Have you ever experienced “gymtimidation”? You know the feeling when the thought of walking into a busy gym full of serious ‘gym junkies’ completely dissuades from your initial motivation of going for a workout? All too often, the average gym environment can be an overwhelming and potentially intimidating place, especially for someone just starting out on their fitness journey.
In particular, it appears that women may be affected by this even more than men with the ‘gender-gap’ at the gym acting as an additional barrier for women to feel judged or as though they don’t belong when they step into a gym or a fitness class.
WHY GYM ENVIRONMENTS CAN BE INTIMIDATING FOR WOMEN
It goes beyond a feeling of simply feeling self-conscious as these negative connotations can contribute to women not wanting to work out as regularly or perhaps not at all, which can have a damaging effect on the overall fitness and health of the female population.
The Google search for ‘female-only gyms’ in the UK has quadrupled in the past 3 months, showing that perhaps now more than ever, there is a demand for a gym environment where women can come together to create a community to motivate and inspire one another. Beatitude opened its doors in 2014 as London’s first female-only fitness studio with the aim of providing efficient workouts and nutritional plans tailored to women of all ages and fitness abilities within one club. Going to the gym can feel daunting if you’re not really sure what you should be doing. However, being part of a group fitness class can really help build your confidence as you learn techniques both from your trainer and from the community around you.
THE NEED FOR FEMALE-ONLY GYMS
Beatitude’s founder Siobhan Middleton, has spent over 10 years working as a personal trainer with predominantly female clients. She set out to remodel fitness for women by providing bespoke classes with progressive and flexible options rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Early on in her career, Siobhan realised that many gyms and studios didn’t offer any specific training or support to enable women to reach their fitness goals.
“As women, we experience a series of significant changes throughout our lives, including pre/postnatal, menstruation and the menopause and we also have a higher number of hormones which change on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s so important that as women, we are placed in a fitness space with professionals who can support the growth of our own knowledge around how our bodies work so that our overall health and fitness can thrive.”
Whilst gyms and fitness studios strive to promote good health, we can also see a trend of gender health inequalities. We know that regular exercise is of paramount importance to our health and wellbeing but global data shows that women are less likely than men to meet their weekly exercise quota.
When it comes to strength training and weightlifting, for example, the gender gap widens even more significantly. Creating a space where women feel confident and empowered when they workout promotes radical inclusivity and enables us to reach a larger group of women whose previous barrier to entry may have been a sense of intimidation or stigma around lifting weights. Of course, women should feel empowered to participate in any area of exercise they wish. After all, a well-rounded approach to exercise is the healthiest and most effective.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A SAFE SPACE FOR WOMEN TO EXERCISE
Health, fitness and mental wellbeing is not just about how fast you can run, how much you can lift, or how much weight you can lose. It’s about establishing realistic goals around what you want to achieve within your body, mind and overall health and working on maintaining these healthy habits.
“The gender gap in physical activity is well-documented, with women around the world less likely than men to meet internationally recognised physical activity guidelines for health. There is presently a policy appetite for addressing the gender gap, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasising the importance of offering safe and accessible leisure-time physical activities for women as part of the solution,” writes Stephanie Coen, PhD, a critical health geographer at the University of Nottingham with an overarching concern for how everyday social and material contexts matter for health and health equity. To read the full paper written in 2020 by Stephanie E. Coen, Joyce Davidson & Mark W. Rosenberg titled, ‘Where is the space for continuum?’ Gyms and the visceral “stickiness” of binary gender’ click here.
Research shows that ensuring we exercise regularly can help to reduce the risk of developing many diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer and can offer multiple mental health benefits, including stress management. Studies have also shown that just 30 minutes of exercise a day can provide a range of immune-boosting benefits and improve the way that our body responds to potential vaccines, which of course, is more relevant now than ever before.