Naked exercise isn’t just for exhibitionists – it’s a growing fitness trend

A picture of athletes preparing to take part in the ancient Greek Olympic Games: not a stitch of clothing in sight (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
A picture of athletes preparing to take part in the ancient Greek Olympic Games: not a stitch of clothing in sight (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
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Have you ever been wobbling uncontrollably in a half-formed downward dog, or soaked with sweat in a spin class and thought to yourself, ‘this would be so much better if I was naked?’

No, me neither. But a surprising number of people seemingly have – and some evidence even suggests that it’s not as absurd as it sounds. Naked yoga, naked swimming clubs, naked bike rides and naked gym classes all seem to be gaining popularity, with suggested benefits including increased self-esteem and body positivity.

Cyclists enjoying World Naked Bike Ride Day (Photo:PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

Cyclists enjoying World Naked Bike Ride Day (Photo:PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images)

The origins of naked exercise

While it may be making a comeback, exercising naked is a practice that is rooted in history. The Anglo-Saxon monosyllable “gym” is a contraction of the Greek word “gymnasion,” which translates to “school for naked exercise”. The Ancient Greeks ritually exercised in the nude, and the dress code for the Ancient Olympic games was nothing more than a pottery flask full of oil to grease up with. Apparently this helped to get the dust off your skin more easily. (However, other rituals which accompanied these games included brutally sacrificing hundreds of animals and throwing any married women who dared to attend off the top of a mountain. So it’s safe to say that their lead isn’t one that we necessarily want to follow.)

Modern day naked activities

In a much less violent movement, The World Naked Bike Ride is a perfect example of the nude revolution. For one day every year, tens of thousands of bikers take to the streets in hundreds of cities around the world in a protest against oil dependency and car culture, but also as an unbridled celebration of the naked body. Founded in 2004, it aims to “deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world” and the official line on the dress code is “bare as you dare.” While some will find naked exercise liberating, the thought of parading your bare body around a city is pure horror for most people. Not to mention the inevitable saddle burn. For the latter group, there are lots of other options that you can enjoy within the confines of four walls. The nudist group Naturist London hosts a popular Sunday Swim event at the pool of the University of London. No booking or membership is required – just turn up, strip off and dive in.

Naked yoga: ‘being comfortable in your own skin’

Of course, whenever there’s an exercise trend like this, yoga is always at the forefront of it. If Harry Potter yoga, rave yoga, gin yoga or aerial yoga don’t quite hit the mark, then there’s always naked yoga – a practice which has boomed in popularity over recent years.

Naked Yoga London provide four-week courses and claim that “people seem to be able to go much deeper into the practice when naked”.

Doria Gani practices all kinds of yoga and offers specialist naked classes. There is a sense of freedom practising yoga naked,” she says. “Freedom from negative feelings about your body, and deeper connection with yourself and the world around you.”

“While many equate being naked with sex, this couldn’t be further from the truth in a naked yoga class,” she continues. “Naked Yoga is about being comfortable in your own skin and the amazing confidence that comes with it. It’s about knowing, accepting and loving yourself at your core.”

For those who are seeking a more energetic workout, London-based company NKD Training provides naked group fitness classes and one on one sessions.

It purports to offer the chance to “be more in tune with our bodies” in a “friendly and unintimidating environment”.

The benefit: ‘a boost to our confidence’

Some experts have suggested that performing exercise naked does in fact have benefits.

However, these benefits are more psychological than physical, with an increase in self esteem being the commonly cited plus point.

“Being happy with your body begins with a naked one,” says psychologist Emma Kenny.

“Being willing to bare all and being unafraid of our bodies can provide a boost to our confidence. People who don’t feel the need to cover themselves up are potentially more self-accepting.”