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Shirts On or Shirts Off???

Shirts On or Shirts Off???

Should Climbing Gyms Adopt a Shirts-On Policy?

Climbing culture is about inclusivity, which is why shirtless climbing can be a sensitive issue. In this article, Tess talks about her thoughts on why going shirtless should be accepted within the climbing community.

Exercising shirtless is widely practiced among other sports, so climbing should not be the exception. People should be encouraged to climb in a way that makes them feel the most comfortable so long as it doesn’t jeopardise anyone else’s safety, and if that means climbing shirtless then so be it.

Womenclimb trip to Catalonia Spain, November 2018. Natasha Hirst Photography

The Sweat Effect

Climbing shirtless isn’t about creating sex appeal, it’s about performance. It takes a lot of money and energy to heat or air condition a gym, so most gyms are hot and sweaty in the summer and freezing cold in winter. When it is sticky and sweaty in the summer, it’s gross to climb with a sweaty shirt stuck to your body and arms. Tank tops solve the problem of having sweaty, constricting fabric around your shoulders but for women, a tank top is basically a sports bra with two extra inches of fabric around the stomach. Those two inches of skin uncovered in a sport’s bra should not be offensive enough to anyone to warrant a shirts-on policy. For men, it’s a little more complicated: men could wear a tank top to climb in, but given that a man’s tank top is sometimes referred to as a ‘wife-beater’, it is understandable why they aren’t so popular. If their option is to climb in a sweaty shirt that will end up sticking to them or climb without a shirt, without a shirt seems like the more comfortable choice.

The Pros Go Shirtless

Check out Shauna Coxsey’s Instagram page and you’ll find loads of photos of her working out in a sports bra; the same can be said for Sasha DiGiulian, Chris Sharma, Sean McColl, and so many more athletes. If you watch footage of the film Silence, you will see shirtless Adam Ondra making history by sending 9c.  I am by no means even close to being a professional climber, but climbing in a sports bra is my favorite way to climb. It’s when I feel my strongest and most powerful because I have room to move my body without the constriction of sleeves, and I don’t have to feel sweat-slicked clothes stick to my body every time I make a move on the wall. While some clothing choices are either impractical or downright dangerous and should rightly be banned, such as skirts or cowboy boots (both of which I’ve seen at gyms before), climbing shirtless is neither. If shirtless is how the climber prefers to climb, then let them climb.

Feeling Uncomfortable?

If someone is uncomfortable with another climber who is climbing shirtless, it’s probably because of that person’s actions more than their appearance. Maybe they can’t get their problem and are screaming in frustration when they fall off. Maybe they’re part of a loud group of climbers taking up lots of mat space. Maybe they’re acting like a stereotypical gym bro – giving unwanted beta and cutting in front of people for a problem. Not only are these actions annoying, but they’re disrespectful. Gyms should take action to promote a positive and inclusive environment, and this comes from people’s attitude towards others. No one should have a problem with a shirtless climber getting on with their training in a way that’s respectful of others.

Do We Need Policing?

The issue of climbing shirtless isn’t targeted at one gender in particular, but women are most often the ones targeted by sexist rules surrounding appropriate athletic attire. Running is one of the worst sports in terms of sexist attitudes towards clothing, as the runners at Rowan University can attest to. For the same reasons that climbing shirtless is popular, running shirtless is popular: having a sweaty shirt stuck to you while exercising is gross. This hasn’t stopped people from trying to police women over what they can or cannot wear during exercise and it’s mostly justified by the extremely sexist logic that women exercising in sports bras are a distraction to men.

Banishment Still Happens


In the aftermath of the Rowan controversy famed American runner Kara Goucher, a two timeOlympian, three time NCAA champion, and a sub 2:30 marathoner tweeted: “No lie- I had to bring a note signed by my mom that said, “my daughter has permission to run around in her underwear” after a group of us ran in sports bras at practice. That was 1995, I thought things had changed.”
At the 2018 U.S Open, where temperatures hit 35 degrees, French player Alizé Cornet corrected her inside-out shirt during a heat break and briefly flashed her sports bra. At the same tournament, Novak Djokovic sat in a chair, shirtless, as he wiped sweat off himself with a towel for several minutes. Guess who got the code violation? These attitudes are a major problem. Policing women for their clothing choices when exercising is degrading and reinforces the sexist idea that women’s bodies need to be covered up, whereas men’s bodies are a source of pride for their prowess in sport.

So to the next person who has a problem with me climbing in a sports bra: while you’re wasting time getting flustered over two missing inches of fabric, I’ll be getting warmed up and ready to crush my project.

By Tess Skelly

Got something to say about this? Comment below.

  • Lydia Yang
    December 7, 2018 at 3:41 am

    This article certainly got my attention! haha. Like said, climbing is meant to be an inclusive sport, so going shirtless will be slightly inconsiderate as it makes some around who are having body issues feel even more insecure about their body and might even be demotivated to even keep getting better at climbing just as a passion and not just to look good.

    • Cass
      February 7, 2019 at 7:46 pm

      I understand your reasoning, But it could be argued that the people who are insecure about their body issues are the ones who should change, not the people who are climbing shirtless. There are strong arguments for and against.

  • Lizzie
    March 10, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    I have significant chub around my middle and only recently has it occurred to me that I could still climb in a sports bra. If I’m comfortable that’s a that counts but I do wonder whether the same attitudes would be displayed to women with flat stomachs and those of us with lovely wibbly bellies.

  • Jemma
    April 27, 2019 at 3:07 pm

    I have no problem with shirtless climbers or climbers in sports bras. I have no problem with whatever clothes any sports person wears. I personally feel uncomfortable in just a sports bra so I don’t climb in one, a vest instead, but if I did, I’d just get on with it! People with a problem are likely just jealous in my opinion 😉

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