Train Naked, Says Pierre du Plessis

In ancient Greece, people used to participate nude in the Olympics. They also trained in the nude in the gymnasium, or the Gumnasia - a word literally means to ‘train naked’.

Nobody really knows why. Some say it was trendy, others that it was just practical (it must be difficult to run a race in a toga). A gym is awkward enough, but can you imagine doing a Zumba class or spinning in the nude?

Here is the thing though. The gyms of ancient Greece were more than just places where you went to physically exercise your body, they were places where you also went to train your mind. After the physical exercise, wrestling and steam baths, there was a time set aside for philosophical discussion and debate.

I’ve been a tad obsessed with this idea, this training naked-just-as-you-came-into-this-world idea. It was about a decade ago that a friend of mine pointed out to me how the idea can function as a great metaphor for being honest, authentic, and real in our efforts to become better humans, build better businesses and all-round better lives.

At the entrance of every gymnasium in Greece was a sign reading Strip or Retire. In other words, get skin in the game. Once you enter here you either participate, train, or you leave. This is not a spectator sport.

Too often in life and in business, we stand on the sidelines or sit in stands shouting at the players to do this and that, to run faster. I once overheard a dangerously obese guy at a sporting event shout at a participant ‘You can’t run!’. The irony was just too much.

Truth is, life appears to be a spectator sport. We spend way too much time shouting from the stands and too little time playing the game. We live in the comment section, typing away furiously because someone is ‘wrong’ on the internet. At least they said something.

The least we can do is try; we should all have skin in the game. We should show up just as we are and give it a go. As a famous quote by Theodore Roosevelt goes, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”

We should try. You should try. I should try.

One of the lines that grate me endlessly is when someone tells me, ‘I’m more of an ideas person, not really a doer.’


In the words of Dr Phil, ‘how is that working out for you?’

Not to hate on people that have a constant torrent of ideas, I do too. But it is very, VERY rare that anyone is going to be paying you just for ideas. If ideas, the inspiration, doesn’t take on flesh, incarnate, they are worth zero.

What to do then?

Well, what do you want to do, what type of person do you want to become? That is the first and biggest question. Set that goal and then break it down into little training exercises, naked training exercises. Small doable things that you can try today that will help you to become and create the life and business you want. Show up just as you are, no pretence, no hidden agendas, and try. If you know you need to get better at networking, then speak to the stranger in the coffee shop. Or even less difficult, ask the barista a non-coffee related question - he has to speak to you, it’s his job.

If you want to start something new, start it small, but start it. Fire bullets before you fire cannonballs, the saying goes, heck, fire nerf gun darts if you must. Just pull the damn trigger. We are all waiting for you, show us what you’ve got.

Get skin in the game.


About Pierre du Plessis

In a chaotic world Pierre helps people build meaningful lives and businesses do work that matters. 

He is an educator at DUKE CE University and has spoken at BMW, KFC, Adcock Ingram, FNB, Nedbank, and has been featured on TEDx stages numerous times.

He has worked in fashion, advertising, trend analyses and branding. He is the founder of Coeur Brands, and the chief writing officer of HumanWrites.

Pierre leads a contemplative community of faith in the heart of Cape Town, is a published author and has received the Desmond Tutu Gerrit Brand literature prize.

He believes he is the love child of Gertrude Stein and Jason Bourne. 

He lives in Cape Town with his wife, two kids, and his iPhone.