The gym can be an intimidating environment, the weights area especially in most gyms has gained a reputation for being a space for big angry men to chuck some steel around to a heavy metal soundtrack.
For those of us who don’t fit this description, the thought of going into the weights room can fill you with dread, especially if lifting weights is something you’ve never done before. Many women especially, feel like this is not a space for them and that they should stick to the machines. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a fear or made up perception.
In the fitness industry, especially when it comes to strength sports, there is still a huge amount of discrimination. You only need to scroll through the comments section of a female strength athlete's social media for 2 minutes to see how prevalent this problem is. From people giving elite female athletes unsolicited advice on their form, ‘concern’ that they’ll hurt themselves or kindly letting them know that their world record holding body isn’t what they find attractive in a woman.
Many people still see strength training or building a muscular physique as an exclusively male activity, not in keeping with their ideas of femininity. Women should be gentle and delicate, not strong and powerful. So they think. Therefore women can be overlooked or discriminated against when it comes to strength training. Many online plans targeted at women seem to forget we have upper-bodys too, and many women have experienced microaggressions in gym settings. I have had weights taken off me (surely I wasn’t using them!) and had two guys stand behind me in the squat rack I was using and start doing curls.
It’s not surprising that many people are put off lifting weights for these reasons. That is why it is so important to make sure these spaces are as inclusive as possible and that we are considerate and welcoming of other gym users, whatever level they are at.
I believe that strength training is one of the most empowering activities you can do and I’m so glad it’s becoming more and more popular. But everyone deserves to participate in it, therefore we can’t get complacent and let groups feel excluded from it.
Luckily, for every person that might steal a weight or make a comment, there’s far more that want you to love the gym as much as they do. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing people through the gym and created a great support network. If you’re nervous about going to the gym on your own, try going with a friend, hiring a personal trainer or learning lifting through a class to gain more confidence. The more time you spend in the gym the more you realise that most people there don’t really care what you’re doing, they’re just focusing on themselves. And if they do, it's probably because they’re cheering you on, not judging you.
This piece was written by Milly Laffey, who works at our Harcourt Campus Sports Centre. She will soon be starting a women’s only lifting group to start teaching and empowering women to feel confident in the gym. You can find Milly on Instagram.
If you're interested in trying out our facilities please visit Brookes Sport for details about our facilities and opening hours.