Why you should not require shirts in your facility
Going shirtless really is one of the most comfortable ways to workout. It maximizes cooling and evaporation of sweat. A sweaty shirt can get really uncomfortable. Special wicking fabrics can help with this, but they tend to be more expensive and are still not nearly as good as simply going shirtless. They still retain some heat and the sweat can’t evaporate as quickly as it does from the skin. The next best thing are probably cut-off shirts with no sides, the less fabric the better. These are cheaper than expensive moisture-wicking fabrics and probably allow even better air circulation and cooling, but they retain sweat longer once they get wet and that can still get uncomfortable. Besides, we have all seen that guy in the cut-off shirt and thought, “Well, he might as well just not wear a shirt!” So seriously, why not just let him go without a shirt?
A lot of people find going shirtless to be motivating. For those who have aesthetic goals, it draws their attention to their body and how they want it to look, driving them to work for those goals. For others, they feel it is expected that if they take their shirt off, they must be exerting maximal effort. They would feel embarrassed to give less once the shirt has come off, so it drives them to reach for maximum performance. Still others simply find it makes them feel more virile and powerful, giving them a mental edge in their workouts. Some feel that even the presence of someone who is working out shirtless is a motivator, even if they lack the confidence to shed their own. It creates an environment of exertion and performance. While this may be intimidating to some, this can usually be overcome with proper coaching and encouragement and the benefits likely far outweigh the drawbacks.
3. Shirts are not a good way to keep the gym sanitary
Hygiene is often cited as a reason not to allow men to workout shirtless in the gym. But wearing a shirt is not a good way to keep the gym sanitary and if you take the proper steps (which you should be doing anyway) it will be pointless. Most germs are spread by your hands, not your torso. You use your hands to touch all of the nasty things around you all day. And your hands frequently come in contact with mucous membranes like eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. And you are going to touch all of the equipment with your hands anyway, which is worse than a bare torso.
So what should you do? All equipment should be wiped down after each use! Supply your patrons with sanitary wipes, or spray bottles of a sanitizing cleaner. Alcohol, lysol, or whatever, just use something that kills bacteria! And having a few bottles of hand sanitizer is a good idea, as well. If you do this, then requiring shirts or not will be completely irrelevant to hygiene.
4. Nobody is really offended by it
Another objection sometimes cited is, “This is a family gym.” So? Why would taking off your shirt be incompatible with a family-friendly facility? Families frequently go to pools and beaches, where men typically go shirtless. The truth is, it offends a lot less people than you think and that one person who complains is more likely jealous than genuinely offended. Build a friendly and encouraging atmosphere, and you won’t really have to worry about people being offended by the guys who take off their shirts. If you want to run a more family-friendly facility, prohibit cursing and use positive imagery and slogans, promote dedication, hard work, and discipline. Families will appreciate these things and the shirtlessness will not be an issue as long as you have set the right attitude and environment.
5. Requiring shirts can look hypocritical
If you use shirtless pictures in the gym for motivational posters or exercise diagrams, etc, and especially if you use them in advertising, requiring shirts to be worn in your actual gym looks hypocritical. And almost every gym does one or more of these things! This can send several wrong messages. You degrade and objectify the human body by presenting it as acceptable to use for profit, but somehow needing to be covered when working out for your personal benefit. And if you plaster the walls and billboards with pictures of models, but want to keep all of the real bodies (well, torsos, anyway) of real people under wraps, then you are promoting an unhealthy and unrealistic view of the body. While motivation and working for goals are important, it needs to be balanced with a healthy dose of acceptance and reality. Allowing gym-goers to exercise shirtless is one way to help with this.
6. It can be a popular approach and may attract business
Just look at the popularity of Crossfit, which generally allows participants to go shirtless. Other popular athletic activities that generally don’t require shirts include rock climbing, bouldering, and mixed martial arts (think UFC). Obviously, many guys enjoy shirtless athletic activities, so this may actually open up a new niche market for your fitness business. This is probably not something you want to present as a selling point for your facility, but there are subtle ways to advertise this perk. If you have any posted signage, simply remove them or remove the shirt requirement from them. Word of mouth is pretty effective. Also simply use a picture or two on your site and on your social media page that includes shirtless exercisers. Finally, consider adding your facility to the Shirtless Friendly Directory, where you might reach people who are specifically looking for a gym that accommodates their workout preferences.
There is also PDF version of this article you can print and share with local gyms. I hope you will spread the word, and add any gyms who adopt the new policy to the Shirtless Friendly Directory.