If you’ve ever taken a Spin class, you may have worn those snazzy cycling shoes that clip into your bike pedals. While there’s not a lot of evidence out there as to whether wearing cycling shoes is actually more efficient than sliding your sneakers into cages, a lot of boutique studios don’t even offer the option of flat pedals anymore, which means you’re stuck sharing rental shoes with a couple hundred sweaty strangers.
Despite the gym’s best efforts to clean and deodorize them, there’s always the chance you might pick up a funky-smelling pair. Or even worse, the front desk hands you a pair that is still… wet.
Regardless of how close to Lance Armstrong-levels of intensity you ride, you might be wondering if the most hygienic thing to do would be to get your own pair of shoes.
But to our surprise, Nick Wolny, a cycling instructor at Ride Indoor Cycling in Houston, assures cyclists that using shared shoes isn’t as much of a concern as we might think. “Cycling shoes get disinfected after every class, so there are probably far more critters crawling around in your personal sneaker soles,” Wolny says. “I actually freeze my trainers weekly to keep the stink at bay.” :frantically scans sneakers with a magnifying glass:
Philip Johnson, M.D., a professor of general internal medicine at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, agrees. “It’s really not a problem if you wear your own clean socks,” he says. “While it’s possible you might pick up athlete’s foot, it’s rare, as gyms tend to do a good job of spraying and disinfecting equipment.”
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Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
But just because the experts claim it’s not the most disgusting thing on Earth, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue to strive for cleanliness. Johnson noted that whether or not you use shared shoes or bring your own, you should still take steps to protect yourself from germs and infection at the gym. Wearing shoes in the locker room and showers is an easy preventative measure, and, of course, always wash or sanitize your hands after you leave the gym.
Steve Xu, M.D., an instructor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a practicing dermatologist at Northwestern Medicine, noted that risk of infection can vary slightly from person to person.
“The risk of foot infections (like athlete’s foot) is a combination of both the person and the environment,” Xu says. “Some people are simply more prone to fungal and skin infections than others—this may be due to chronic disease, like diabetes for instance. For cycling shoes, it’s definitely an environment where a foot infection can happen. I would say that if you want to minimize your risk, get your own shoes. If not, you can go the extra mile and clean the shoes yourself with a disinfecting wipe and be extra careful if you have broken skin.”
Wolny said that a bigger issue with borrowing shoes is that you’re never really guaranteed the right fit.
People love wearing cleated shoes in cycling classes because they help your feet stay in place to avoid an annoying slip ‘n slide situation, and, well, they look super cool. But wearing the incorrect size of any type of shoes can seriously strain your joints, especially if you wear them more than twice a week.
“Rental shoes stretch out quickly due to daily wear and tear, and the cleats are positioned differently on every pair,” he says. “A poorly fitting pair of shoes can sour the whole workout, so if you’re looking for an excuse to invest in a pair of your own, blame the fit more than the stink.”
“If you get your own pair and work with staff to perfect the positioning of the cleats, you’ll instantly ramp up your workout game,” Wolny adds. “When you’re comfortable in your shoes, it makes a huge difference.”
So, if it helps you sleep at night, go get your own cycling shoes.
But if you’re chill with sliding into the same kicks someone else has bowled in, you really shouldn’t stress about doing the same at the gym. If you are in the market for your own pair of cycling shoes, we love anything from Specialized, or you can find a quality pair for a decent price on Amazon.
Emilia Benton is a freelance writer and editor based in Houston, TX, whose work has appeared in Runner’s World, Women’s Health, Self, and Pop Sugar, among other publications. An avid runner, she has finished nine marathons (and a couple dozen half-marathons). She also enjoys country music, baking, and traveling.