The Terrible Towel - gym towels

No, I’m noTerrible Towelt talking about those yellow rags whipped around in circles by fans of the Steelers. Those terrible towels inspire camaraderie, cheering, happiness among fans (or hatred I suppose, if you’re from the Bmore).

The terrible towel of which I speak, is the new “gym accessory” toted by the neurotic gym-goer, who feels compelled to spend countless minutes draping every conceivable inch of equipment with a rag, before mounting said equipment and doing their set (at which point, the towel usually falls off, onto the dirty floor, only so they can stand back up, pick it back up, drape it back over, sit back down, knock the towel off again, repeat to infinity).

Granted, I’m not exactly known for my hygienic virtues, so there’s a strong chance I’m not going to win any converts with this one. Chalk this up to “David’s crazy”, if need be. But just some observations:

  • The first thing I usually ask the towel draper, is why? Why do you feel compelled to drape that towel over the padded seat before doing your set? Is it a germ phobia? Because you know, you are in the middle of a gym, which is arguably the filthiest setting on the entire planet behind only a garbage dump and a hospital. And on top of that, that towel was washed in a load of other filthy towels—everybody’s putrid pit sweat mingled into a giant river of nasty—before being taken out, and folded by other filthy gym hands, and laid in the bin at the front.
  • But then they typically retort, “Oh, I’m not doing it because I’m germ-phobic. I just don’t want to sweat on the equipment”. Yeah, sure—you’re wasting all of your session time as a courtesy to all of the other members you will never meet and don’t know, at a rate of over $1 per minute. Makes sense. Except for the obvious observation—the people most obsessed with towel-draping, are those who never actually sweat. (Yes, there are some exceptions here; I’m talking the rule of large numbers, thank you.) All the years I worked at Lifetime Fitness—the yuppie health club to end all yuppie health clubs—the only members who would get pissy when we were out of fresh towels, were the geriatrics who came in and had zero intention of working hard enough to actually break a sweat.
  • A towel is not a condom—it is not going to somehow magically create an impregnable force field between yourself and all of the germs oozing out of your pores. If you do actually sweat while training, perhaps just tote your towel with you, and wipe the piece of equipment after you finish your set. Granted I’ve never seen a government-funded study on the subject, but I’m willing to bet that, with the post-set wiping method (rather than the pre-set draping method), you will end up clearing essentially the same amount of germs off of the equipment that you would with your pre-drape ritual.

Here’s an idea—if you’re that germ phobic, why not bring your own towel from home, one that you know where it’s been, you know its origin, who has touched it, who has (or has not) rubber it against their genitals, armpits, and butt crack? Just a thought. Relying on the pure sanitary goodness of a gym-provided towel, I dunno, kinda’ seems like a roll of the dice?

So next time you come in to train, wait until you are actually sweating to grab a towel. Or try using your T-shirt to wipe that singular bead of sweat off of your face. Or, just go the whole Monty and come to the gym in your plastic bubble, to ensure you will be safe from all of those killer germs out there.

-David A. Johnston


David Johnston - TEAM Warrior WithinDavid Johnston is the founder and lead trainer of TEAM Warrior Within.  You can also listen to him weekely on the GEARD Up podcast. ( ) David works with clients ranging from the everyday person just trying to lose weight and get healthy, local and national bodybuilding and physique competitors, to IFBB professional athletes.

David lives and breathes all things related to physique transformation, and has devoted nearly half of his life to passionately studying and educating himself to be the absolute best at what he does. His intensity in the gym is matched only by the passion he gives to his clients.