We want your views on running shirtless!

July 2014: It has been a year since I have found time to post in this blog. I've released a little flurry by way of compensation. Thank you for the expressions of solidarity that have come my way in the interim.

If you trawl the runners' forums, you will find that the stalwart opponents of 'running shirtless' have not ceded the field! Almost all of them direct their fire at barechested runners (ie the men!); by unspoken agreement no one assails the growing force of jogbraed runners. Why do you suppose that is the case?

To me, the jogbraed and the bare-chested are alike comrades in the battle to reclaim acceptance for attire-light exercise. I continue to welcome guest posts (sent to barethomas@gmail.com) on any related topic, including from those who would discourage stripping to the waist. Let all voices be heard on this site!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Becoming a shirtless runner (II): That First Day

Say you have been running or jogging for a little while and, whether egged on by the example of others or not, have come to nurse the thought of dispensing with a shirt.

Very likely, in runs past, you will have been held back by certain apprehensions. But there comes a day when you are ready to shed that top for the first time. How might such a day go? Drawing on my own experience, and that of others who have recounted their 'first day', here is how you might launch into your first day as a shirtless runner - and what to expect:


(I) You would have begun by trotting along, at your accustomed pace, and a build-up of perspiration would have begun to niggle at you. The familiar thought arises that it would feel pretty good to remove that irksome upper-body garment that is beginning to get soggy and restrictive. Someone may have passed you, striding along without a top, reinforcing the temptation. However, another part of you is urging that you hold back: You would look daft, someone you know might see you, a cutting remark might be uttered within earshot.

(II) But you are not getting any more confortable along, and now you tell yourself: What exactly am I worrying about? I know that there are other runners in the neighbourhood or elsewhere, known to their neighbours or loved ones or running partners to be partial to going barechested or jogbraed. They seem to be doing fine. How are they different from or superior to you? You decide that these wisps of apprehension - which have stopped you perhaps multiple times in the past - are so many will-o-the-wisps, with no substance to them. What the hell! You arms reach down, and before you know it, your shirt - incredible! did I really do this? - has been stripped off.

(III) Immediately, what breeze there is seems to have been magnified in effectiveness. Your skin has been freed to do its job of wicking away heat and perspiration. Your senses feel preternaturally sharp; you are especially aware of your body - your stride, the way you are holding your core and posture. There is a prickling of delight, a frisson of freedom: Without thinking, you pick up the pace, move faster.

(IV) The counterreaction now sets in: Your love handles seem to be calling out 'Notice me!' to all and sundry. You become increasingly sure you are a ridiculous figure strutting along. Every indistinct figure approaching appears to be that of someone you know; you begin to imagine the things they will say ('Hey, Ron! What's with the half-naked look!') or - worse - will giggle over later even as they soberly greet you ('I saw Terry this morning; he's joined the shirtless brigade, and heavens wasn't there a whole lot of jiggling going on'). Was that someone taking a cellphone camera shot, to be Tweeted along with a snide comment or two? What was I thinking? I need to put my shirt on right now.


(V) Even as you are thinking this, however, you have been loping along and there is now a full, cooling sheen of perspiration enveloping your bare upper body. As you heft your damp tank-top, the thought of pulling it over yourself again is not an attractive one. And amidst the negative thoughts, others poke through too: That the sun on your skin is pretty delicious. As is this heightened awareness of one's surroundings. In fact, I'm feeling a burst or two of confidence: I don't need to stay encased in maximal clothing. I'm proud to be safeguarding my health and fitness through exercise. Why should I not be minimisng extraneous attire? There's nothing lurid or obscene about such confidence! Indeed, it's making me feel a little, well, sexy... and why not?

So might you conclude your first run as a convert to our shirtless cause. The apprehensions won't be going away immediately, but now that they have been bested once, their hold will have been weakened. Possibly permanently.




12 comments:

Simon said...

For some time I’ve wanted to try running shirtless and last night I finally gave it a go, albeit briefly. It was quite a muggy night and my shirt was soon sticking to my skin, although I resisted the temptation to take it off for most of the run. Finally I thought ‘what the hell’ and took the plunge, stuffed my top into the waistband of my shorts and carried on running like that for the last five minutes or so. As I’m sure other readers of this blog will know from their own experiences, it was a really good feeling – a sense of freedom and comfort, with your body able to sweat easily, and very natural.
I think my misgivings about losing the shirt up to now date back to my only previous experience of running shirtless, which came at school when I was 15. What happened was that I forgot my PE vest for cross country and the teacher clearly thought I was trying to get out of the run, so as well as making me do the class in just shorts and bare chest, he also gave me detention. That meant doing the run again after school the next day, along with four or five other boys, and this time I was wearing my vest. But for reasons best known to himself (probably because he was something of a sadist and realised I was a shy boy he could bully), the teacher made a great show of ordering me to take my top off before the run started. A few sarcastic remarks got the other boys laughing (none of the others were made to run bare-chested, only me) and I felt completely humiliated. Somehow I managed to get through the run without bursting into tears, but I think the whole experience meant that, in my mind, shirtless running became associated with punishment and being made to feel uncomfortable.
Anyway, despite all that, I would sometimes be out running on a hot day and notice other runners going along without tops – and kept wondering if they were actually more comfortable than me in my sweaty t-shirt. But until last night I could never muster the courage to take my top off and see for myself.
Now I finally have had a positive experience of running shirtless, I really want to do it again and more frequently. But I’d like some advice from other readers on the best way of progressing from here. At this stage I don’t feel confident enough to just set off with no shirt. So should I start by gradually increasing the amount of time I run with my shirt off – five minutes to ten? Should I start my run bare-chested, take a shirt with me and see how long I can go without putting it on? Or should I try running in different areas, further from home, to increase my confidence?
What worked best for you? Please let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...

I would just go for it - leave the shirt at home and head straight out shirtless. I know you say you aren't confident enough, but the only bit that's hard is stepping out of the house. Don't work up to it, or think about it for too long, just put on your joggers and a pair of shorts and walk out of the door.

You'll find your confidence increases in no time.

Paul O'Neill said...

So I went for my first shirtless run today! In the past 16 months I've lost 39 pounds (not far off three stone) got fitter, a little bit more toned and completed a 500 mile bike ride through France. I've also signed up for one of those 'Tough Mudder' obstacle challenges in October, so I thought a bare chested run was achievable! I'm short and fair skinned, age 33 and certainly not 'ripped' but nonetheless I did feel that 'sensuous buzz' and yes, I admit, did feel a bit more 'sexy' than your average run. I'd just been to my local gym and two guys were working out shirtless there. Now, they WERE very ripped with amazing bodies but it did give me some confidence. It was just round my local park, the weather was dull, cloudy but warm (I do live in the UK after all!) And no one batted an eyelid. It felt great, very practical, comfortable, sexy and cool (not that I generally see myself as any of those things!) And I'll definitely be doing it again.

Anonymous said...

To Simon - I think the key step is just setting out shirtless. If you find it easier to take a shirt with you, stuff it into your pocket or whatever, but don't wear it. Start as you mean to go on and my guess is, once you start running and work up a sweat you won't want to put your shirt on. Before long I think you'll feel able to shed the shirt altogether. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

To Simon,

Don't worry about the past. I too had a PE teacher like that except it happened when I joined a new comp school when I was 10 and the first PE lesson which was outside he made me pull my shirt and vest off in front of the class and remarked about the goosebumps on my back. Until I left at 18 he nearly always kept me as a "skin"

The best thing I found was do take something like a vest and remove it after about 5-10 mins. Is there a beach nearby? No one would think twice about you running bare chest there. Good luck, don't worry about comments others make. Keep in touch through the website.

Anonymous said...

I first ran shirtless in a race--my first race. I had been running about a year by that time, and felt excited and confident about doing a 10k. It was a warm spring day; some guys were shirtless It all seemed so natural and relaxed. The next thing I knew, I had pulled off my shirt. Nobody paid any attention--I was just one of several.

It was the most exhilarating run I had ever had up to that time. I felt ten pounds lighter; and for the first time, I had that experience others have described so well: the shock of pleasure from the rush of a cool breeze over my skin and the sudden tightening of my nipples.

After that, it was easy to go shirtless on a run. I usually started off with a "safety shirt," but then pulled it off when I was away from my neighborhood. Gradually, i got used to leaving the house without it. And I wasn't the only shirtless runner on my routes.

If you are considering going shirtless on a run for the first time, I recommend a race. If you can finish a 10k you shouldn't be worried about being in decent shape.

That was awhile ago. I am 75 now, and no longer run shirtless, but I have never forgotten how it felt. It added immeasurably to the joy of running.

Arnaud said...

To Simon :
For me, the most difficult part was leaving home without shirt for the first time. It was the only step to run shirtless definitely.
Be free.

Anonymous said...

Even though it did not seem like it at the time, your teacher was just trying to get you break past your fear. I also was very shy kid and feared going shirtless so I asked the gym teacher to not put me on the skins team for class. I went to class thinking all was good until he called my name to be Capitan of the skins team. As I walked to the front of the class I could feel the nervous sweat start to pour down my face over the thought of going shirtless. Once I got in front of whole the class I was told to remove my shirt and as Capitan I was not permitted to wear a shirt at any time for gym class for a week. I was so nervous that I struggled to get my shirt off which made the class laugh and the teacher gave me detention for being a clown. I was the only one that had to go shirtless for detention, the other boys decided to keep their shirts on because the girls were using the other half of the gym. This teacher also coached basketball and track and my shirtless fear kept me from joining the team, my loss.

Many years later I have come to realize that that should have stuck with the program would have learned to become comfortable with being shirtless, I was just not willing to give it a chance. When I started running a few years back, I remembered that it actually felt better to be shirtless, so like you I took my shirt off for 5 min during my run and it felt great. Now I knew that I had to break from my past and become a fulltime shirtless runner. Doing this slowly only adds and prolongs the discomfort you might feel, so pack up and put your running shirts away because you will not be wearing them any longer. To get ready for your next morning run, place your running shorts, shoes (no shirt) by your bed side; if you are not already sleeping shirtless then you need to start doing this now too. The key is for you to be shirtless when you wake up; otherwise you just make it more difficult for yourself. Quickly get up and put your running shorts and shoes without a shirt on and head out for your run. You need to just focus on going for a run it will help you push past any distractions or being seen. Once you get running, you will realize how great it feels to be shirtless and your nervousness will quickly go away.

When you get closer to home you may start to feel a little nervous about being seen by someone you know, but by not having a shirt you will need to confront your insecurities head-on. If anyone asks why you are shirtless, just say you are trying something new. For the first couple of weeks you need to stay shirtless after your run until you need to go somewhere that requires a shirt. Once you friends and family see you shirtless a couple times, then it will become much easier to go shirtless.

Ideally you need to run a race shirtless within a few weeks to seal the deal. Remember the key to success is leaving your house without a shirt. This eliminates your options and will push you to meet your shirtless goal. Also arrange to meet up with a running mate at the race this will give you confidence even if they are not shirtless. Once you are able to do that then running with a shirt will be a thing of the past.

Simon said...

Thank you to everyone who replied to my initial post and gave me advice, which I've tried to take on board. It's been really useful to hear how you got started and also that I'm not the only guy who was put off by a bad experience in PE.
Anyway, I managed to pick up a nasty summer cold that restricted my opportunities to run, shirtless or otherwise, for a few weeks. But I feel I've made progress recently - first I did a run where I took my shirt off halfway through and today I decided I should take the next step by leaving it behind altogether.
Truthfully I don't feel ready yet to set off from home bare-chested. So I drove a few miles to a nearby area where there's a big park and fields with football pitches and so on. I parked up, did a bit of stretching and then came the crunch moment - shirt off! As it's been a hot day I felt more confident about stripping down to shorts and the plan was to leave my shirt in the car. But when it came to it I chickened out and set off, bare-chested but carrying my shirt in one hand.
I hadn't gone far when I realised how absurd that was. My back was already streaming with sweat and how uncomfortable would it be to put a shirt on later? So I retraced my steps to the car and this time I left the shirt inside and set off again. I guess it's a bit like leaving home in the morning without a jacket - that's your outfit for the day and too bad if it rains.
It felt great to have the sun on my bare skin, but there was a nice breeze as well. Most importantly I felt comfortable, there were quite a few other people out shirtless and I also passed a group of lads playing shirts against skins football on one of the pitches. The ball came out into my path and I kicked it back to one of the skins players. That sounds unimportant but it all helped me to feel like I fitted in, just another bare-chested guy doing some exercise.
Incidentally, it did occur to me that the last time I'd run around a football pitch shirtless was my PE detention some years ago! But I'm glad to say today was a much more enjoyable experience and at least I didn't have to finish off with press ups either...
So where next? Well, I know I need to work up towards just stepping outside bare-chested and going for a run. I'm more confident that will come in time, but first I think I want to repeat today's experience a couple more times. And that shirt is staying in the car, no question!

Josh said...

I was stuck at the same point as you, enjoyed running without a shirt but could only do it in places that I did not know anyone. I became frustrated at my inability to just go shirtless from my house, so I did it in reverse. I came up with the idea to wear and old t-shirt out for my run. However instead of leaving my shirt in my car, I threw it in the park trash can before my run, I figured at least this way I would be forced to go home without a shirt. It took me couple trys to get in the trash, but I did it and went out for my run.

When I got back to my car the real anxiety kicked in when I saw my phone had a message from a friend that asked me to drop by after my run to help move some things at his house. Out of sheer panic I went over to trashcan to see if maybe I could pull my shirt out of the trash, and that’s when I realized I needed to just bite the bullet and go without a shirt. It was a very hot day, so when I called to tell them I would be right over and would be shirtless; he said no problem since it was too hot to wear one. This turned out to be the first time I went anywhere completely shirtless. I ended up staying shirtless for the rest of the day. The next day I left my home the next morning for my morning run without at shirt and been running shirtless for all my runs ever since then.

Anonymous said...

I can relate to several experiences here. I just turned 60 and started running around 5 years ago for stress relief to drop some pounds. When I started running I was more focused about doing it correctly and not sticking out because of my age or beginner status and weight. . I've dropped 40 and no longer have the paunch have more tone and though a long run for me is still 6-8 miles I've become more confident. Swapping out the cotton tees for sleeveless gear and then to pulling off the shirt mid run when I start to heat up and sweat. Feeling a little self conscious is compensated by the great feeling of the air and I find my running posture is better as I notice my arms and chest more. I always return to the neighborhood holding my shirt as a sweat rag and getting more comfortable heading off without it, though if there is a chill in the air I start off with the shirt for warmth then ditch it the first half mile. It is funny how we have been made to feel self conscious about being shirtless.. I'm usually mowing the lawn now shirtless pushing at a slow jog pace to get in extra workouts and noticed my much younger, more experienced runner neighbor also now heading out for a run shirtless when he never had before. We give ourselves and each other support.Jay

Rex said...

I ran a nighttime race in hot July years ago. Teenagers were running shirtless and the cotton T that I wore really slowed me down. Since then I run bare chested when I can even yesterday in mid 60s temps. It feels great & free.