I am a shirtless runner. But I wasn't always one. Once upon a time, I sneered at the barechested and the jog-braed, and even after I started feeling a tug towards shedding excessive exercise attire, I was long held back by inhibition, shyness and emotional inertia.
Perhaps you do not think that you could be converted as I was (even if you would like to be)?
Well, drawing on my own experience and that of many others, here are 10 steps. Many of them appear elsewhere in these posts, but I gather them here, and add a new element or two. If you follow them, I suspect your exercise top could end up getting less use, even if you now consider the possibility remote. And it doesn't matter if the weather has turned cold -- some of the first steps can be taken now, and you can build on them so that you may head out shirtless when the temperature is benign once more.
See that it's common
The next time you are in a park, notice just how many of the ordinary folks out keeping fit don't bother with shirts. Runners or joggers. Frisbee or soccer players. Especially when away from the crowds, many people strip down for comfort. These will be folks of widely differing body shapes, ages and levels of fitness, but they have found independently that a shirt is more hindrance than help.Whatever you may have been taught or told, there is no great taboo that needs breaking.
Strip off at home
Within the privacy of your own home, take off your shirt. Cast it aside. Then do whatever it is that you would normally do. After a while, you will notice that nothing dreadful happens because you have stripped to your waist. Instead, you may be pleasurably surprised by a feeling of greater freedom of movement. When time comes to resume your shirted existence, your upper garment will have remained as fresh as though just fished from your wardrobe -- your introduction to one of the great benefits of shirtless running: Cutting down on extraneous laundry. Do this a few times, possibly when alone if you are concerned about negative comments.
Use the Internet
Google and search at your own pace. You might, admittedly, find screeds by folks who will cite any number of reasons, many allegedly grounded in 'decency', why you should never remove one's top. But you will find much testimony too, to how much is gained by daring to go bare. There are many, many images of folks stripping down and not looking in the least idiotic or obscene. Their stories will be grounded in confidence and body-acceptance rather than narcissism. Whole categories of sportsmen adopt shirtlessness almost as a uniform, certainly when training - gymnasts, wrestlers, cross-country runners and of course swimmers. Look at the photo galleries at many sports camps: Nobody seems to be policing for upper-body coverage.
Do all this to break down any hidden barriers in your mind. Shirtlessness is immensely normal! This was an important stage in my own conversion - and the barriers in my mind were high and resolute enough.
Get warm on a run
By now, the notion of trying out a shirtless run should have become less foreign lunacy than interesting notion. When you feel ready, start one of your exercise sessions fully clothed. If anything, overdress. After a little while, the perspiration will be bunching up your shirt material and the discomfort level will build. There is a logic to this torture. The urgency of the need to cast off unnecessary layers will keep at bay any psychic resistance.
Don't think, just strip
This next stop is critical. There must be no overthinking; the time for mulling and introspection is past. In one fluid motion, cast off your upper-body attire. You should now be barechested or sports-bra clad. You will feel a marvellous shock as heat dissipates and perspiration on bare skin can play its natural cooling role. Allow yourself to luxuriate in this. You should not cease the sporting activity you were engaged in. It is important that you continue, partly because you want to keep hesitation from crowding in, and partly so your mind can take its first favourable imprint.
Acknowledge your sisters and brothers
Now that you have taken a truly major step, begin to see yourself as part of the community of shirtless sportsfolk. Have a friendly smile and a hello for the other shirtless runner you pass going the other way; don't spin your eyes away when a jogbraed woman hoves to. This is not about being intrusive; it is about acknowledging the bond that you share as exercisers who have shed the inessential, who do not need the encumbrances of fancy fabrics or nice-cut tops to gild your exertions. By going shirtless, you have joined a movement, and you have earned your solidarity with the others who have dared to go bare. And you should have plenty of friendliness left over for every other fellow human being too!
Feel that sensuous buzz
Having endured a few shirtless sessions, many of us describe a 'sexy charge' as we soldier along stripped and sure. There is no need to deny it and you should rather enjoy it; for me, it is one of the little perks of having converted. By exposing our bodies, after all, we are likely holding ourselves up to a higher standard; we will feel a greater need to ensure that our body-temples are maintained with care, since many is the person who will steal a glimpse, if only fleetingly. There is no issue, then, if a natural frisson of sensuousness occasionally accompanies our assertion of shirtlessness. I have elsewhere called this a domesticated strain of exhibitionism; but then remember that we are exhibitionists when we play a musical instrument, speak in public and do anything that might draw someone's attention.
During your first shirtless exercise sessions, there will definitely be attacks of nervousness and doubt. These are dealt with in some of the posts on this blog. There is an identity war going on: A part of you wants to reformat your identity to encompass your becoming a shirtless runner. A 'conservative faction' will resist, and throw up any opposition it can. One way to stiffen your still-partial conversion is to 'confess' ('it is good for the soul', after all). I see it online often, when people Tweet to their friends, "Went for shirtless run". By forcing yourself to reveal to someone else that you are at least more open to the shirtless pursuasion, there is a solidification in your own psyche. It will lead in time to greater confidence, and it does not matter if the people you make your revelation to fail to express support. It is more important that you have made that confession. Of course, you need not be theatrical about it; just slip it in naturally, perhaps in a conversation about comfort in exercise, or in a self-deprecating manner
A a true shirtless runner does not start out shirted. Why, after all - if we now accept that going bare is natural, healthful and to be encouraged - should we still hide behind an initial vest? When you are ready, therefore, the step that really cements a conversion is to remove one's shirt, lay it aside and then head out - stripped to the waist, with no 'safety shirt' to resort to. If a neighbour, friend or colleague meets you, you must mutely declare your devotion to the shirtless cause. The first time you embrace this full conversion, it can be nerve-racking - but as you thereby prove to yourself that you are simply exercising comfortably and confidently, a new level of liberation and exhilaration will be attained. I still remember the day I first did this, and feeling the honesty of removing the last crutch.
It may take your months or years to travel the road I have outlined. You may turn aside, in which you are still due credit for having explored rather than simply sneered. But if you stay the course, you may in the fulness of time join those of us who have converted so joyfully, we now want to spread the word.
Online, there are many opportunities for converts to testify to how they have 'gone shirtless'; many have done so, and so added their testimony to the evidence that, as Step 3 above, helped precipitate the conversion process in the first place. I always feel a great sense of satisfaction when I read about how, for instance, a brother convinced a running partner to strip down, or how a sister encouraged her spouse to lose the shirt.
If you believe this blog has helped you, I urge you to write me (email@example.com)with your story, so I can share it with others still starting out. The Comment sections are also left unblocked so that anyone may join the discussion.
May 2015: First up, though I still try to put up blog content whenever I can, it has been easier to more regularly visit the the Twitterverse. Follow me at @barethomas10 and let's keep the shirtless running flag flying. Of course, the blog still attracts very interesting comments, and good discussion. Keep it up.
Second, in the years since this venture launched, and as shirtless running among women has gone increasingly mainstream, the term "jogbra" has clearly declined in use. I will thus prefer "sportsbra" henceforth - as has already been the case on Twitter, and in recent posts here.
I continue to welcome guest posts (sent to firstname.lastname@example.org) on any related topic, including from those who would discourage stripping to the waist. I am myself of course a fervent convert to the joys of running bare. But let all voices be heard!