So You’re Going to a Russian Gym – Here’s What to Expect

Russian gym

Getting used to Russian gym culture was one of the challenges I faced my freshman year. There are so many little differences that it often lead to embarrassment and lectures from angry receptionists until I learned the ropes. Below is a mini guide to Russian gyms that I hope will help you understand more about their expectations.

Arriving at the Gym

Working out in Russia - clothes

NO ONE goes to or leaves from the gym in their workout clothes – except me! Some things never change >:)

Most people go and come in whatever they are wearing that day – even those who came from home or arrive by car.

When you go in, you will most likely have a membership card that you will give the receptionist and they will keep it and in return give you a locker lock, key and a towel. You get your card back at the end when you hand in the lock, key and towel.

Arriving in Winter

coat check at the gym in Russia

If it’s winter, they expect you to check your coat at the door (they give you a number so as not to mix up the coats). They might fuss at you if you try to take your coat into the locker room. They have explained to me that the reason you have to drop your coat off at the coat check is because your coat is carrying outside dirt and you would be dirtying the gym to wear/carry it to the locker room. This is probably the same reason why people don’t show up with their gym clothes already on.

What I don’t like about this is that as an American, I pride myself on saving time and I am not saving time when I’m standing in line waiting to give my coat to them and then again standing in line waiting to get my coat back from them. So if my coat isn’t too big and it can fit in the locker then I prefer it that way. I sometimes sneak it past them like the ninja that I am!

Russian gyms require you to wear shoe covers in the winter when you first enter the gym.

Many but not all gyms require you to wear бахилы (baheeli) in the winter. Баxилы are those blue shoe covers that are found in museums, clinics, etc. In winter, you are required to put them over your shoes as you come into your Russian gym.

Russians are strict about dirt. For many, dirt = germs and there’s no point arguing over this so just accept it and learn to deal with it. However, during winter there is a second reason to wear them – to keep the mush and slush from going everywhere and making the floor slippery.

Why You Need Two Pairs of Tennis Shoes in Russia

You need two pairs of tennis shoes for Russia: One pair for outside and one for the gym/inside.

During the summer, if you have a favorite pair of tennis shoes that you wear everywhere you can forget about wearing them to your Russian gym too. The norm in Russia is to have one pair of tennis shoes for outside and a second pair to workout in or to wear indoors. Your gym tennis shoes should never be worn outside; they should be totally clean.

This is the same for kids at the daycare; They should have different shoes to wear inside than the ones they wear outside. For more insight on expectations at daycare and preschool in Russia, follow the link here.

What People Are Wearing

Athletic wear and leggings - no shorts

Ladies usually wear athletic brand clothes such as

No sorority or football-styled cotton t-shirts.

They don’t wear shorts but leggings.

Men wear the same thing as in the USA

Men do wear shorts and many wear super short shorts that look like cheerleader shorts.

The style is pretty much the same as in the USA minus the cheerleader shorts.

In the Locker Rooms and Showers

There are no private stalls

Everyone showers after their workouts. There are separate changing rooms for men and women, but there are no separate or enclosed stalls for changing. Modesty is not an issue here. Walking around butt naked and fancy free from the changing area to the showers is of no concern to anyone. If you like a little more privacy, there’s usually a bathroom in the locker rooms, but that that would be kind of weird for them.

It’s the same thing for the shower room: there are stalls but without doors. One way or another you’ll have to get used to being exposed in front of strangers or having them be exposed in front of you unless you have a home gym.


If you’re going to shower at the gym, take some flip-flops, soap and shampoo if you want to get clean. Not all places offer towels, so find out in advance if yours is a gym that offers that. There’s usually a hair dryer since Russian grandmas like to yell at passersby who have wet hair when the air is cool.

Other Unusual Things You May Encounter

Water fountains in the usa usually have only one temperature for water

In a Russian gym, no one drinks just plain cold water because it is believed to a.) give you a brain freeze or b.) some people think it can make you sick with sore throat. The water fountains have hot and cold water and some even have sparkling water. You’ll see most people pour cold water, a dash of hot water and a bit more cold water on top.

Check ups are required if you attend a gym with a pool.

If your gym has a pool, you may be required to visit the in-house doctor even if you aren’t planning to use the pool. It may be a requirement to become a member.

The doctor will examine your hands and feet and will see if you have any fungus or skin condition and will ‘clear’ you to use the pool.

No cleaning spray at the gym

In all my time here, I’ve never seen anyone cleaning the machines. Nor is there any cleaning spray for you to use. Idk if a Russian gym ever gets cleaned but hopefully when it’s closed! It seems strange because there’s always someone there cleaning the floor the whole time I’m there but never anyone cleaning the sweat off the machines.

Looking for a gym in St. Petersburg, Russia? Check out our post on gyms in the city center and for more information on life in Russia, follow us on Instagram and Facebook.