearly state that people should not take photographs or videos on the premises unless they have permission. We also ask people to not post remarks or imagery to the internet, including social media platforms, that may identify another person.”

Instructors say filming classes and putting them online is the best way to promote their businesses. Photograph: Liudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

A number of controversial videos have emerged on social media in which gym members have been ridiculed for their appearance. In 2017, Dani Mathers, a former model, was ordered to carry out community service in the US after ridiculing a 70-year-old woman who was showering. Earlier this year, influencer Jessica Fernandez apologised after calling a man who glanced at her and offered her help a “weirdo”, prompting an online backlash.

James Dixon, a personal trainer, said smaller independent gyms were typically more flexible about filming. The issue was a double-edged sword, he said. On one hand, people can be inspired to get healthier by watching videos, “but when they take over the gym for their videos, [it is] not cool”.

He added: “Filming long workouts during busy times and hogging equipment ruins the experience for others. Some showcase bad form too, which can mislead and cause injury.”

And although gyms may insist on members seeking consent from others, this often does not happen. “In an environment like a gym, where people are focused on their own bodies and personal growth, being unknowingly filmed can feel particularly invasive,” said Blakely. “Unfortunately, with the urgency to capture ‘the moment’, many forget the importance of asking for permission.”

Changes in filming rules have led to a backlash from some trainers. Dave Readle of the HIIT Company, which trains instructors to deliver classes, says a poorly attended session can be removed from a timetable, and “the best chance of advertising is filming it and putting it on social media”. He added: “We have a lot of issues with gyms who won’t allow filming.”

Readle said many instructors were self-employed and needed social media to promote their businesses, “but “you might have an incident in a club and then have a blanket ruling of no one being allowed to film”.

One solution being looked at is to have special filming areas, said Dixon. “It lets people avoid cameras if they want and balances things out.”

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