I hit the gym in just a sports bra for the first time… and didn’t hate it. I know, I know. It’s ironic really, I’ll gladly post flex-pics in the ladies locker room post-sweat in just a sports bra and leggings, or will remove my shirt for an after-CrossFit photo-shoot. But there’s something about a 50+ year old man grunting in your direction in the weight-room while he hammers out some bicep curls with bad form that can feel a little, well, unnerving… if you’ve ever been the only girl in the weight room, you know what I’m talking about.
Occasionally, like after CrossFit Open Workout 17.1, I desperately wanted to strip down; I was drenched in sweat, all the women around me were in varying degrees of un-dress, and well, it’s CrossFit – it’s what they do. Another time, the air conditioning hadn’t yet been turned on at my “normal” gym and mid-way through leg-day I was practically slippin and sliding around on the wooden platform while trying to hit a PR, yet, my shirt stayed on even when the meathead next to me took his off to dry off his loaded barbell before tossing it to the side so that nipples were sparkling with sweat, and back muscles flexed in the gyms bright lights. A third time, I hit the gym after a 9 hour work day, opened my gym bag and found no shirt. Instead embracing the serendipity and hitting chest day in a sports bra, I put on the black turtleneck I had worked out in all day… and got to work (Stay tuned for a future article about “I Worked Out In A Turtleneck And Survived… Here’s What It Was Like).
Going top-less to the gym had been on my to-do list since the turtleneck incident of 2016, but I kept pushing it off (by remembering a workout shirt). That is, until last week when I had a unique opportunity: to workout in a huge (HUGE), disco-gym (a New York Sports Club on Astor Place in NYC) that had JUST opened within the week and wouldn’t have more than maybeee 5 other gym-goers. Since I had totally chickened out every other time I’d intended to bare belly to severe gym lights, goggling eyes, and trainers in black “Trainer” tee’s, this time I decided to head belly-button first to the gym floor.
Let me paint the scene: neon lights, a disco ball, a dj booth, mirrors EVERYWHERE, and lighting so on-point even a slice of white bread would look ripped. Seriously. If I was going to bare all and let mu freak fly, there couldn’t be a more, well, flattering or appropriate setting.
Here’s what happened (and what didn’t) when I finally committed to going topless in the gym.
1. Some Men Stared.
There were 15 gym-goers and 5 trainers spread into the 4,000 square-foot expanse of weights, machines, turf, and rigs. And of 20 people in the disco lights, half were dudes… and while I was peeved that one of the men stopped to offer me advice for my push-press technique, the rest kept the staring to a minimum.
2. But More Women Stared.
I gotta say, if anyone was going to stop pedalling their stationary bike or pause awkwardly mid squat to look at my midsection, I’d thought it would be an older dude (see comments above). But it was actually one of the female trainers who started a little too long as I hoisted some dumbbells overhead and listened to a Beyonce-dubstep remix play through the speaker. I was a little weirded out at first, but towards the end of my sweat-sesh she came up to ask me if I did physique competitions or bodybuilding, which was super flatter (because in case you’re wondering, the answer is no). She and I ended up having a conversation about what time of day the most women are in the gym and made hesitant plans to workout together in the future. Sometimes, staring is caring?
3. I Appreciated My Body.
During the first fifteen minutes I was preoccupied by how my stomach bunched when I did seated shoulder presses and whether or not you could see my nipples through the sports bra fabric but after the initial discomfort faded, it felt really damn empowering to be there, muscling my way through shoulder and bicep day without a shirt on. I stopped fretting over folds and creases and starting focusing on how muscled my chest looked, how much stronger my stomach looked than it did a year ago, and even took time to smile at the wash of freckles that had accumulated from a Saturday spent rooftop. By the end of the workout I was feelin’ myself…
4. It Took My Instagram Game To The Next Level.
…which is why I whipped my phone out to document the perfect combo of rainbow lights, disco balls, and belly button. With hashtags like #freethebellyton and #sportsbrasquad, it’s hard not to want to join in on the fun when you’re already halfway there.
5. I Worked Out Harder.
Maybe it was the rush of adrenaline from feeling naked in public. Or maybe it was because my skin was sweat-wet and sticking to my stomach, but I powered through a 90 minute weight training day without ever wanting to quit or put my shirt back on. Plus, the full-frontal view of my midsection helped me remember to activate my core muscles and focus on my form. I felt pretty badass…
6. Seriously, It Was No Biggie.
Turns out, working out in your bra is only a big deal if you make it one. For months I had procrastinated trying something that had been on my Meathead To-Do List, but really my workout was business as usual, if not a little less sweaty. While I can’t promise I’ll do it again anytime soon, I’m no longer terrified of showing my belly while I heave heavy weights over heat and perspire like it’s nobodies business. I workout as celebration of what my body can do, so next time if I feel inclined to celebrate my body shirtless, I’ll do as I damn please.