Gyms impose dress codes citing intimidation, cleanliness; Calgary's schools and health clubs remain unrestricted

GymDressCodes copySince the 80s, fashion and style have played a big part in the steadily growing exercise and fitness culture. When walking into a recreation centre or gym, one would typically see lots of name-brand clothes, many of which showing plenty of skin. In addition, gym users cut their shirts to allow for more airflow, which in turn shows more skin.

Some recreations centres, particularly at universities, have implemented dress codes for what officials say are attempts to reduce intimidation and increase cleanliness.

Why a dress code?

Lisa Reimer, the assistant health and fitness programmer at the University of Victoria's Vikes recreation, said the facility's policy states all users must have sleeved shirts that can't cut too deep or ride too high. In addition, shorts can't be altered and must efficiently cover private areas.

"There are two main reasons for why it was implemented," Reimer said: "Our gym is a very large facility and we wanted to make it as non-intimidating as possible. The second reason is cleanliness."

Though, on the Vikes website, there is no mention of intimidation in the policy.

American schools

In the United States, the University of Arkansas recreation fitness centre has a similar approach. Although the fitness centre allows tank tops and unaltered shirts, any shirt that has been cut around the sleeves, neck or base can't be worn inside.

Kristin DeAngelo, the centre's assistant director of fitness operations, said the dress code is in place because increased contact between skin and equipment allows more sweat to collect.

GymDress2Shirts like this one are not allowed at some post-secondary recreation centres. Recreation officials say it’s because they are too revealing, which may intimidate some students. It also allows for more bodily fluids to touch equipment, which is a cleanliness hazard.

Photo by Neil Hilts
"As staff, we saw the clothing was no longer covering them from equipment," DeAngelo said: "There was increased sweating and patrons were not wiping it down. They had big hanging shirts and kept catching themselves on equipment."

Aaron Tripp, the fitness co-ordinator at the University of Minnesota: Twin Cities' recreation centre said his facility has a dress code imposed by student council.

Tripp said, "[Students] voted on it every year for the purpose of creating a welcoming environment for people to feel like they can come and work out without feeling intimidated."

Although these officials maintain they are trying to promote a safer and more welcoming fitness area, there are people against it who feel like they should be allowed to wear what they want.

Tripp said many people oppose the policy but the review process each year is a fair way to assess whether changes need to be made.

Calgary's stance

In Calgary, the post-secondary recreation centres have yet to follow the trend set by other universities in North America.

Mount Royal University, SAIT and the University of Calgary's recreation centres don't have a dress code in place. Students and facility users can work out in anything they feel is comfortable, as long as it's a top and bottom.

Mount Royal University Recreation does not have a dress code but director Chris Dawe said they are discussing the issue.

"It's come up a few times, especially when different viruses come around. When those things have come up in the past few years, we look at it from a health and safety perspective," Dawe said.

But dress codes are a tough thing to implement, Dawe said, as there will always be those who support and those who oppose.

"If you do make rules and tick people off, they stop coming. It's tough to balance." Dawe said, "On one hand, the facility should be welcoming and inviting to everyone, but there are certainly some people who can wear some things that are intimidating."

Meanwhile, both World Health and Good Life Fitness — two of the largest gyms in North America — do not have a universal dress code.

Dermatologist's opinion

Dr. Richard Haber, zone clinical section chief of dermatology at the University of Calgary, said that while it's possible to pick up a skin infection or virus — herpes or staph to name a few — when using fitness equipment, it's improbable.

To contract one of these ailments, both people would need an open wound or boil and touch the exact same spot on the machine or equipment.

Haber notes that sports involving skin-to-skin contact like, rugby or wrestling would result in a higher chance of virus transmission compared to fitness equipment.

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