We’ve spoken to our female members to learn why they felt like they didn’t belong in a gym, specifically the weights room.
Special thanks to our Barn members, Emma (Aged 49), Phoebe (aged 27), and Julie (aged 56), for their contribution to this blog.
I grew up with the image of petite slim women smiling away with perfectly placed hair and a beautiful glow to their skin on a cross-trainer or doing a step class.
And then there were the chiselled to perfection topless men in the free weights section doing bicep curls and pull-ups.
Now, there is a whole conversation to be had about the image of men within a gym, but I want to focus on women’s experiences here.
As a woman, have you ever felt out of place stepping foot into the free weights section of a gym?
Have you been intimidated by all the machines and unsure how to use them?
Are you worried about doing something wrong, not being able to lift something or simply making a bit of a tit of yourself?
Even as a trainer, I get it.
Sometimes people find that hard to believe.
Even though I am a coach at a gym now, I have experienced these emotions first-hand in the past.
Many women, myself included, have felt totally out of place in the weights section of the gym in the beginning.
‘We grew up in the era of aerobics classes, leotards and legwarmers. I did the step classes, Zumba, jazzercise and so on and hated them all!’ – Emma
Looking back, there were very few options for women other than doing loads of cardio.
Can you relate?
Thankfully, gyms have now become more accessible. However, that initial nervousness and sense of intimidation can still be there.
Maybe, you’ve tried to give weight training a go, only to hit your default of grabbing a pair of dumbbells, finding a mat in the corner of the room and staying there for the duration of your workout.
‘I mostly stayed in the open mat space to use weights, with most of this space used by females.’ – Phoebe
‘There was a sizable free-weight area tucked away, which I felt wasn’t for me as a woman. I did venture in there a few times, usually when I went at quieter times, but always felt out of place.’ – Phoebe
Many people were exposed to the idea that women should use light weights and do loads of reps to become ‘toned’, and men should lift heavier weights for fewer reps to get ‘bulky’ and muscular.
‘In my experience, it’s assumed that you will be using the cardio machines to burn calories, and if using weight machines, the advice I received was to do more reps using light weights to tone up and be more “shapely”. – Emma
I’d always been told that lifting heavy weights makes women look ‘bulky’. So I assumed that free weights were for men only….’ Emma
‘…I would have had no idea what to do with a trap bar, and it never occurred to me to ask!’ – Emma
It’s essential to delve into this a little deeper.
The fundamental principles to improving your composition, reducing body fat and improving muscle mass/strength are not exclusive to your gender.
Improving your body composition has many benefits beyond the purely aesthetic side of things, including general health markers, cognitive function, and confidence.
We hear many people’s primary goal is to ‘tone up.’
Being ‘toned’ simply means losing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass to achieve a lean physique.
The reality of becoming ‘bulky’ would mean gaining a vast amount of muscle and building muscle isn’t a quick process (as much as we wish it was).
You’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning after a gym session with raging biceps.
In addition, to build vast amounts of muscle, we need to be in a sustained surplus of calories. This means we are trying to gain weight instead of maintaining or potentially losing it to reduce our body fat.
‘When I think about it, women and girls lifting weights isn’t a visible norm in our society so I’m not sure if many outside The Barn Bootcamp are setting the expectation that it’s a great thing for everyone to do.’ – Julie
But the same can be said when we look at this in reverse.
‘I think the societal push to cardio for women has changed from my perspective, but this may be an echo chamber of the accounts I am exposed to on social media. They are more focused on weight training’ – Phoebe
We must step away from this ideology and straight-up BS that the ‘traditional’ methods of cardio classes and lifting light weights is how we ‘get toned’.
Instead, we must strive to improve our body composition through a balanced approach of progressive resistance training, controlled nutrition and appropriate recovery.
Thankfully, there is now a lot of research to show the benefits of resistance training for women (as our members have come to learn).
We know that progressive overload is key to building muscle and seeing those changes to our physique and strength.
Or, as some may say, ‘getting toned.’
Gaining Confidence Beyond The Weights Room
Every client has something in common: They want to feel more confident.
It is easy to think that when we talk about gaining confidence from exercise, we only mean within the gym environment, but that is so far from the truth.
We’ve seen women quit jobs they’ve felt stuck in for years because of the confidence they’ve gained.
We’ve witnessed people leave relationships that no longer serve them as they have realised their self-worth.
We’ve seen people join in with family activities for which they used to sit on the sidelines because they now have the self-belief that they can do anything.
We’ve even experienced someone overcome addiction with the gym being a part of that journey to recovery.
These events all happened because of that self-worth, confidence and understanding that we are capable of anything we want to do, which all stemmed from entering the gym for the first time and doing something we didn’t think we could do.
This is what it is all about.
It is about realising the bigger picture of what being in this environment can do for you.
The Bigger Picture
In the beginning, you may have questions.
For a long time, I would overthink everything in the gym, question whether I was any good at the things I was doing and had some tough times mentally where I spoke very negatively to myself.
Signing up for a gym membership when a flash of motivation hits you may not guarantee your attendance and allow you to overcome some factors holding you back from going into the weights room consistently.
You may be nervous, unsure of what to do, and scared that people will judge you.
Maybe you feel you might not be strong enough or fit enough to be in there.
I promise you, you are.
Everyone who steps foot in a gym, group class or personal training session is there to improve where they are right now.
Everyone has had to start somewhere, learn and endure discomfort at some point in their journey.
However, if you can find the right environment to train and surround yourself with the right people, absolutely all of this becomes a lot easier, not to mention you’ll probably see results quicker.
You see, this whole journey is about learning.
This is what prompted me to qualify as a personal trainer.
I wanted to know I could walk into a gym and be sure of what I was doing, understand that I was doing things correctly and could put together an effective workout.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to go out and become a personal trainer to gain good knowledge in the gym.
However, if you can apply the same idea, you can learn and improve daily.
What currently feels daunting and potentially intimidating will soon fall by the wayside, and you’ll be left with all the benefits of your efforts.
Make no mistake, getting an experienced and passionate coach can help massively.
A passionate coach who genuinely wants to help you improve is one of the most valuable things you can invest in for yourself.
And remember, it is an investment.
It could be the change in your life you have been waiting for.
Changing the Narrative
‘WOMEN’S BODIES ARE BUILT TO BE STRONG.’ – Julie
For so long, women have been conditioned to think that we should go to the gym solely to change our physique, usually to become the most petite versions of ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong, weight loss can be a great, appropriate goal for many people, but we need to shift that narrative around women only going to the gym for that purpose.
‘Before I came to The Barn, nobody had ever talked about my body in terms of strength. It was only ever about what I looked like. But, feeling strong is awesome!’ – Emma
Feeling strong in our bodies leads to us feeling stronger in our minds.
‘Lifting weights is invigorating! I find that the process of engaging all my muscle groups and focussing on technique and pace gives me a great start to the day.’ – Julie
This notion of being strong is all relative too.
We don’t need to compare or worry about what anyone else is doing, which is often a reason why we don’t engage in these types of activities in the first place.
The beauty of lifting weights is that we can do things in a way that is challenging and appropriate for you.
There is no set weight you have to use or specific exercise you have to do if it doesn’t feel right.
‘We just have to challenge our bodies in the right way and at the right level for ourselves to see our strength increase weekly – lifting weights gives us this.’ – Julie
And let us tell you…
That feeling of lifting a weight you never thought you could is something you can’t quite match.
It’s that feeling of doing something you never thought you could that translates into everyday life.
‘I push myself hard and feel a massive sense of achievement afterwards. – Emma
Your Next Steps…
Our call to action for you is to BE STRONG AND SHOUT ABOUT IT.
Yes, the first step isn’t easy.
It’s okay not to know everything initially, but it is a positive step in the right direction.
Take huge confidence in the fact that there is much help and support for you to learn and improve each day.
Once you start, encourage others. Show them how to start and what the benefits are beyond the idea of just ‘toning up’.
You will inspire someone else to take that step into the gym for the first time because they can see that it is a safe space to thrive!
We belong here just as much as anyone else.
‘There are so many women who won’t have ever tried lifting weights due to the narrative when we were growing up and it really could be their thing! Just try it!’ – Phoebe