By Jessica D.
By now, many know the health benefits associated with being physically active: avoiding heart disease, depression, obesity, diabetes, and the list goes on. Exercise participation and barriers to physical activity have been widely researched for many decades. Some of the most commonly reported barriers to physical activity include lack of time, lack of enjoyment, lack of social support and lack of past exercise behavior (Trost et al., 2002). However, are we neglecting the fact that intimidation exhibited by male counterparts in a gym environment may account for a large quota of female dropout in physical activity?
The Health Survey for England (Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2011) reported that only 29% of the UK women were achieving recommended levels of physical activity compared to 39% of males. In a study done by Pridgeon and Grogan (2012) whom observed exercise adherence and dropout, all non-adheres were conscious of the presence of others while exercising at the gym. Moreover, when it comes to the way girls dress or the weight they are going to add while doing their bench press at the gym, the presence of males plays a highly influential role.
Traditional public perceptions of a male are expected to be strong, independent, and athletic, whereas females are deemed to be the “weaker sex”. When these gender norms are violated either at the gym or in a sport context, it is common for labels to be given (i.e. “she must be a lesbian”). For this reason, females are left feeling vulnerable in a gym setting, thus, discouraging them from pushing themselves to become in great physical condition, and to most certainly not exceed the condition of their male counterparts.
Although I am no stranger to the gym, the thought of working out next to sweaty guys huffing, puffing, and grunting as they try to bench press hundreds of pounds always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Take the weight room at the Currie Centre, for example. It has become the norm for women to breeze past the room simply because of the male dominated environment that has been created. For many years, I did the exact same thing myself. I felt as though the glares and stares I was receiving while lifting, at times, as much weight as some of the men in the room were making me feel as though I did not belong in that space. However, being a fitness enthusiast, and being well aware of the health benefits associated with adhering to a weight-training program, I did not let the intimidation of male bodies in the room drive me away. I really enjoyed this post “8 Reasons Why You Should Lift Heavier Weights” : number 7 which caught my eye in particular, mentions how “you’ll feel empowered” and that lifting weights is associated with a boost in self-esteem.
While both men and women work out in contemporary gyms, popular conceptions of the gym as a masculine institution continue. That being said, many alternatives need to be considered for women who do not adhere to gym participation as the result of male intimidation. Women-only gyms, exercising partners, and comfortable clothing, to name a few, are good examples of ways to boost a women’s self-esteem and self-efficacy while at the gym. In the end, shouldn’t we be working towards creating a more accepting gym environment? Don’t women have every right to flaunt their muscly arms and toned legs too?
Trost, S.G., et al., 2002. Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity: review and update. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 34 (12), 1996–2001. doi: 10.1097/ 00005768–200212000–00020.
Health and Social Care Information Centre 2011. Health Survey for England – 2008: physical activity and fitness. Available from: http://www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/hse08physicalactivity [Accessed January 2011].
Pridgeon, L., & Grogan, S. (2012). Understanding exercise adherence and dropout: an interpretative phenomenological analysis of men and women’s accounts of gym attendance and non-attendance. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 4(3), 382-399.