SAUNA ETIQUETTE (Written March 2016):

I guess it’s been about twelve weeks or so since I first set foot in my new gym! Expectations were high. So was my motivation.

My motivation took a bit of a hit after my FREE PT session but hey, my wife is swelling by the day and the date for our soon-to-be-arriving-SON is looming. No point crying over spilt milk. I don’t have the time.

To be honest I’m a little grateful for my crazy PT experience. It brought to the fore something I’ve been feeling for a while; that there is something about the ‘gym-world’ that does not make sense.


The Natural Method: A Personal Journey

In 2015, Damien learned that he was going to be a father for the first time! At that time, one thing that was obvious to him was that he needed to get back into shape. In doing this Damien rejected the orthodoxy that fitness = exercise, and that exercise had to be predictable, routine and BORING.

Damien’s journey not only transformed his fitness, but reconnected him to his ‘wild’ side and with what the human body has been capable of for many millennia.

These entries are transcribed from Damien’s journal and track his experience as he rediscovered his own body, developed his Rewilding training method and ultimately founded The Wilding Project.

Like stretching. Stretching has always been a big part of my gymnastics training, but can I find a place to stretch! Does anyone ever stretch in a gym before a workout!?

And all the rows of fitness machines are beginning to feel like ways of organising bodies and not ways of making my body more versatile. The exercises I can choose from and the movements I can practice all seem limited, linear, repetitive and predictable.

In summary, it’s not the kind of fitness that I’m chasing.

Here’s a routinely observable gym pattern. Guy ‘A’ walks in. Grabs a 25kg barbell and starts huffing. Guy ‘B’ checks his phone while on a treadmill and again after every exercise. Guys ‘A’ and ‘B’ lift more weight. And then both drink something powdery -I’m guessing it’s powdery because at some point everyone in the gym, almost to the person, becomes a cocktail waiter during their workout; shaking-up and consuming whatever it is they’ve got in their purpose built receptacles.

It’s weird!



I have access to a sauna and stream room. WICKED! Kind of.

I also have access to a wide range of classes and I’ve tried EVERYTHING! BodyPUMP, JAM, STEP, Boxing, Yoga. There are not many men in BodyJAM! JAM is my favorite class. It’s super fun and gets me moving in non-linear ways.

But the most tragic thing about my gym experience has been my experience of the sauna and steam room. An experience that I think is ‘the straw’ that broke this camel’s back.

During the ‘Welcome Tour’ the sauna and steam room sounded awesome and I was super keen to use them regularly. And I have! Unfortunately I have since learned that the average Australian male gym-goer has absolutely no idea of how to use these facilities!

I’m currently of the view that Australian sauna etiquette is a little messed-up.



Now I’m sure the club does its level best to keep the sauna clean but by the time of my arrival (6PMish), the sauna smells and feels like a cesspool of humanities worst elements.

Quite apart from the hygiene question, which I was actually willing to overlook, I think I’ve witnessed just about every form of odd-to-weird sauna behaviour.

But if I step back from my own disappointment for a second, the sauna behaviour I’ve witnessed is truly crazy! Here’s my top five sauna-etiquette-oddities:


#5. Great Place To Dry Your Clothes!

Enter old Greek guy. Nice guy actually. Attempted to dry his recently hand-washed gym clothes ON the sauna element, ie., hot rocks! He then get’s them extra crispy under the change rooms one and only hand-dryer! Thankfully another sauna-user instantly reprimanded him for -maybe a little too harshly, for his outrageously stupid and dangerous behaviour.


#4. A Good Sinus Cleanse!

Enter paunchy Asian guy who spoke absolutely no English that I can discern.

This is round two actually. A repeat star performer of the public sinus cleanse.

Goes like this:

Man gets comfortably sweaty while seated with knees apart, hands on thighs and head tilted back slightly. He then demonstrates the (usually unseen) art of the ‘hock’; meaning, a kind of deep inhaling-snorting-choking-grumbling neck and chest contortion that has the effect of gathering up all the slimy spit and gunk in your nose and throat and then … wait for it … purge!

Right into the corner of the sauna. Pfawt!

He does not flinch.

He returns to Buddha-Mode: hands on thighs. Eyes closed. Loving the serenity!

Mother f’er!!!!


#3. ‘Home Brew’ Water Over Hot Rocks!

There is one thing I do not understand: pouring water over sauna rocks.

I mean the difference between a Steam Room and a Sauna is pretty simple: saunas are for dry heat and steam rooms for moist heat. The gym has both. So why people insist on pouring water from their drink bottles over the sauna rocks is beyond me.

Yes I know pouring water generates steam and makes it hotter, but it’s already HOT enough. And not only has the club deliberately NOT provided a bucket and ladle to facilitate this practice, there’s a sign above the heater which reads, ‘Do Not Pour Water On Rocks! Which means …

But the funniest moment was by one regular. Enter gnarly-long-grey-haired-old-hippy, who brings his own special mixture of eucalyptus oil and water and then, without warning, pours a good deal of it over the hot rocks.

To be honest I thought the idea was ingenious. It smelled AWESOME!

However, the other sauna-goers were not so impressed. They were transformed into a lurching bunch of coughing zombies; wheezing, crying and stumbling out the door uttering expletives.

I later heard that several complaints were made to management about Mr Hippy and his conduct and I’ve not seen him since. Pity.


#2. A Great Place To Use A Device.

Me, I like a quite sauna where you can just breathe, and be, and enjoy the heat. And I do understand that saunas can be social places.

I have no issue with people having a quiet chat in a sauna. That said I’m no fan of listening to crass, boisterous or inane conversations where the sole purpose of talking seems to be to catch up on gossip or fill space because someone can’t handle silence or stillness.

But where I completely draw the line is with A. The use of mobile devices to play videos or music and B. Taking phone calls in the sauna!

Grrrrrr! Transgressors! May your brains fry!


#1. A Great Place To Workout!

I get it! Saunas are warm which offers people a unique opportunity to stretch. If that’s what you’re after … Bikrum Hot f’ing Yoga. Just down the street!

But my little gym has a serial, and very serious, Sauna Workout guy!

He’s older. Heck I don’t know. 65yrs? Wiry and well tanned. I’ve never see him in the gym. But when he hits the sauna! The man is a machine. Possessed.

I mean he performs odd stretches and deep lunges with his legs up on the benches. Budgy smugglers. Tackle hang’n about. I’m then serenaded by the heartfelt sounds of the odd stretch-grunt and the dulcet tones of a deep inhale with arms reaching overhead and exhale -arms down to his toes. And then he busts out a sh!t-ton of pushups! Which is actually kind of impressive.

He’s unashamedly serious about his sauna workout and it genuinely makes me laugh, which I’ve done several times. Out loud. While watching his sauna workout spectacle.

It’s the push-ups that crack me up. Every … Single… Time.

They’re performed with both hands placed evenly on the first row of seats and his feet on the floor. The action of the push-up movement (which is the thing that gets me) is like watching a person performing a reverse caterpillar across the floor. Only in his version his elbows hardly bend at all and his head bobs up and down like a duck scooping water!

I’m not sure what muscle this activity is suposed to activate, but my belly gets a serious once over. It’s hilarious.

I like to think that I have some form when it comes to sauna, spa and steam room use. I’ve experienced the Onsen in Japan -what a remarkable thing. Steam rooms in Istanbul and in Turkey and I’ve used saunas therapeutically throughout my entire sporting career.

I think I know how they’re supposed to be used but I’ve NEVER seen anything like the kind of behaviour I’ve witnessed in the sauna and steam room at my gym.

Anyway, I can’t bring myself to use the sauna or steam room anymore. Today I witnessed #4 on my list and I’m done!

I also think I’m done with the gym. I’m just not sure what I’m going to do next.

Damien Norris is the founder and senior whole-body movement and lifestyle coach at The Wilding Project (LINK), Perth Western Australia.

Recently featured in TEDxPerth (LINK), Damien teaches children, young people, adults and seniors how to move and live a full life!

Olympic Fun & Fitness and The Wilding Project like Rewilding is dedicated to a movement rich life. Programs like Gymnastics, GymFIT, FootyEDGE, Parkour, Workplace Athletes, ActiveAgers and more all follow a simple philosophy, “Learn to move well and then never stop.”

Damien Norris