I used to be terrified of working out without a shirt or tank top on — that is, in just a sports bra. And I know I'm not alone. Senior SoulCycle instructor and Movement Foundation founder Jenny Gaither created the Dare to Bare event for just that reason: to instill confidence in women so they can proudly flaunt their bodies . . . and work out comfortably.
Jenny noted herself that she never used to be comfortable exposing so much while teaching at SoulCycle and would cover herself up in "ridiculous" ways, including a leather jacket. It was only when she asked a friend (who rode in her class) to wear a sports bra with her that she mustered up the courage to go "topless," and it changed her life for the better.
Since going to Dare to Bare myself, I also now almost exclusively wear a sports bra and leggings to SoulCycle (and other cardio classes), and have chatted with several other women who have described the change in wardrobe as "life changing." Here's why.
You'll Have More Confidence
If you've been avoiding showing any skin, it's typically for one of two reasons: one, you're unhappy with your body and afraid of judgment (from yourself or others), or two, you think it's inappropriate or ostentatious (read: you are happy with your body, and you don't want to look like a show-off). Both cases have something in common: fear of judgment!
In either circumstance, by switching to a sports bra, you'll break yourself out of a damaging mental cycle by stepping out of your comfort zone, and thus learn to love your body even more. This might just be a new take on "exposure therapy."
I chatted with Speedplay studio manager Onique Williams, who — after seeing me work out in a sports bra — told me a similar story of learning to love her body through exposing it. Her running coach told her that she wasn't allowed to run in pants, and she had to put shorts on during their training runs. "I love my backside now," she told me, after admitting she had previously been self-conscious of having a bigger booty. Onique mentioned she'd been envious of the girls she'd seen running in itty-bitty compression shorts, and now she's one of them. "It's so important that women are comfortable with what they have," she said.
You don't have to bare it all, but it's incredibly liberating and empowering when you realize you don't have to conform to a standard or live up to an expectation or look a certain way. You can just work out, love what you've got, and be comfortable.
And on the subject of comfort: ditching the shirt will make you more comfortable physically — especially in a hot, sweaty class! If you've ever gone to a heated class or tend to sweat a lot, shirts and tanks can be massively uncomfortable, especially if you don't have the opportunity to change or shower right away (Think: walking out into the cold, drenched in sweat from hot yoga. Fun!). Get comfortable emotionally so you can get comfortable physically.
You'll Get a Better Workout
After a SoulCycle class a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a fellow classmate who told me that working out shirtless has completely changed the way she rides and made her a stronger, better athlete in class.
Why? Form! "I'm always watching myself in the mirror," she said — meaning she's holding her abs in tight, the way she should be. Our instructor Natalie Camp confirmed this; she totally encourages a sports-bra-only ride and leads by example herself. She also noted that many students forget to keep their core tight and hold their abs in, which protects the back and improves the overall workout. By taking the top off, you're getting a full frontal view of your midsection, and you'll be more focused on holding it all in, activating those abdominal muscles.
Over time, you'll also be able to notice nuances in your form and how it correlates to a certain feeling, making you even more body-aware and optimizing your workouts.
Added bonus: consistent shirtless workouts mean you'll notice every bit of progress with your body — and you can totally flaunt your hard-earned abs!
You'll Inspire Others
Just like I was inspired by a sea of 100 (or more!) women of all shapes and sizes cycling outside on stationary bikes in their sports bras, you'll inspire someone else, too. How amazing would it be to impact even just one person's life in a positive way like that? Not only will you be loving yourself more and getting a better workout, but you'll be helping someone else live a happier, healthier life, too.