You’ve just jumped out of the shower and suddenly come face-to-tits with 30 women in their birthday suits. Where do you look?
And does this give you the green light to openly shave your pits over the sink while whistling a naked rendition of Gaga’s Born This Way?
These simple rules will help you decode what’s cool in your gym change room. And what will get you tutted at.
Etiquette Issue 1: Sitting on the benches, in the sauna or steam room (before or after showering) sans undies
Gyms are a mecca for the fit and healthy, so you’d expect them to be clean, right? Nooo. Even if the gym looks and smells fresh, the warm, moist air is a breeding ground for microscopic bacteria.
Consider these findings by Dr Philip Tierno, author of The Secret Life of Germs: he took a swab from a taxi seat and discovered germs expelled by coughs, faeces and skin; a swab from a cinema seat revealed group B strep and other germs from vaginal fluid, plus faecal germs, likely from women wearing short skirts; gym showers contained pneumonia-causing bacteria; while bar stools were teeming with skin and faecal nasties.
Change-room benches house similar germs, like impetigo, which causes tiny blisters on the skin, or tinea cruris (aka jock itch), a genital fungus. Sounds lovely. Makes you think twice before sitting down, hey? Rule of thumb: towel before bum. Oh, and if you’re heading to the sauna or steam room, hit the showers first.
Etiquette Issue 2: Moisturising, starkers, one leg up on the bench
OK, we know the nudity debate gets everyone fired up, but according to Liane Lurie, a psychologist who specialises in body image, change rooms are designed for, well, changing, and that often involves some bare-bum action.
“We may project feelings of disgust at public nudity because of our own issues about our bodies, or fear of being judged should others catch a glimpse of the flesh we’re trying to hide,” says Lurie. “It might not be that nude women in the change rooms are carefree about being naked in front of others, but rather they’re unafraid to use the environment for which it was actually designed.”
Her suggestion? Acknowledge your body. Even if you feel like a wally, start by undressing in front of the mirror at home; once you develop respect for your body, you may find you aren’t as bothered by other naked women at the gym. And if you’re the nudist, maybe try to keep the moisturising and bending over to a minimum.
Etiquette Issue 3: Going into the sauna with a cold
Germs flourish in warm, moist, closed environments, so the chances of passing on your illness increases dramatically in the sauna.
“Even if you have a common cold, increasing your heart rate while exercising may worsen the infection and develop into bronchitis, pneumonia or even myocarditis (inflammation of the heart),” says GP Dr Tamlyn McKeag.
Women's Health health expert, Dr Ginni Mansberg, has this advice when it comes to sickness/fitness: if your symptoms are above the neck (think: sore throat, runny nose, watery eyes), you’re fine to exercise. If you’ve got a fever or your symptoms are below the neck (read: coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea) avoid breaking a sweat until you’re fully recovered.
Once better, start exercising slowly and ensure you’re well hydrated. Many infections are airborne – you never know whether the woman working out next to you is pregnant or has a weak immune system.
Etiquette Issue 4: Changing sanitary pads in a public area
This is mos def not cool. There’s a reason sanitary bins are provided in toilets – they keep the bathroom tidy and, most importantly, hygienic.
“Strong sterilising granules are placed inside each of our sanitary disposal units to help cover odour and kill germs,” says Sanokil general manager Janelle Golding. “Our staff put in fresh, sanitised units at each service, as the used bins need to be disinfected and deodorised to kill bacteria and germs.”
There’s a huge risk of contamination when the bins aren’t used, so help yourself and fellow spin members by disposing of your pads or tampons in the right way (not down the loo!).
Etiquette Issue 5: Showering without thongs
This one’s a no-brainer. Always wear thongs, whether you’re fungus-free or not. “Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection commonly found in wet communal areas,” says podiatrist Sean Pincus.
Well-known symptoms include itchy, red, wet and cracked skin between the toes, then there are itchy blisters ringed in red, which stop itching as the blisters burst (only to be replaced by new ones) and dry, scaly skin that doesn’t respond to moisturising creams.
“Thongs create a barrier between your foot and spores on the floor – and protect others from your infection,” he says.
He also warns against plantar warts, which are transmitted in the same way. Think you’re infected? See a podiatrist, dermatologist or GP, treat it and disinfect your shoes to prevent reinfection (see box, below).
Etiquette Issue 6: Spreading belongings all over the place and hogging the shower
There’s a simple solution: invest in a gym bag with extra pockets to store all your things, and after you use an item, put it in your bag immediately. This will ensure you don’t take up space and won’t run the risk of misplacing anything either.
And if you’re faced with a space hoarder, speak up. Standing in a queue for the showers is annoying. Don’t hold the line up, do what you need to do, then get out of there.
Spending too much time in front of the mirror after class? Use facial wipes. No one wants to spend half their morning in a change room anyway.
Nix the nasties: Kick your sneaker fungus where it hurts with these steps from podiatrist Brenden Brown
☛“Never put shoes in the washing machine. This is ineffective at killing fungus and can damage the integrity of your joggers.”
☛ “Post exercise, put your shoes and socks out in the sun (I put mine on the bonnet of my car). If your runners have a removable insole give these some light as well. The more fresh air and sunshine you expose fungus to, the less it will grow and the more likely it is to die.”
☛ “Spray an anti-fungus aerosol [available from chemists] liberally inside your shoes. Look for an aerosol over a shake-in powder as spray can better penetrate the corners where the spores live.