Shirtless Running: An Etiquette Guide

By Bill Bradley

Growing up along the shores of Lake Michigan, I spent every summer running shirtless. It made sense. It was fine. The entire cross-country team frolicked shirtless. There was no one to bother. There were no children to frighten.

For 15 summers I did this, right on into adulthood, not even tying a shirt around my waist in case I found myself stranded and needed to enter a place of business. I left the house half naked and hit the pavement, until the day my girlfriend finally admonished me: Put on a goddamn shirt, she said. You look ridiculous. And she was right. The good people of Brooklyn did not ask to gaze upon my pinkish flesh.

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I’ve come to believe that, in most cases, running shirtless does look ridiculous. It’s an exercise in vanity, a sin against the unwitting bystanders who emphatically don’t need to see that. And yet I still maintain that there are times in these dog days of summer when shirtless running is acceptable. Having thought an awful lot (perhaps too much?) about this topic, I hereby offer a handy guideline to consult before leaving the house for your next run:

DO wear a shirt if you’re running in a major American city with sidewalks where other, normal people are apt to brush against your slippery naked torso.

DON’T wear a shirt if you’re in a place with population density ranging from “suburban bedroom community” to “more corn stalks than people.”

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DO wear a shirt if you’re at the gym, please. In fact, your gym should not even allow shirtless exercise. If everyone in a sweaty room is walking around topless, that room stretches the definition of “gym.”

DON’T wear a shirt if you’re training for a Tough Mudder in the backwoods. You are clearly already insane, and disinterested in hygiene. For you, wearing a shirt is just putting on airs. Don’t bother.

DO wear a shirt if you commute to work by running. Obviously. And even then we have to ask: Who exactly commutes to work by running? Do you people have showers in your offices? Isn’t that weird?

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DON’T wear a shirt if you’re at your local track. Anyone else committed enough to running to actually be at a track won’t mind if you’re shirtless. They’re probably shirtless, too.

DO wear a shirt if you have a chest tattoo. We know you see this as your big opportunity to show it off to the world, but it’s cooler to be like Kevin Durant and keep the goods hidden most of the time.

DON’T wear a shirt if you are—or physically resemble—Matthew McConaughey.

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