Many women fear anxiety and discomfort at the gym more than they fear being not being fit enough. According to a recent survey of 1,000 Americans by Fitrated, 65 percent of women responders said they avoid the gym because they feel they are being judged. Just 36 percent of men shared these feelings. Meanwhile, 55 percent fear judgements based on their bodily appearances.
Being wary of working out at the gym due to feelings of intimidation is so common that it even has a specific name: gymtimidation. But for women, the feeling is often intensified. Some women avoid the gym for fear of harassment and unsolicited attention from men.
“There have definitely been times where I’ve been on my own and a guy has come up to me trying to make small talk. Then there are the guys who just watch you from machine to machine,” Barbara Smith said of her experience as a member of LifeTime Fitness in Phoenix. “Anytime I’m at the gym is a time I don’t want to be approached. That’s a place to focus on yourself.”
Smith said that she tries her best to avoid attention and advances. But, for the most part she accepts it as a societal flaw she must suffer in order to stay fit.
‘There have been times where I’ll move to a different machine and the same person will move to watch me and continue to follow me around while not paying attention to their own workout,’ Smith said.
She tries not to go to the gym when she knows it will be busy in an attempt to minimize the discomfort. She said this would be one of the perks to joining a 24-hour fitness club.
Other women don’t feel this is a viable coping mechanism and find the discomfort too distracting at times. Madison LaBerge said she was aggressively pursued by an employee at her gym once and she was forced to go out of her way to avoid him.
“I literally left and went to a completely different floor because I was super uncomfortable,” LaBerge said. “He was trying to talk to me while I was running on a treadmill.”
Altering their workouts or routines is another thing many women do to feel more comfortable according to another survey by ExerciseBike.net. Of another 1,000 Americans polled, nearly 50 percent of women stopped doing certain exercises entirely, 37 percent switched gyms, and 79 percent reported considering women-only gyms to avoid sexual harassment.
Smith said she has changed what her usual gym attire consists of to avoid attention. LaBerge agreed and said she suggests women do their best to look and smell their worst at the gym as their own form of repellent.
Women are not the only ones who have taken notice of the problem.
“I see women get harassed, hit on and stared at all the time,” said Devaughn Jones, an employee at a local Planet Fitness. “There are a handful of women who are regulars and guys just can’t seem to leave them alone. They really can’t work out in the gym some days.”
He said has also had older male members come to him and casually point out attractive women working out who are half their age in attempts to make small talk with him. Jones said he uses those times as opportunities to discourage that behavior.
This is one thing Smith and LaBerge offer as advice to male gym members. They said if a man sees another man pursuing a woman who clearly does not want to be bothered, he should find a way to intervene.
Smith said aside from men making unwanted advances at her, men have approached her to correct her form on certain exercises around six to seven times in the past year and a half since she has had a gym membership. She said she feels this move has an air of condescension with an underlying attempt at flirtation that she resents.
“Men, do not come up to people at the gym,” Smith said.
Many men’s magazines have published articles detailing how the gym is a great place to meet women – LaBerge resents this notion as well.
“I think it’s really ridiculous if a man thinks he can just hang out at the gym and hit on women all day because that’s not why we’re there,” she said. “Wearing your headphones and pointing to the fact that you’re listening to music and you’re not willing to talk doesn’t deter them.”
LaBerge said the best thing women can do is practice their exercises at home so they are less self-conscious and have a plan when they get to the gym. This is so that women will have less lag time between exercises and men will have fewer openings to approach them.
Smith said men should stop assuming women enjoy the attention and women should not go to the gym looking for attention. She offers this advice to both men and women: “You’re there to work out you’re not there to find a significant other.”
Also published on Medium.