why is there still a gender gap in the gym?
Last week I was in the weight training area of ââmy gym with a few men squatting with dumbbells on their shoulders and dumbbells on the bench. As I started to prepare for my next exercise, putting weights on a landmine (a bar leaning into a corner that you lift), I could feel someone watching me.
I turned to see a man doing bicep curls next to me roll his eyes. He picked up his weights and sighed before walking away. It was clear that I had irritated him. But what had I done? Did I do the wrong exercise? Was I in his space? Suddenly, I felt like I was out of place.
Then I remembered who I was: a personal trainer with five years of experience training with weights who knew exactly what she was doing and, like anyone, had every right to be in it. space. As I continued with my training, those first thoughts of insecurity quickly turned into rage. If I had been made to feel like I belonged, then what must it be like for someone just starting their fitness journey?
Indeed, a recent survey of Of course women suggests that one in four women are intimidated in the gym, and half have felt negatively judged during training. You’d think this wouldn’t be one thing anymore: more women than ever are training with weights (the London Third Space boutique gym says more than 50% of their strength and conditioning class participants are women), while online fitness communities led by women are thriving. . Seeing women in the weight zone is no longer worth seeing as it was when I started in 2015 – a time when men often wondered if I was able to squat the bar that I did. ‘had accumulated heavily (I was).
Yet five years later, I still get messages mostly from women who have been through similar situations: they have been asked condescendingly if they need help; says they won’t be able to lift something; offered a training session for men with no more knowledge than them. This is what keeps many women away from weight lifting.
Another personal trainer recently told me that an unqualified man started offering advice to her clients when she was training them. Journalist Laura Snapes tweeted that she slipped a record after taking advice from a man in the gym. This is a classic example of why people shouldn’t judge someone else’s workout: you don’t know the ins and outs of their workout or their body. But it’s not just unsolicited advice; it’s the OTT looks and tuts between sets that can make us feel uncomfortable and hyper aware of our place – and our bodies.
It doesn’t help that although there are a lot of gyms filled with women, many are visually gendered towards men which I think reinforces the gender gap in gyms. Some people are also stuck in the mindset that a woman showing physical strength is a strange phenomenon. See female athletes constantly judged on their looks, while men are celebrated for looking strong and muscular; see Island of love where the guys are the only ones shown in the gym, although the contestants reported exercising during their stay in the villa.
While social media helps normalize bodybuilding in women (influencers like me have developed a huge following by sharing workout routines and encouraging people to step into the weight room), it can still be a place to be. perilous comparison that has an impact on our body image and our fuels. our fear of the gym. A scroll #muscular is the new thin on Instagram (1.7 million posts and more) shows picture after picture of slim, toned women. The variety of bodies is limited and doubt sets in. As a society, the acceptance that women can be healthy in bigger, more muscular bodies is still thin on the ground. I hear it all the time. Often, it is because they do not fulfill a sexual ideal constructed by men.
Then there is the terrible question of harassment. Recent statistics from fitness equipment review site FitRated suggest that, shockingly, 71% of women have been sexually harassed in the gym. Last month, a tweet from a woman showing her gym’s response to a complaint about a man’s critical and aggressive attitude went viral. The brand has excused his behavior, blaming him for “high testosterone levels” during training. I know, outrageous.
I’ve heard people suggest more weight zones for women only, but other than religious or cultural circumstances, I don’t see how that’s the solution. We should tolerate everyone in a public space, and we should not make changes for those (men) who cannot understand others (women) while lifting 80kg.
Here’s the thing: the gym can feel like a really exposed place. When else are you so stripped down and pushing your limits? But it should also make you feel empowered – I like to think of training as bulletproof of my body. Strength training is beneficial because it increases bone density, which is a particularly relevant issue for women as we are at higher risk for osteoporosis. Studies show that it also has a huge impact on mental well-being. But a lot of women miss it all because the gym floor isn’t a really comfortable space for them yet. And that’s when it becomes a bigger health equity issue.
A little knowledge goes a long way. If you can’t afford a personal trainer, find a few (with the proper credentials) to follow online. I recommend Tally Rye, Shona Vertue, and Lucy Mountain for simple workout routines you can follow when you’re not sure. Beyond that, do whatever it takes to feel comfortable in the gym – if that means wearing makeup, then do you wear makeup; if it means wearing a loose t-shirt, then wear a loose t-shirt; if that means working around the corner while you gain confidence, that is fine, too.
Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of those people who growl loudly while doing a deadlift or blowing and hovering over your bench while you finish your reps. But you can drown them by listening to your favorite playlist. And if someone does or says anything to make you feel embarrassed or intimidated, as a paying gym member, you absolutely need to speak up with the staff.
I see the gym as a microcosm of society. It’s no surprise that women’s strength training has grown in popularity as conversations about empowerment get stronger. But if women feel uncomfortable in the gym, maybe it reflects how we feel about our life at large. We still have a long way to go in the fight for equality, but the gym is really the place to fight for it. A place where, despite the lingering stigma, women prove we are exceptionally strong.
I see every day that the physical strength we gain also has a positive impact on our mental strength. So go ahead, keep training and I promise you this: with each lift you will become more independent to stay. This space is yours. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Series two of Give me strength from Alice Liveing the podcast is available now.
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