Being A Female In The Gym

When I left the gym in tears for the second time in a week I knew I needed to come home and write about it. 

I just hope I can communicate my thoughts clearly! 

In words of Monica, “I did something kind of crazy tonight, um, maybe I’m getting my period or something, I don’t know.”

No, I didn’t beep into anyone’s machine.

I left the gym in tears tonight because I couldn’t do my deadlifts.

I’m serious, that’s what set me off. Deadlifts. I can tell you that I am seriously emotionally relying on the gym and powerlifting. I have stopped drinking which was a previous stress reliever, albeit an unhealthy stress reliever. Now the gym is my only outlet coupled with my husband being away right now… I can understand why I got emotional. The gym is also my social outlet and lifting helps improve my mood, especially while he is away.

But let’s set those emotions aside, tonight I want to talk about being a female in the gym.

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to generalize and suggest that all women feel this way, so don’t take offense to this if it doesn’t apply to you. Actually, bravo to you if it doesn’t! I am striving to be more like you!

So as I said, let’s set all of the emotional aspects aside. Let’s assume that my overly-emotional-stressed-out goggles aren’t impairing my gym vision and these people were actually being rude, because, let’s get real… they probably were.

I have been getting a bit OCD with my workouts lately and when they don’t go as planned I start feeling anxious and overwhelmed no matter how unreasonable it is, I just can’t help it, so when I realized that the only true deadlift platform in my only semi-powerlifting friendly gym was taken I said to myself, “It’s okay, Sarah. Do something else first.”

I asked the “gentleman” using the platform how many sets he had left. He said he’d be about ten minutes. “Okay, thanks,” I said and went on to do back extensions nearby, but did not stand right there because I find that rude. I wanted him to feel free to take his time.

An old man known for doing deadlifts in our gym walked in a few minutes later and beelined for the squat racks. He stood right next to the platform, it was clear he was not going to go anywhere and planned to go next. Not only did the “gentleman” doing deadlifts not say “I think she has next” (am I the only one who always says that if someone else tries to sneak in??), but he let the Old Man Deadlifter work in and continued to do so for another half an hour.

I decided to do box squats on the Smith Machine instead. It looked like nobody was over there… but wait, as I got closer I saw it was loaded up with 4 plates on each side. I looked around, but nobody was to be found. Turns out it was taken by a group of men who were off socializing taking 5 minute breaks together. It’s called gym etiquette, people.

I tried and tried to be flexible, but this kind of thing happened four times in a row when finally I just went to the locker room and started taking selfies so I could take to Instagram and share my frustration.

I have a few thoughts on what happened and need to organize them into bullets so I can make some kind of sense of them.

  • Yes, I am well aware that I could have been pushier. My husband always tells me to ask to “work in” or be pushy about having a bench or squat rack next, but it’s easier said than done for me. I just can’t find it in me to be that way, but still, it is completely my fault that I did not get a good workout in. I am aware of that.
  • That being said, being a new-ish female powerlifter trying to get comfortable in the “bro” parts of the gym can often be uncomfortable enough as it is! I see so many strong women on Instagram and Youtube dominating in the gym, but in my REAL life, there are very few women I know who actually venture away from the cardio area, strength training machines, or classrooms. I am often one of the only women using that type of equipment in my gym.
  • So, there is already the immediate discomfort of trying to get used to being the only girl in the bench area or one of the only girls doing deadlifts. On top of that, I have to admit that I also fall into the group of women that are statistically less assertive than men. I once read a study that girls in school more often say “I think…” when answering a question while boys are more likely to say “I know.” It’s not a statistic I want to enforce, but sadly, I can see it ringing true with myself sometimes and that upsets me in and of itself.

In conclusion, more than one person was at fault tonight at the gym, but most of all, me. I truly believe these gym-goers were being rude and there are many men (not all) who make women feel uncomfortable in the gym. That being said, the fact that I let myself get stepped all over is unacceptable.

Why am I allowing myself to feel uncomfortable just because I am a female trying to get into a male-dominated sport?  Why do I let these guys and my own insecurities get in the way? I am strong and good at this. I deserve to have my time with the squat rack just as much as anyone else. Now, putting that into practice will take… well, practice.

Once again, I feel the need to emphasize my little “disclaimer” that not all females feel this way and I am definitely not implying that all men act this way 🙂 I don’t mean to generalize at all! I am just telling you about an experience I had.

Question of the Day:

Have you ever felt insecure in the gym? Tell me about it! 


27 Comments Add yours

  1. Teri B. says:

    Hi Sarah, I completely understand where you are coming from having gone to a college where the ratio of male to female was 10 to 1. It’s difficult as a woman to be assertive with men. If we are, we’re sometimes called the ‘B’ word and that’s the last thing we really are! It’s a double standard as when a man is assertive, he’s strong and knows what he wants. It’s a terrible stereotype that us fitness-minded women need to try and break through in the gym. I’ll admit, I’m very intimidated by going to the gym to lift for fear of looing stupid.

    If I lived close enough, you could teach me to lift and I’d come practice good gym etiquette with you! 🙂

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      Definitely a double standard. I feel like I can’t change that about myself but really I’m sure it was more of a learned trait than one I was born with. I actually really want to meet up with sweat pink people! Going to new gyms is my new thing since I’m traveling a lot!

  2. cassi9879 says:

    I don’t workout at a gym so I can’t relate to the etiquette side. But coming home in tears twice in a week because of something that happened there sounds like maybe you need to change gyms.

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      The crying was more due to emotional stress from other stuff. I love my gym, but with New Years a lot of new members have joined and its gotten crazy!

  3. I always feel uncomfortable in the gym. I really hate going! I actually feel intimidated by everyone in there that looks like they know what they’re doing. LOL I am not assertive at all, and I would have done the same thing you did. That’s awesome that you are going in there and lifting though! Those men should respect that!!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      Noo!! I’m giving a terrible example. Yes, there are jerks and I was super emotional last week but usually I love the gym! I always tell people who are intimidated by people who look like they know what they’re doing that those are the people who are most happy & willing to help because they love fitness! Some of my nicest guy friends are super intimidating haha. The jerky ones usually look more like amateurs haha. (Sorry, long comment!)

  4. That does sound like a frustrating situation. I have no experience in the weight room but I do have experience in not being outspoken enough. My daughters are better at voicing their opinions than I am and I am glad for that. I hope your gym situation improves so that you can get back to doing what you love doing! Great meeting you through this month’s blog hop!!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      Yes! There are some qualities of mine I hope my son has but a couple I hope he doesn’t. It’ll get better! I was so mentally not into my workouts last week which isn’t typical!

  5. I 100% understand where you are coming from! I love lifting, and I’m typically one of the only females in that area of the gym, too. I’ve definitely felt insecure before, and I can totally relate!! I love that you were willing to share your heart with us!! I can only imagine how many ladies this post will INSPIRE!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      Glad I’m not the only one! I generally don’t care that I’m the only female, it’s part of the motivation but it can still be uncomfortable especially when I’m less confident with that lift (cough, bench!).

  6. I don’t currently belong to a gym, but I’ve belonged to a few. I haven’t really run into what you’re experiencing, but that may be in part because a) one of the gyms I belonged to was all female (but not the other 2) and b) While I enjoy weights, I never did heavy weights without a trainer there.

    It’s funny, I’m introverted and shy, but sometimes I can be pushy, too. I guess it’s the new yorker in me.

    My guess is they have absolutely no clue that they were being rude — simply too self involved. Guys tend to be, for the most part. I think your husband is right; you’re just going to have to get pushier. You’re worth it!

    I probably wouldn’t cry; I’m not much of a cryer, but boy would I get angry!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      I’m not a cryer either! That’s why it was so strange. I’m emotional from my husband being away for a while I think! Usually I get JUST pushy enough haha. I think as I get more confident powerlifting it will help too.

      1. Having more muscle should definitely help. 🙂

        I’m kind of used to my husband being away, although he doesn’t travel as much anymore, but he used to travel a lot for work.

        In fact, I just wrote about that this weekend!

  7. Sun says:

    Ugh – that sounds like a super annoying situation – I can understand why you were so frustrated! I’ve never encountered anything like that in the weight area of my gym but do sometimes get frustrated with people being inconsiderate on the track (using the wrong lane, having a conversation in the middle of a lane, not being aware of others around them, etc.). I usually just give them dirty looks and hope they get the hint although being assertive and saying something would probably be the better route 🙂

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      That’s definitely the same thing! I feel like most of the time its just basic etiquette, like common sense! Haha I get you with the dirty looks. A lot easier than having the guts to actually say something. It’s tough!

  8. Karen @ Fit in France says:

    I am often the only woman lifting weights at the gym. I just put on my music, pretty much ignore all those guys who are 20 years younger than I am. I usually change machines too if they are too busy. I ask people to alternate on machines, but if I see a towel or something just sitting there, I move it.

    Fully agree that gym etiquette is lacking. Which is why I try to find times to go where there are fewer men !

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      That’s my thing! With powerlifting I definitely need to use certain things. I try to be flexible though, but I’m also not the best at being flexible haha

  9. I feel this way all the time! I’m really working hard to get over that “I’m not worthy” feeling when I’m at the gym, but it always creeps in. Yes, there is the saying that no one can make you feel that way without your permission, but there is no question those “boys” were being rude and disrespectful! I would definitely report this incident to gym management (even anonymously) — they may not do anything, but they don’t want unhappy members either. Stay strong!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      Ugh! I was on such a roll with loving the gym, but the past few workouts man…. I haven’t been mentally into it. Need a break, maybe!

  10. Sarah says:

    Hi! I’m not a lifter (I tend to use the weight machines, instead), but I go to a gym that has a lot of really “pretty” people running around. I do feel a bit self conscious about my quick 30 minute workout, especially when it leaves me sweating (as it should), while everyone else looks all cute after a 60 minute run.

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      haha sounds like they’re doing something wrong. I am the same way! I’ve invested in some cute workout clothes that I feel really good in and as stupid as that sounds, it helps me because as least I feel good in my sick new shirt haha

  11. Kaleigh says:

    Geez, that is some craziness! Sometimes the gym can be so stressful or annoying! I used to go to this one gym that was always busy and trying to get a treadmill was pointless. Plus if you were on any machine, people would be watching you, waiting for you to move and that made me so self conscious and end up cutting my workout short. We’re all there for the same reason, but some people are just rude!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      That’s crazy! I hate when people just watch and stare. I never want people to feel rushed like I do sometimes which is why I ask how many more sets they have then let them have their space, but that’s right when the pushier people swoop in and steal it from me haha.

  12. I definitely think you should be more assertive and rid your fears and insecurities. I’ve been reading a lot of personal development, personally You Are A Badass covers topics like this. How we fall back on what we truly want or feel because we don’t want to inconvenience or embarrass others. But then we just end up losing! And it just creates a cycle where we are allowing more of ourselves go trying to be “kind” or thoughtful. We have to be go get things sometimes. I admit I’ve never had a bad experience at the gym. I’ve heard plenty of sad stories and gym stories like this especially from woman feeling uncomfortable upset me very much. Sending you love! I see a good amount of girls lift at my gym mostly with squat racks and deadlifts not very much the barbells for upper body though, sadly I don’t feel comfortable going to those big weights mostly because I’m not really that strong, but I usually go with my boyfriend so I guess I feel a bit less embarrassed by the lack of plates I put on. It’s interesting because my boyfriend doesn’t like hovering over machines and we often circle back to a machine if someone is on it, sometimes though I can see his dismay in not being able to get a machine and I just start to wait I’ll usually do squats or something stationary around so I don’t look too annoying just hovering though. I agree that that guy should of said you were next by the way! I’ve seen a lot of people do this at my gym and I always appreciate it.

  13. I could feel how uncomfortable the whole thing was and the frustration that must have been flowing through you as it all went down. While it is hard to be assertive, I think we all need to be. Assertive, but polite. I suppose it’s easier for me because I’m an extrovert, but I think the gym “weights” area which tends to be a guy dominated area can be harder.
    I recall the days when I was first losing weight and how out of place I felt in the gym. It took time for me to believe that I belonged there just like everyone else. No one is better or more deserving than another.
    Just work on trying to make sure you get your time when you should. I think you will become so much more comfortable as time goes on.

  14. foodiecology says:

    Oh my goodness – I know this is an older post but this is EXACTLY why I have “gymtimidation.” I stick to classes even though I desperately want to start lifting. I have nobody to go with me and can’t afford a trainer. The few times I do workout on my own, I’m too afraid to jump in there or be “hey – I was next!” So I stick to lame machines that nobody uses. I’m seriously the least assertive person, so I GET IT.

    Anyway, I don’t think you’re generalizing or dramatizing. There is, unfortunately, a stigma surrounding women at the gym – especially regarding powerlifting. It sounds like those men were in fact rude.

    I applaud you and hope you find your voice next time!

    1. Sarah Mears says:

      I know, so many people have told me they know how I feel! It makes me sad though that it’s stopping so many women from lifting though because I love it and want more girls to get into it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s