The Gym is to Women as Lingerie Stores are to Men

The other day I came across this really hilarious video on BuzzFeed called “What it’s like to be a woman at the gym”:

It immediately reminded me not only of how felt when I first started working out, but also of my friends’ reactions when I bring them into the weight room.

I went to the gym with my girl Melanie. Everything was fine in the downstairs section of cardio machines & floor space. The second I took her upstairs to the free weights room, she looked around and, with a nervous giggle, whispered to me, “…we’re the only girls in here…” 

I knew it made her feel uncomfortable.

When I took my friend Christine to the gym, we hadn’t even changed yet. We looking for the locker room in this new facility, when some guys standing by the ellipticals started up. “Hey girls, how’s it goin’? Where you goin’? We don’t bite!” 

“If they keep on hollering at us like that, I’m gonna freak”, she muttered.

Gendered Spaces: The Victoria’s Secret Metaphor

The fact is, whether or not dudes try to talk/shamelessly hit on us at the gym, the gym is a male-dominated space that most women feel uncomfortable in. It’s kind of like trying to shop for lingerie for your girlfriend.

You know, in theory, what you’re supposed to do. You enter the store with determination. I have a goal. I have a good reason for being in here, you tell yourself. But simply being in the store  is an uncomfortable experience. You are out of your element. This is a female-dominated space, and even though you have every right to be there, you still get the feeling that this is a space you are generally not welcome in. And being in the lingerie store is one thing. Actually shopping is a whole other hurdle.

You know that a bra is a bra, but what is the difference between a push up bra and a convertible bra? Padding or no padding? Underwire?! Then there’s panties. You know she likes the ones that covers the top half of her butt-cheeks, but then you get to the panty section and it’s like… low-rise this, boyfriend-short that, thongs, bikini cuts, see-through, bows, strings… Oh my god.

Not only are you completely out of your element in the lingerie store, have no idea the difference between bikini-cut and low-rise panties, you’re also surrounded by women giving you weird looks. As you wander around the store, you feel their eyes watching you. You know that your girlfriend wants a push-up bra, and you found the push-up bra section, but now you actually have to stand there and ruffle through the racks and it is just too damn uncomfortable. Eventually you give up and leave.

It’s the same when a girl tries to start working out in the free weights section. From the moment she enters the free weights section, she gets the feeling that – even though she has every right to be in this space – it is “weird” for a girl to be there, and it makes her uncomfortable.

She knows she should be doing squats with a barbell, but she has no idea what a squat rack looks like, or where to find it. She knows all sorts of dumbbell exercises that she can do, but doesn’t know where the proper place to do bicep curls are. On a bench? Am I taking up someone else’s bench space? Should I stand in this space between the leg presses? That feels weird too.

The free weights section would be confusing and intimidating enough if it were totally and completely empty. But then it’s full of big dudes leering at her. After a few minutes of failing to figure out how to adjust the incline on a bench she’d like to use for dumbbell flys, eventually she gives up and leaves.

Reducing the Intimidation Factor

Now that we all understand the gym is a male-dominated space, and we are all nice people who don’t like making other people feel uncomfortable, I present to you:

1) Coping strategies for females who want to start weight training

2) Guidelines for dudes who want to be nice not creepy at the gym

Coping Strategies for females who want to start weight training:

  1. Bring a workout buddy. Having a friend with you will help you feel more comfortable in the weight room. If you notice some dudes staring at your tits, just stare back at their crotches and squint like you’re looking at something really small.
  2. Ask the gym staff for help. It’s their job to help you! So don’t be shy. Nothing is a “silly” question at the gym.
  3. Wear a hat with a bill that lets you avoid eye contact & visible earphones, even if you’re not listening to anything. These are big “don’t bother me” signals that even the most socially-inept dude can understand.
  4. Know your shit. Read up on how to use gym equipment and plan your workout beforehand (then record your workouts with Cody, the app I write for!
  5. Go H.A.M on your workout. Stay focused and ignore everything else.

Guidelines for dudes who want to be helpful and not creepy at the gym:

  1. Is she gazing around with a bewildered look? Does she look like she’s searching for a piece of equipment? Is she struggling to adjust something? Approach her and politely ask “do you need help with something?” OR, send a personal trainer her way! Be like, “hey Mr. Personal Trainer, I noticed this girl looked like she was struggling in the weight room, maybe you could go assist her.”
  2. Does she look like she knows what she’s doing? Leave her the fuck alone.
  3. Maybe the girl approached you because she needs a spotter. Treat her like you would any other guy you spot for. If she knows she needs a spotter, it means she’s familiar with lifting heavy and going for max weight. She knows what she’s doing, now is not the time to try and give her “pointers”.
  4. Are you there with a group of friends? There are many places in the gym you can hang around, so don’t park yourselves right by the only girl in the weight room. If there’s anything more intimidating than being in a roomful of dudes, it’s having a bunch of said dudes congregate right next to a girl trying to do her glute bridges in peace.
  5. Is a girl doing really heavy weight, with really bad form? Approach her when she is done with her reps and say, “Excuse me miss, i’m not trying to be a dick but I’m honestly afraid you’re going to injure yourself.” If she tells you to fuck off, then fuck off. If she is receptive, share your lifting wisdom, not your number.

On Feeling “Judged” and Intimidated at the Gym:

From what I’ve encountered, most gym dudes have mad respect for women who are giving their 100% in the weight room. As long as you are working your ass off guarantee they are not thinking “Haha, WTF is this chick doing in here, GTFO”.

The fact of the matter is that if you want to be a weight-lifting badass, you’re going to have to get over being intimidated by the weight room. Whether or not gym dudes are doing things that actively make you uncomfortable, feeling awkward is still a state of mind.

Put your big-girl pants on and deal with it.


8 thoughts on “The Gym is to Women as Lingerie Stores are to Men

  1. I could definitely relate to some of your highlights in this post. I love that you have pointers for people who may notice someone looking around or doesn’t know what to do. Sometimes I see men using free weights and other weight machines that I would love to try, but I get nervous about asking for help so I end up not using the machines. I have Youtubed to see the proposer way to use machines at the gym, but it doesn’t make it less intimidating.

  2. Great post Sophie! I love your insight into some of the things least talked about in society. In regards to women and the weight room, yes! I wish more women would join the weight room so I and others wouldn’t feel so intimidated. As athletes, I’m sure most of us have been training since we were in high school but others may just be beginning which is great. Hopefully, this will inspire more women to enter the gym (I mean your blog in general) and for more men to just see us as humans and not a totally different species with ass and breasts. 🙂

  3. As a female personal trainer and someone who never knew what to do on a weight floor before I became certified, this really speaks to me! Way to go! I was that girl who avoided the floor because I hated the leers…now I put my “big girl pants” on and shred it 🙂 Keep inspiring me Sophie!

  4. I signed up for an all women gym. I was lucky there is one around my area and the trainers were great in getting me started with squats, lunges, deadlift, and bench press. If I ever have to move, i will remember this.

    (ps love your blog, I started out researching on weight lifting when one of my girlfriends shared your 1200 calories article on facebook. Its very motivating, I am 5’9″ 120 lbs with lousy self image. I signed up for a gym and started lifting, and 1 month later I feel really great.)

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