Feature photo credit: Flex Point Security via Unsplash
“Ma’am, we need you to leave now.”
Do you workout when you go on vacation? My vacations tend to include lots of wandering around with my camera, and it’s common for my husband and I to rack up 20K+ steps in a day. Even with this high level of activity, I like to find some time to lift when I’m on vacation. I like feeling strong, keeping up with my programming, and regular strength training reduces the daily aches and pains of living.
Adding lifting to my vacation adds clothes. I need at least one set of workout tights, a sports bra, and a comfortable top. And my lifting socks.
Even when I’m home and don’t have to worry about taking up space in a suitcase, I lift “barefoot” in specially designed socks. They have grippies all over the bottom, are woven with antimicrobial silver threads and are extra strong and durable for the friction that can come from rapid movement. It’s usually considered good form to deadlift with your feet parallel to the floor, and squatting without shoes avoids some form challenges as well. And it feels good. I can really ground myself into my lifts, and since switching to lifting socks, I’ve been able to reduce some of the chronic pain in my hips and back. I don’t know for sure it’s the socks, but I know they aren’t making it worse.
Pre-COVID, I used a community gym, and before I joined, I specifically asked if I could lift in my socks and sent the owner a picture of them. He said he had no problem with it. My gym before that was at the community center in my old neighborhood, and they were fine with it, too.
I heard the occasional concern from someone about dropping weights on my feet, and my usual response was along the lines of “Do you think your shoes would protect your feet if you dropped 100 pounds on them?”
I’ve wondered sometimes if folks felt like it was “dirty,” although I suspect it would actually be cleaner if we all lifted in socks. No tracking around whatever gross stuff that can be found on the soles of your shoes as you go from one piece of equipment to the next.
So with that context, back to my story.
“Ma’am, we need you to leave now.”
The now simpering gym attendant had found two enormous security guys, who seemed relieved to have something important to do before 9am. They menaced at me while I slipped my shoes over my lifting socks. I had been sitting on the floor, stretching, when they arrived, and it was quite a view to look up at them with all their communication and public safety devices strapped to their immense bodies. I bet they know the value of lifting barefoot. I kept the thought to myself.
The day before, the officious attendant had pointed to the sign on the wall that specifically stated “Shoes will be worn at all times.” I clarified that I was indeed wearing specially designed lifting footwear, but he was not interested in my opinion or in engaging in philosophical discussion over the values underlying such a rule.
Was the goal to keep me safe? To avoid liability? To keep the gym clean? There are other ways to meet those goals than to blindly follow a narrow rule just because it was posted on the wall.
I sulkily put my shoes on for the remainder of my workout. Ok, I admit that when the attendant seemed to tire of watching me, I slipped out of my shoes again for a while.
Apparently, he wasn’t going to put up with this sort of rebellion for a second day, and he was ready to call in reinforcements. I walked to the exit with all three men ensuring my removal.
Some people follow the rules because it’s a rule. Some people need to know why it’s a rule and need to feel that it is justified before they are comfortable following it. It’s pretty obvious which camp I fall into. It’s not my intent to be an asshole; I just wish people could see that sometimes there’s more than one route to solving any particular problem, especially when it’s an apparently harmless behavior like lifting in my socks. In this case, I suspect it’s not about any particular risk, but more about a value for sameness–universal rules applied equally to everyone. Equality valued over equity. Equity is messy. It requires evaluating each person’s needs in context. Equality is easier–and perpetuates disparities. I’m going to keep lifting in my socks. I would like to continue lifting on my vacations, whenever we get back to travel, although maybe not at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
If you feel like joining me in the rebellion, you can find my favorite lifting socks here.
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found wearing her lifting socks, picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.