Gyms can be a hotbed of hostility if you’re a women.
Between the excessive sweating, OTT grunting and gross habits – women also have to navigate leering looks, handsy trainers and baffled glares if you dare to enter the weights room.
‘Gymtimidation’ is a real problem for women – and it’s causing them to steer clear of gyms altogether. So what’s at the root of this unpleasant phenomenon?
Sport England recently reported that a fear of judgement is stopping women from getting active. It’s something that we desperately need to address because 40% of women aged 16 and over are not active enough.
‘There has been a noticeable decline in the number of women joining the gym in the last 12 months,’ says Sarah Chivers, owner of 24/7 Fitness.
‘Not just at 24/7 Fitness, I am hearing the same thing across the entire industry. The question is; why? Part of the answer is that women are feeling judged by men in the gym.’
There’s an ingrained perception that the studio is for women and the free-weights section is for men – there are certain areas of the gym where women just do not feel welcome.
For Laura, the thought of going to the gym stressed her out so much that she just stopped.
‘When I used to actually go, I felt so intimidated,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I would try to go at hours of the day where it wasn’t busy – which was easy because at that stage I was working shifts that were all over the place.
‘When it was busy, if I was not going very fast on the treadmill or something, I felt like people would judge me – like they would think I was wasting time and that they could be using that machine.
‘I also really, really hated it when personal trainers would come up to me and tell me what I should be doing, just so they could try to sign me up.’
Faima agrees. She also hasn’t been to the gym in a long time and puts that down partly to feeling insecure.
‘I was unsure of what I was really doing when I went to the gym,’ she explains.
‘I had a session with a trainer on my first day, but I kept forgetting what they had told me, and doing the exercises in random order.
‘I was worried they might mock me or have a conversation about me among themselves. I’m sure they didn’t, but you just become hyper-aware whenever your body is concerned, especially as a woman.’
‘I exclusively work out at home,’ says Moya. ‘Partly due to the intense amount of anxiety and intimidation I feel at the thought of having to be clueless in the gym.’
Joanna adds that it isn’t always men in the gym who make her feel intimidated – it’s the expectation to keep up with a certain standard of fitness too.
‘I found my first few times at the gym really intimidating – especially walking into a class with women who looked amazing and didn’t look like they were even sweating. Terrified wasn’t the word!’
24/7 Fitness have reported a worrying trend in the decline of female gym members. More than 50% of their gyms saw a reduction in the last year.
With a 69% male to 31% female split, the 24/7 Fitness club in Halifax saw the biggest gender divide in its live memberships in June 2019.
It’s not just intimidation from the opposite sex or a lack of knowledge that is causing women to skip the gym; it might also be the constant exposure to unattainable workout goals.
There are almost three million uses of #gymselfie on Instagram alone – and this bombardment of images of the same type of body shape is likely having a negative impact on our mental health and body insecurities.
According to research conducted by 24/7 Fitness, the changing room is the most popular place for #gymselfies. So if you don’t feel great about your body, the pressure to upload a selfie after every workout isn’t going to help.
For Ellen, her concerns about the gym are more specific.
‘My issue in the gym is about sweat,’ she tells us.
‘I know that I sweat a lot and I very much feel that if I’m doing cardio at the gym then everyone’s going to judge me.
‘I’m definitely intimidated by the weights area too, as it’s just full of massive bulky guys. It’s annoying because I like to do weighted squats and I just sort of dither by the area until it’s clear.’
Emma says that it isn’t only the weights room that makes her feel nervous – even going to classes can be incredibly stressful.
‘I tried going into the weights area, which is enough to give any woman anxiety,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Once I got my head around it and worked out a routine, it wasn’t too bad, but you do get creeps who decide to stand right behind you, or just stare at you the whole time.
‘On the other side, you quickly pick up on the people who talk to you to flirt and the people who talk to you just because they are friendly.
‘I do love classes, but again, I do get quite a lot of anxiety.
‘Spin classes are great as you can sit down and you go at your own pace, but classes like bootcamp get me really nervous, especially when a granny puts you to shame.’
But sometimes – guys are just incredibly gross.
‘I have had a few run ins with creepy guys,’ Zoe tells Metro.co.uk.
‘One took a picture of my bum when I was stood up on a spin bike. Another one would always be in gym at the same time and would watch me work out while he was sat doing nothing.
‘It made me feel hyper-aware about working out around others for a while.’ Understandably.
How to feel confident in the weights room
1) Find a great trainer who can not only give you guidance of what to do and how to do it, but can also help you feel more confident in a space they “own”.
2) Train with a friend, so no matter how nervous you might be, you are in it together.
3) Have a clear plan of what you are doing.
4) There are literally thousands of women who have walked in your steps into the weights room before you. It is no longer a rare sight to see a woman lifting heavy.
You have as much right to be there as anyone. Own it!
Melissa Weldon, master trainer, Sweat It
So what is the answer? Training with weights and doing strength training in the gym can be hugely beneficial for women – so it would be a shame if a lack of confidence or intimidating behaviour from other members put women off from going altogether.
‘It can initially feel a little intimidating walking into the weights area of a gym; but the fitness industry has made great leaps towards making it more inclusive for all – especially with the emergence of group training boutiques,’ explains Melissa Weldon, master trainer at Sweat It London.
‘Group training boutiques give you all the benefits of strength training with a trainer who can help you with your form, technique and give you the confidence to push much harder.
‘The benefits of weight training tend to be pretty universal; except the osteoporosis benefit which effects almost double the number of women than men.’
If you’re feeling really nervous, plan out exactly what you’re going to do.
Having a detailed plan is half the battle. Know where the machines are, how to use them and where the weights are – even if that means going in early or the day before to scope out the space and having a chat with a friendly looking trainer.
‘I used to feel really intimidated in the weights section, especially if it was in a separate room or section in the gym because it was usually full of men,’ says Mattie.
‘I had a personal trainer for about three months in 2017/18 and now I feel way more confident.’
Tess agrees: ‘I got over the intimidation by training with a PT who showed me how to use the weights safely and progressively.
‘If you know what to do it makes it easier to lord it round the gym with the big boys.’
So maybe that’s the answer. A few sessions with a qualified professional to get you started. If you have a fitness fanatic friend, bring them along for extra support and advice.
Above all – don’t worry about the haters. Staring is uncomfortable of course – but a lot of our insecurities are in our heads. Most people are too busy getting on with their own workout to waste time looking to see if your bum is wobbling on the treadmill.
Of course – if anyone crosses the line, talk to a member of staff at the gym immediately – because gymtimidation is definitely not OK.
I am Team GB
Toyota has teamed up with Team GB to re-launch the hugely successful participation campaign ‘I am Team GB’.
Over the weekend, there will be hundreds of free and fun activities across the country, put on by an army of volunteers; the ‘I am Team GB Games Makers’.
To Join the Team and be part of The Nation’s Biggest Sports Day sign up at: www.IAmTeamGB.com