The Jubilee Sports centre gym is usually busy, with a fairly equal number of boys to girls. Unfortunately this ratio is not distributed evenly across the apparatus, the obvious girl-void being the ‘weight section’ by the changing rooms. The reason for this is clear: fear. Fear brought by intimidation of the male majority in the area, fear of looking like an idiot when trying to squat 10kg next to the guy doing above his body weight, and also fear of acquiring Madonna-like muscles.
I have yet to visit the Jubilee gym this year, as I’m on a year abroad, but my sources tell me the situation is the same as it was last year and the year before. The weight section is as off-putting for girls as ever. Boys prowl about like aggressive bears, often standing around for lengthy periods of time with no shoes on whilst ‘spotting’ (gossiping), and occasionally moving round like knuckle-dragging apes, depending on the state of their hangover. Ok I may be exaggerating a little bit: as a girl who does use the weight area I know that there are plenty of boys who mind their own business, withholding judging/pervy glances and just get on with their own training. Though this isn’t all a girl has to fear: when she does venture into the section, the other affront often faced is unsolicited advice, especially when it gets handsy. This really needs to stop.
Aside from this hostile environment, why else are there so few girls crossing the dumb-bell threshold? Time to debunk the myth that weight training immediately results in melon-sized biceps. It just doesn’t work like that. We have less testosterone than boys, meaning that our bodies are not as designed for adding large amounts of muscle mass. Unless, of course, serious training is undergone to do so. On the flip-side, the benefits of weight training are many. From improving life expectancy to reducing the risk of oesteoarthiritis and oesteoporosis, not to mention that you get fitter and more toned, and isn’t that why we’re at the gym in the first place? One of my favourite fitness quotes in favour of this is “What’s the difference between an ass and a bum? Squats.” True that.
There have been attempts in the fitness industry to try and tackle this problem: starting first with making weight training environments more open, hoping that in time ladies would start using the weights, and then realising that, no, bulking up does not happen overnight. Fitness First have done this with their new ‘freestyle’ sections in their gyms, featuring nice coloured plyo boxes. While this does sound a bit silly, if it gets the gals in the section, I’m a fan of it.
So what can be done? Well more gyms should start with integrating the weight section more, and providing proper information to their female members on how to train, and how it won’t suddenly mean you could become arm wrestling champ 2013. Boys can help too, by making the section seem friendlier. No more peackocking, patronising and perving, please. Girls, you also have to do some work though: walk in there head held high, do your bench-press, dead-lift – whatever – and own it. The more of us who can build up the confidence to do this and forget the fears, the more will follow.
Image by Jasmine Cooke.