On Saturday I tried out a new gym, just for the fun of it. I was able to get in a good workout, spending about 35 minutes on a spin bike and also getting in a good upper body lift.
Let me tell you — working out at my gym at work, I’ve forgotten what it was like to train in a public gym.
Lots of big, sweaty dudes crowding the weight area like it’s their job to just take up space, strategically maneuvering to use the equipment I need, and generally just feeling like the idea of personal space in the weight room is not possible.
Maybe it’s for those reasons that my next observation comes into play: I was the only woman in the free weight section. Yes, in a crowded gym on a Saturday morning, there was not one other woman lifting weights. Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of women in the gym at that time — I could see them! I know they were there!
But for some reason, it was like there was a bubble around the free weight area, and I was the only one who had been able to cross to the other side. I honestly didn’t even notice it at the time, and it wasn’t until a friend (who was there) was joking later that I was in the “guys section”, that I noticed that I really was the only female in the vicinity of the weights. All of the treadmills and ellipticals had been full, I had noticed at one moment while scanning the crowd. There were people waiting on cardio equipment like vultures. And there I was, little old me, alone in the middle of the sweaty, grunting, men.
This was not Saturday. This was me recently in my current gym, feeling at home among the power racks and the pretty even mix of males and females who frequent the weight room.
I’ll be honest, I’m totally at ease in the weight room. Put me in the middle of a squat rack, a bench, and some dumbbells, and I could stay all day. Throw some extra barbells and specialty equipment in there and I’d be happy as pie. So yes, that does give me a little bit of a leg up when it comes to braving the “guys section”*.
*Yes, please know that every time I type that, my eyes roll so far in my head I’m at risk of going blind.
But I couldn’t help thinking about this afterward. Where were all the ladies? Why, in hundreds of people working out, were there absolutely no other females in the weight section? Over the past few years, I’ve been so happy to see a huge increase in pop culture writing about women and weight lifting. From popular women’s magazines, to celebrity workout features, to the insane popularity of the CrossFit games, we’ve seen women slinging iron at a much higher rate. So while I’ve been sheltered and spoiled at my gym/weight room at work, I’ve watched more and more females enter the weight room, and yes, they even frequent the power racks and barbells. Winning!
But stepping back into the real world of public gyms and catching a glimpse of what I thought was a thing of the past makes me wonder: are we really coming as far with women and weight lifting as I thought we were? Has it really translated into the real world or do strength training women really only exist on the web, in the blogoshpere, and in your women’s magazines?
Of course, it was just one day, one small slice of time. Hardly a reliable sample size for any study. But I wonder if I kept going back to this gym, would I see the same thing day in and day out — women on machines and in group classes, and men wherever the heck they please? The only thing that I can think that it really came down to is comfort. Comfort in doing what you already know, and the possibility of serious discomfort when entering the “guys area” (or maybe just in trying something new).
Many women are probably very uncomfortable in entering the free weight area, especially if it’s in a separate room than the rest of the equipment. True, there are a lot of big, sweaty men in there, but truth be told, most of them couldn’t care less about who else enters the weight room. Sure, there may be some jerks who think that “women don’t belong” (it pains me to write that, but it’s true), but you’ll find a select few jerks in every walk of life, and we can’t be avoiding all new places just because of the unfortunate few.
So today is a call to women everywhere. Pick up those weights, use that bench, pick up a barbell to feel the weight of it in your hands (it’s powerful, trust me). Let everyone know that the weight room is not the “guys area”, it’s the weight room, plain and simple. We all belong, we all have a place in there, and we all have the right to better ourselves through strength. And if there is some jerk who makes you feel small for entering “his” area of the gym, pay him no mind. He is not worth your time, and your energy is better spent on the barbell, anyway.