With Sun Microsystems' recent acquisition by Oracle, I've found myself moving offices, which thankfully is closer to home. As I would no longer be going anywhere near Camberley, I cancelled my old gym membership at Foundation Fitness (free plug: this is a great, friendly and very affordable small gym in Sandhurst that I would have continued being a member of if it were practical) and waited to see what the Oracle offering is.

Oracle's offering is a heavily discounted corporate membership with the David Lloyd gym across the road. Normally David Lloyd is way too expensive for my liking, but with the corporate discount, it's no more expensive than what I used to pay for Foundation Fitness, so I signed up from 1 December.

Between 1 December and 9 December, I went to the gym 6 times and on all 6 occasions I was barefoot for pretty much most of the time I was in the gym. I performed all my warm ups for running and swimming barefoot, I performed by cool downs barefoot and even performed my weights session barefoot (my squats are much better barefoot) without a single person approaching me or even commenting. Yes, I got some strange looks, but that's expected when people aren't used to something new. Anyway, that was until the 9th. During my weights session that day, I was approached by one of the instructors and told that her manager had told her to come tell me to put shoes on as it's "policy". I questioned this policy but she couldn't tell me anything about this policy other than her manager told her.

Not wanting to cause too much of a scene, not wanting to delay my training and clear in the knowledge she wasn't going to be able to help me further - obviously a policy the general staff aren't too aware of - I obliged and grabbed my Vibrams from the changerooms and continued my workout, but I wasn't going to let this one lie.

On returning to the office I trawled through the Ts & Cs and documents I'd been given and I couldn't find any rule or policy preventing me from going barefoot so I thought I'd email the branch's general manager to find out more. I couldn't find a direct email address, but I did find a contact form in which I posted the following:

Hi there

I've been a member now for just over a week and have attended the gym on 6 separate occasions, each time barefoot. I am a full time barefoot runner and attempt to do as much of my exercises barefoot so as to continue enhancing and improving my barefoot running.

Today I was approached for the first time by one of the instructors, [ removed to protect the person's identity ], and was told her manager had told her to come tell me to put shoes on as it's policy. Unfortunately, she could not tell me where this is documented or why such a policy exists. She did however confirm that Vibram Five Finger "shoes" were acceptable.

So with this in mind, I've got a few questions:

1. Where is it documented that all members should wear shoes in the gym? I may have missed something in the documentation I was provided on joining.

2. What is the substantiation for this policy?

3. If this policy exists, what is the procedure to get it reconsidered?

4. I'm happy to abide by this policy if it exists, but what about situations where I go out for a run barefoot and then enter the main gym to perform my cool down stretches prior to going for a shower? Am I expected to put on my Vibram Five Fingers for the 5 - 10 mins I'll be cooling down?

More and more research is proving the benefits of performing exercises and running barefoot, and in fact I wouldn't be surprised if some of your own classes encourage being barefoot. It would be a shame for an organisation that prides itself in being knowledgeable and up-to-date on fitness topic to be left enforcing outdated and unsubstantiated policies.

I'm not trying to make waves or be belligerent, I'm just keen to found out more about this policy. Given David Lloyd actively advertise they're open to changes in policy based on member feedback, I'm eager to see such a policy documented, substantiated, changed or revoked.

Kind regards,

Not long after submitting my form, I received a response confirming receipt of my email and that it would be forwarded to the sports and general managers for review on Monday as they were both on annual leave.

Much to my surprise I received a call from the sports manager at about 15:30 on Friday 10 December and we discussed this a bit. Apparently the policy about wearing shoes falls under the following very vague and general term in the Member's Handbook:

Part B - Terms and conditions of use
1. General health and safety
[ ... ]
g) While you are at the club, you are expected to behave and dress appropriately, respectfully and politely at all times. We can prevent you entering the club, you to leave or cancel your membership if we think that your behaviour or appearance is not suitable

It's worth pointing out the printed version isn't quite so appallingly written:

Part B - Terms and conditions of use
1. General health and safety
[ ... ]
g) While you are at the club, you are expected to behave appropriately, respectfully and politely, and dress appropriately (for example by not wearing your swimsuit in the club room), at all times. We can prevent you from entering the club, or ask you to leave if we think that your behaviour or appearance is not suitable

Anyway, the sports manager then went on to admit it was a very vague term and also tried to explain that they don't use pins, but if I accidentally stood on one, they'd be responsible. I pointed out that Vibrams don't offer much protection from this "accident" to which he responded "but they're still a form of footwear". He admitted that dropping a weight on my foot wouldn't really be different whether I was wearing a shoe or not. I then asked what about things like pilates and yoga classes and the Power Plate device in which barefoot is often encouraged. The sport manager then pointed out that they don't encourage barefoot on the Power Plate (I acknowledged I've not seen it at Reading, but I do know other sources suggesting it) and "classes take place in studios", which seemed like a bit of a roundabout way of saying "they're exempt because no one can see them".

The sports manager then seemed to become in a bit of a hurry and I definitely got the feeling that he was trying to speed up the conversation to finish off quickly. He confirmed that the general manager would be in on Monday and that he'd discuss it with him in more detail then. He confirmed that they don't like to get in the way of members' beliefs and passions and that as I clearly am quite dedicated and passionate about being barefoot, one of the things he would discuss with the general manager would be the idea of me signing a disclaimer absolving David Lloyd of any responsibility for any injury I may incur due to not wearing shoes.

I said I'd be more than happy to sign such a disclaimer and I looked forward to his or the general manager's call on Monday, but if signing a disclaimer was not an option, I'd be expecting an answer to my fourth question regarding warming up and cooling down before and after my runs etc which I currently do barefoot. The sport manager hurriedly said they'll cover this all on Monday too.

Monday I went to the gym as normal and obeyed the rules and wore my Vibrams whilst in the gym. I think I may have been spotted by the general manager who probably thought "Oh yes, I needed to respond to that email from that guy who doesn't wear shoes" as on my return from the gym I had the following email in my inbox:

Subject: RE: General Enquiry - from davidlloyd.co.uk
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 2010 12:43:58 +0000
From: Matthew Bridle
To: Colin Seymour

Dear Colin,

Thank you for your email regarding barefoot running in the gym.

I fully understand your position to barefoot running in the gym and you
are obviously very passionate about this discipline.

The main reason we ask all members to where appropriate footwear is
purely for hygiene reasons. As Iā€™m sure you are aware the feet can carry
many fungal infections and are more susceptible to abrasions or cuts.
Whilst I am not for one minute suggesting that you have this is the case
for you, I hope you understand I have to keep the rules consistent for
all 3,500 club members.

It does state in the terms and conditions that you must dress
appropriately and this is then expanded in the gym notices to say that
footwear must be worn.

As Iā€™m sure you can appreciate we are a large company and the rules for
all clubs have to be consistent.

Kind Regards

Matthew Bridle

Well, it's nice I got a response though it's clear he didn't actually read my email properly. I was also very disappointed, though not surprised, that his response was one of the two fob-off responses I predicted I would get. As is common with any query about policies, people who: don't know, don't want to know, or couldn't give a monkeys will always respond with an all-encompassing fob-off excuse - in this case "hygiene" - just ask your council why something is so šŸ™‚ . The other response I was expecting was "health and safety", both of which are questionable in the case of being barefoot in a gym.

My full query wasn't answered either, so I responded:

Subject: Re: General Enquiry - from davidlloyd.co.uk
Date: Mon, 13 Dec 2010 14:23:32 +0000
From: Colin Seymour
To: Matthew Bridle

Hi Matthew

Thanks for your response.

I wasn't actually questioning running barefoot in the gym, but merely utilising the gym barefoot.

Thanks for your response, though I'm disappointed the response is the very predictable "for hygiene reasons". It had to be this or the equally predicable "for health and safety reasons", both of which are questionable and neither consistently enforced.

I understand the need for an attempt at consistency though; thanks for answering this part of my query anyway.

My question regarding moving between the front door/change rooms and the warmup/cooldown/stretching area hasn't been answered. Must I wear shoes for this short transition and in this area? I'm particularly concerned
about IN this area as this area is where people train core strength and balance, both of which benefit significantly from being barefoot. I note this area doesn't enforce a "clean shoes" policy (like the shower/pool area) so who knows what kind of stuff is being trampled in on people's trainers and then transferred to their clothes, hands and then onto the gym equipment to be picked up by others.

If so, would your front desk staff be happy to look after my shoes whilst I go out for a run each time?

Kind regards,

PS The online version of the Members' Handbook and the printed copy
don't match with the online version including a few typos too.

I just wanted some clarification on this final point as this is when I'm most likely to be barefoot in the gym and the most appropriate place to be barefoot. I knew what the response would be, but I had to ask just in case I was wrong, after all this is a company that apparently prides itself in it's highly trained and educated instructors.

The response...

From: Matthew Bridle
To: Colin Seymour
Sent: Monday, 13 December, 2010 3:33:35 PM GMT +00:00 GMT Britain, Ireland, Portugal
Subject: RE: General Enquiry - from davidlloyd.co.uk

Hi Colin,

Thank you for your response. It is regrettable that you feel the response is predictable. Unfortunately these are the reasons.

You would need to wear footwear to warm up /down. The reception team would happily hold on to your footwear for you whilst you run outside.

Thank you for your understanding.



... but nice to know his receptionists are happy to hold onto my Vibrams whilst I go out for a run. I wonder if this will change when my Vibrams start getting their own "personality" šŸ˜€ .

So as you can see, I've been given the classic fob-off response, which really doesn't surprise me. Given people's ignorance about the benefits of barefoot, I had to ask. The whole talk of being interested in their member's views etc is bollocks. They're here to make money and expect everyone to just shut up and abide by the rules, even if they are very vague, inconsistently applied and not even explicitly documented.

So to summarise...

  1. Can you go barefoot in David Lloyd gyms?

    NO you can not go barefoot in David Lloyd gyms, though this will of course be contradicted by the gym themselves when it comes to things like pilates and yoga, because "hygiene" is selective šŸ˜‰.

  2. Why can't I go barefoot, even in the warmup/cooldown/stretching area?

    Well, from what I can pick up from the responses of the two managers - they don't think it looks nice (hence it's part of the "dress code" rule). Neither do huge fat obese arses in lycra or ancient knobbly knees in shorts, but they're certainly not going to enforce a dress code here.

I guess in order for this statement on the Complaint Escalation page (you need to log in to the members' lounge to view this)...

David Lloyd FeedBack

... to have any sort of meaning I'd have to raise a formal complaint and escalation. I certainly don't think this is worth being that petty about, but I think I will have a hunt around for the suggestion box so I can make a suggestion about their dress code policy. Come to think of it, if you're a member of a David Lloyd and wish to spend more time barefoot whilst working out, please let me know and I may just put up a suggestion request we can all use.

If you're a member of the David Lloyd team reading this, why not raise the suggestion in your next team meeting. Barefoot is good for you. It makes you stronger and fitter and healthier and the air-time you feet get actually reduces the numbers of bad bacteria and fungus on your feet. The benefits out-weigh the risks. Whilst you're at it why not ask for a team barefoot training session with Lee Saxby so you can all enhance your skills and understanding of going barefoot or join me for one of my barefoot runs - you will be expected to be barefoot too.

Oh yes, and I think I may be on a VIP list (or is it a hit list?) at the gym now as ever since this email correspondence all the instructors who previously didn't say a word to me and barely acknowledged my existence are all suddenly saying hello, asking how my run was and even popping up out of nowhere where ever I am only to very quickly disappear - me thinks they're checking up on me. Maybe I'm being paranoid and they're only being polite now they know I'm around quite a lot.