Going to the Gym in Russia
Back home in the USA going to the gym was easy and clear. I knew what to expect and by that I mean that I knew the rules of how the gym staff expected me to behave as well as the other gym members. When you come to a new country, they have their own set of cultural norms and behavioral expectations of their citizens and if you aren’t already familiar with those expectations it can be a bit uncomfortable and even embarrassing at times when you aren’t following ‘the rules’. So this article is dedicated to what going to a Russian gym is like and what sort of expectations will they have of you when you enter their establishment.
But before analyzing Russian gyms, let me explain what going to the gym was like for me back home: I’d load up in my car (gym clothes already on), turn the radio to something that would get my adrenaline rushing and set off towards the gym. Once inside, I’d fill up my water bottle (cold water only because that’s all they have at the fountain) and grab the spray bottle of cleaner to wipe down the machine I was about to use to start my work out.
That was my routine for several years. The only change would be when I went to the gym from work and in that case, I’d go in my work clothes and change in the ladies’ room inside one of the designated stalls with a door that closed (modesty intact) because if at all possible, most people don’t change clothes in front of each other.
After the workout, I’d get in my car and go straight home where I’d shower. Usually people don’t change clothes before going home, guys and girls alike. People, who get really sweaty during their workout, usually have a towel in their car that they use to cover their car seat with so it doesn’t get nasty and stinky.
I think most people in the U. S. have a similar routine. Few people change clothes after their workout and even fewer take showers at the gym unless they have somewhere important to go and it’s not convenient for them to go home first. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I showered at the gym in the USA but that was there and things are almost the opposite in Russia.
What You Need to Know About Going to the Gym in Russia
NO ONE goes to the gym already in their workout clothes – except me! Some things never change >:)
Most people go there in whatever they are wearing that day – even those who came from home or arrive by car.
If it’s winter, they expect you to check your coat at the door (they give you a number so as not to mix up the coats). They might fuss at you if you try to take your coat into the locker room. They have explained to me that the reason you have to drop your coat off at the coat check is because your coat is carrying outside dirt and you would be dirtying the gym to wear/carry it to the locker room. This is probably the same reason why people don’t show up with their gym clothes already on.
What I don’t like about this is that as an American, I pride myself on saving time and I am not saving time when I’m standing in line waiting to give my coat to them and then again standing in line waiting to get my coat back from them. So if my coat isn’t too big and it can fit in the locker then I prefer it that way. I sometimes sneak it past them like the ninja that I am!
Another thing to keep in mind for winter – бахилы! Баxилы are those blue shoe covers that are found in museums, clinics, etc. In winter, you are required to put them over your shoes as you come into the gym.
Russians are strict about dirt. Dirt = germs and there’s no point arguing over this so just accept it and learn to deal with it. However, during winter there is a second (and imo better) reason to wear them – to keep the mush and slush from going everywhere and making the floor slippery.
Why You Need Two Pairs of Tennis Shoes in Russia
During the summer, if you have a favorite pair of tennis shoes that you wear everywhere you can forget about wearing them to the gym too. The Russian norm is to have one pair of tennis shoes for outside and a second pair to workout in or to wear indoors. Your gym tennis shoes should never be worn outside; they should be totally clean.
This is the same for kids at the daycare; They should have different shoes to wear inside than the ones they wear outside. For more insight on expectations at daycare and preschool in Russia, follow the link here.
What People Are Wearing
Ladies usually wear athletic brand clothes such as
No sorority or football-styled cotton t-shirts.
They don’t wear shorts but leggings.
Men do wear shorts and many wear super short shorts that look like cheerleader shorts.
The style is pretty much the same as in the USA minus the cheerleader shorts.
In the Locker Rooms and Showers
Everyone showers after their workouts. There are separate changing rooms for men and women, and there are no separate or enclosed stalls for changing. Everyone changes all together – modesty is not an issue here. Walking around butt naked and fancy free from the changing area to the showers is of no concern to anyone.
If you like a little more privacy, there’s usually a bathroom in the locker rooms. I should tell you that that would be kind of weird for them. It’s the same thing for the shower room: there are stalls but without doors. One way or another you’ll have to get used to being exposed in front of strangers or having them be exposed in front of you unless you have a home gym.
If you’re going to shower at the gym, take some flip-flops, soap and shampoo if you want to get clean. Some places offer towels, so find out in advance if yours is a gym that offers that. There’s usually a hair dryer since Russian grandmas like to yell at passersby who have wet hair when the air is cool.
Other Unusual Things You May Encounter
No one drinks just plain cold water because it is believed to a.) give you a brain freeze or b.) some people think it can make them sick with sore throat. The water fountains have hot and cold water and some even have sparkling water. You’ll see most people pour cold water, a dash of hot water and a bit more cold water on top.
If your gym has a pool, you may be required to visit the in-house doctor even if you aren’t planning to use the pool. It may be a requirement to become a member.
The doctor will examine your hands and feet and will see if you have any fungus or skin condition and will ‘clear’ you to use the pool.
In all my time here, I’ve never seen anyone cleaning the machines.
Nor is there any cleaning spray for you to use.