Taking the time to shower and put on deodorant or antiperspirant before sweating on an elliptical and then sweating even more on a workout bench that was already saturated with foreign sweat might seem like an absurd and pointless endeavor. But before heading straight to the gym without giving yourself a good cleaning, consider the following pros and cons of doing so.
The Pros of Showering and Applying Deodorant Before Going to the Gym
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of both showering and applying deodorant or antiperspirant before huffing and puffing in a communal space is not developing a reputation for being a disgusting stench monster. “Most gyms are communities, delicate but productive ecosystems of folks with different goals, needs, preferences and idiosyncrasies,” says Jonathan Jordan, a group instructor at Equinox Fitness. “Like ants doing their individual things on the ant hill, it all flows, and all is good with the world, usually. But every once in a while, something threatens this homeostasis and gets all the beasts at the watering hole upset — and nothing gets gym-goers more amped up and pissed off than when a fellow ant comes in all stinky and gross, polluting the air with body odor or spraying the area around them with puddles of sweat.”
Of course, some people produce more odor and sweat than others, so Jordan recommends checking in with yourself before deciding what kind and how much cleanup is necessary before heading to the gym. “You don’t necessarily have to shower before you workout, but be clean, wear deodorant or antiperspirant if you need to, grab a towel and be mindful,” he says. “But don’t swing too far on the pendulum — avoid cologne, perfume and super fragrant odor coverups. The goal is neutral.”
Etiquette aside, some evidence suggests that a hot shower before exercising can increase your body temperature, encouraging blood flow and loosening any tense muscles, which should theoretically result in an easier workout. Unfortunately, though, since your body temperature will be higher to begin with, the chances of you burning out earlier in your workout are also higher. On the flip side, studies indicate that taking a quick cold shower, particularly before some cardio, can help the body withstand prolonged exercise at higher intensity levels, since the cold temperature lowers your heart rate, leaving both your muscles and heart with more room to keep on pumping during a workout before they inevitably overheat.
The Cons of Showering and Applying Deodorant Before Going to the Gym
Starting with showering, the biggest downside of rinsing off both before and after heading to the gym — because for the sake of your skin, you should always shower immediately after working out — is that too many showers can result in excessive dryness. I suppose one could also argue that, since showering after exercising is a non-negotiable, showering before exercising is simply a waste of water.
Before talking about deodorant and antiperspirant, knowing the difference between the two is imperative: Deodorant contains alcohol-based ingredients that eliminate the odor-causing bacteria in your armpits, whereas antiperspirant contains aluminum-based ingredients that combine with sweat to form a gel-like plug that blocks the sweat glands and causes them to shrink.
There are no real strong cons associated with applying deodorant before going to the gym, however, antiperspirant is a whole other story: Since sweating regulates your body temperature, and antiperspirant prevents sweating, applying some before working out could result in you overheating before you might otherwise, essentially cutting your workout short.
Likewise, if you use antiperspirants correctly — on completely dry skin right before going to bed — putting some on right before going to the gym should be unnecessary, since the ingredients should block your sweat for a good 24 hours. Moreover, as my colleague Jeff Gross explained in a recent article about sweating in the gym, there are several alternative methods for curbing your sweating: “Wear head and wristbands, and wring them out as much as you can over a trash can; they may only stem the tide, but hey, when you’re leaking like a sieve, anything that can prevent even a little bit of your sweat from reaching the machine is a good thing.”
Finally, since pit stains are the result of a chemical reaction between sweat and the ingredients in antiperspirants, applying some right before sweating a whole bunch is an easy way to stain all your sweet workout gear.
The Final Decision
In the end, whether you should shower and apply deodorant or antiperspirant before heading to the gym is a personal choice. But truthfully, unless you have some serious odor issues, showering — and especially applying deodorant or antiperspirant — before working out is probably unnecessary.