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23rd November 2019

Fact or fiction? The reality of gym intimidation

The gym can be an intimidating place, Lottie Norton talks to gym-goers to find out why this might be
Fact or fiction? The reality of gym intimidation
Gym photo: Victor Freitas @Unsplash

The gym. Loathe it or love it, gyms are opening all around us and ‘fitspiration’ is now a word in the urban dictionary.

For some, the gym is a place to free their mind or keep fit, for others it’s a place of dread. Many gym bunnies thrive off the endorphins they get from the gym and others see it as an alpha playground filled with protein shakes, snapbacks and lad culture. Traditionally, men are seen as the king of muscle gains, whilst women are the cardio queens.

Muscle has conventionally been deemed as a masculine trait and a reason why most women shy away from the weight section and focus on cardio-centred workouts. Years ago, women were absent in the weight section for a fear of getting bulky and looking ‘manly’. However, recently this has been changing.

Has this stereotype transgressed or is gym intimidation still a thing? I carried out some research in Hough End Leisure Centre to find out.

The weight section proved to be heavily male-dominated with only one woman and 15 men present, despite there being 12 other women in the gym. Does this highlight that women are intimidated by the weight section or do they just not want the same gains?

Gym fanatic Emily believes that as a society we have transcended the stereotype that muscle is masculine. Despite using weights, she said: “It can be intimidating; I think it depends on the gym you are in, I don’t find this gym as bad compared to others.” In her opinion, most women feel anxious to use the weight section because of a fear of embarrassment from being told that you are using equipment incorrectly.

Regular gym-goer Sam was in agreement that women are intimidated by how male-dominated the weight section can be, as is evident from my recent visit. But, he suggests this a generational issue where the older generations are more likely to shy away from weights than younger members. Sam reinforced Emily’s dislike that regular weight users also correct men, as well as women, on their ability to use weights. Sam said: “I don’t find they want to genuinely help you but instead do this to show off their abilities.” So it seems that gym intimidation is experienced by all genders.

Would women-only sessions reduce gym intimidation? Emily and Sam think not. Both stated that this would be a regressive step by hiding the problem instead of dealing with it. Emily added: “To ensure women feel comfortable in the gym, new members should be given better gym inductions.” This would help new gym members feel confident in their abilities and hopefully not undermined.

Hough End Leisure Centre do not offer women-only gym sessions but they do for swimming. Receptionist Kate says that this has been requested a few times but does not appear to be a widespread issue.

It seems that gym intimidation is experienced by both men and women with the overall consensus being a fear of embarrassment of someone critiquing your technique. More could be done by gyms to reduce this initial intimidation and provide more education around techniques. Or perhaps more buddy systems could be introduced, much like UpLift Manchester, for gym-goers to share their knowledge and encourage each other in the gym.

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