The gym should be a place of equality, but as women everywhere can attest, it can be an intimidating place to walk into. Even if you’re just as comfortable in the gym as your male counterparts, as a woman people can sometimes assume that you don’t know what you’re doing.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day and women’s strength and power all over the world, we’ve assembled a list of things that men should know about how to support women in the best way possible in the gym. What we need from you often isn’t what you think it might be, and there are ways you can help us out that you wouldn’t necessarily think of, but that we will appreciate.
Don’t criticise our form
Chances are that if we’re in the gym, there’s a reason we’re there and doing what we’re doing. While you might think you’re seeing someone who might not be holding the dumbbells in exactly the right way, what you’re actually seeing is someone who’s trying hard and working out in the best way possible for them.
One way to offer some helpful advice (rather than constructive criticism) is to say a friendly hello in the foyer on the way out, instead of tapping us on the shoulder in the middle of the weights room, which can make women feel put on the spot. This goes double if you think the way someone is exercising could lead them to injury.
Don’t assume we don’t know what we’re doing
Gyms should have a no mansplaining sign in each and every dressing room. Just because women don’t necessarily fit the stereotype of muscled bodybuilders, doesn’t mean that we’re not meant to be there.
Making the assumption that women are clueless in the gym makes us feel small and unwelcome, not something that anybody should ever be doing to another person. Instead, treat everyone with an attitude of welcome and civility, with a baseline assumption that we’re all in the gym because we both want to be there and are meant to be there.
Strong, not skinny
Sure, a lot of people hit the gym to try and lose some weight. But assuming that’s the goal of every woman on a treadmill is inaccurate.
Exercise has been shown to have a huge benefit to mental health, and running, working on the rowing machine or lifting weights is a great way to beat stress and get out some frustration. The stereotype that the only reason women exercise is to lose weight is harmful, and the goal of getting strong and capable is a good one to focus on instead.
Women’s sports are just as important as men’s ones
Female athletes are incredible, and should be treated as such. However, it’s common for women in sports to be overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. An example of this is women’s football. The women who play on professional teams are exceptional, yet it’s men’s football which garners huge attention and support from fans.
If you’re a sports fan, which let’s face it if you’re in the gym you probably are, why not try giving watching women’s sports a go? We guarantee you’ll find a women’s rugby team just as ferocious as the team you’ve been supporting for years, and you’ll be helping gender equality score a goal when your new favourite women’s sport team does.
No clothing comments, please
Casting judgements, even mental ones, on what people choose to wear in the gym in a recipe for negativity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working out in a sports bra - especially when men have the luxury of going bare chested if they want to. It’s hot and sweaty work, people!
Don’t stare at what somebody is wearing when they’re working out next to you, and don’t make comments that could be perceived as threatening. Better yet, make a conscious effort to treat someone who’s wearing fewer clothes than you might ideally like exactly as you would treat anybody else. If you see that other people are making the sports bra wearer uncomfortable, stand up for them - you’ll be working to break down a culture of toxic masculinity and helping somebody in the process.