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Published February 19 2013

Rude to be nude? What to do and what not to do in locker rooms

FARGO - In a gym locker room last week, amid the clanging of lockers and the blare of ESPN, members went about their business. Some left their towels lying in a heap on the floor while others walked calmly about in the nude.

For some gym-goers, both actions are serious breaches of locker room etiquette.

As gyms remain fuller than usual from the boost of New Year’s exercisers – which gym managers say will continue until warmer weather sets in – the issue of locker room etiquette becomes more important, especially for people who don’t usually use the facilities.

For some Forum readers who recently weighed in on what people should and shouldn’t do in locker rooms, nudity was often an issue of complaint.

One reader, William Demke, summed up his locker room pet peeve succinctly: “Elderly gym-goers who stay unclothed for uncomfortable lengths of time."

At the Fercho YMCA downtown, though, President Paul Finstad says staff there generally doesn’t consider nudity to be a problem in the locker rooms.

“There’s a level of modesty that we expect members to follow,” he says. “Most people are real good about following whatever policies are in place and using common sense.”

He speculated that the nudity-related complaints could have something to do with a generational difference. That is, younger gym members may place a higher value on covering up when it comes to locker room etiquette, he says.

“It’s a different mindset in that regard,” he adds.

That could explain why, at the YMCA and at other gym facilities, members are coming already in their workout clothes. They then wait to shower when they get home, not in the locker room.

“The use of the locker room is less than in years past,” Finstad says. “Some are concerned about that modesty factor.”

Because of that trend, he adds, some newer gym facilities are being built with smaller locker rooms.

That’s how it is at the 13th Avenue Planet Fitness in Fargo, which has smaller locker rooms for its members, according to Manager Vanessa Heil.

But those kinds of locker rooms aren’t without problems either, and can dictate a different kind of etiquette for people to follow, Heil says.

“Our locker rooms are a little small, so people should be mindful of other people that are trying to get in,” she says. “It’s hard to move around and change when they get crowded.”

In that case, members should be aware of foot traffic so they’re not causing congestion.

“Get in and get out, rather than sitting on the bench and texting,” Heil says.

Perhaps because of these issues, other gyms, like Anytime Fitness on 45th Street South in Fargo, have moved away from communal locker rooms entirely. According to Manager Katie Kapel, that facility has only a handful of private restrooms with showers, as well as a few other rooms for changing.

“We like to give members their privacy,” she says.

Members seem to appreciate having their own space available to them, Kapel says, rather than having to share with dozens of other people at the same time.

“Personally, I would rather have my own space to do what you need to do,” she adds.

Other issues

Other than the question of whether or not one should stay covered up in the locker room, gym managers say there are also other aspects of locker room etiquette members should be aware of – like cleaning up after themselves.

At its busiest point, 2,000 people will go through the doors of the downtown Fargo Fercho YMCA in a single day, according to Finstad. With that many people using one space, it becomes difficult for staff to keep the facilities clean, Finstad says.

“The biggest challenge is people picking up after themselves, whether that’s towels or other things they could leave behind,” Finstad says. “At this time of the year, it’s a bigger challenge than it is during some of the summer months.”

At Planet Fitness, Heil agrees that cleanliness can be an issue there as well.

“With garbage, a lot of people take their wrappers and leave them everywhere,” she says. “It’d be nice if people picked up after themselves, but that’s the same anywhere you go.”

People tracking in snow and dirt during the winter months inevitably make a mess as well, but Heil acknowledges there’s not much that can be done with that.

“That’s what locker rooms are for,” she says.

Additionally, theft can be an issue at locker rooms, as with any public space, but only if members don’t take care to protect their valuables.

“If the locker is locked, we have zero issues,” Finstad says. “If people don’t lock their locker, then it becomes a real challenge to try and enforce that.”

But whether it’s theft or just people walking about in the nude, Finstad says most gym members are good about following rules, at least at the YMCA.

“Most people are pretty good about showing respect for everybody in every way possible,” he says. “But it only takes a few people to create an issue for everybody.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535