Toronto Life - The Informer

Insider intel on the politics and personalities shaping the city. Sign up for Preview newsletter for weekly updates



Dear Urban Diplomat: Can I go barefoot on the treadmill at the gym?

Dear Urban Diplomat: Footloose

(Image: YoTuT)

Dear Urban Diplomat,
I’m a physiotherapist, and I recently started running barefoot on the tread­mill at my gym. To my dismay, a manager informed me she’d received complaints. When I explained that it’s better for the gait to run shoeless, she said my member­ship would be terminated if I didn’t put my shoes on. I feel I have the right to choose, especially when it comes to the better­ment of my health. Is there anything I can do?
—Footloose, The Village

Read your contract. As the barefoot running craze has exploded, some gyms have started including clauses stipulating footwear. If it’s in there, you’re out of luck. If it isn’t, I still wouldn’t raise a stink. You probably aren’t posing any new risk—the gym is already a funhouse of bacteria—but feet are generally gnarly and prone to smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos after a day of being cooped up in brogues. So, like the beefcake who’s dying to go shirtless but instead squeezes into a too-small tank top, you owe it to your fellow gym rats to suck it up. Buy a pair of those lizardy toe shoes, or cancel your membership and put the money toward a home treadmill.

Send your questions to the Urban Diplomat at

  • Johnny Pneumatic

    It’s too bad health clubs are so up tight about this. I even got kicked out of a gym for wearing fivefingers! Not enough protection they said – even though they were fully covered by a liability waiver.

    And the last thing people have to worry about are some harmless foot-bacteria on a treadmill strip. Coliform bacteria deposited on handgrips from slobs who don’t wash their hands in the restroom can actually kill! If clubs just made a rule that clients feet be washed before going on the treadmill, this wouldn’t be an issue. They could also make a rule that gym shoes be clean and dirt/poop-free as well!

  • Own2Feet

    Barefoot is a very healthy option, especially during exercise, and the logic of the Urban Diplomat is faulty. If people arrive at the gym barefoot or in flip-flops, there is no shoe-induced odor. Feet are not “generally gnarly,” but a lifetime of keeping them locked up in shoes causes them to become that way. The point is only valid if someone strips off their shoes and socks after a workout and then does the treadmill. So why deny considerate people who make sure their feet are “treadmill-ready” the right to exercise the way they want to? It’s long past time to rethink our attitudes toward shoes and feet, especially when it comes to exercise.

  • Earthshod Mike

    The “Urban Diplomat” seems to be perpetuating a misguided myth by saying “feet are generally gnarly and prone to smelling like Cool Ranch Doritos.” The human foot in its natural state, when properly cared for, is no more “gnarly” or smelly than any other body part. It seems rather disingenuous for a gym to impose rules that potentially compromise one’s health and force one to exercise in a less-than-optimum state.

  • Pete F

    Many studies have been performed by the CDC in order to target harmful germs and in every case study I’ve seen, surfaces touched by hands in public places have far more harmful microbes than the ground and floors. I was even surprised to find that it even included public restrooms. On in particular study that I recall, it had a dirty gas station restroom floor ranking about equivalent with the escalator handle at the mall. I think the real issue here is people are not used to seeing bare feet outside of isolated settings. Social norms are a very volatile and a moving target, Go barefoot until is not uncommon to see and then everyone will be all right.

  • Nick

    I would find a new a gym. Clearly this gym does not know what they are talking about when it comes to health or safety. There are people that go barefoot for medical, religious, and health reasons and if the gym wants to make up reasons to exclude barefoot members take you business some place else. I would not support a business like that.

  • Paul

    I would find a new gym to workout in if I were this person. As long as the feet are moderately clean and not smelly (as most people who are barefoot on a regular basis are) there should be no issue. While it is up to any gym whether or not they accept barefoot patrons, their usual reasons only amount to ignorance, and enforcement of such amounts to discrimination and bigotry.