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We're not there to ogle: why gyms should never be women-only

Tara Hall, owner and personal trainer, coaches from second left, Michele Chamberlain, Sian Brooks, and Holly Stanton, at The Hut Gym at Potter Heigham, a gym for women only. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Tara Hall, owner and personal trainer, coaches from second left, Michele Chamberlain, Sian Brooks, and Holly Stanton, at The Hut Gym at Potter Heigham, a gym for women only. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

Why create a women-only gym? Surely having one that both sexes feel comfortable in is more apt in 2019, argues Steven Downes

What are the main things that stop you from using a gym?

Body image is a big one, with most of us at least a little bit self-conscious about how we look.

Another is shyness: the fear of being surrounded by people we don’t know.

Then there’s feeling intimidated – by the meatheads pumping iron, the super-slim lady owning the running machine or the person doing one-armed press-ups while a medium-sized pig balances on their back.

I can’t recall ever having heard somebody commenting on how they don’t go to the gym because of men (or women, for that matter).

Which is why I’m a bit sad to hear about the women-only gym – a wym? – at Potter Heigham.

Putting aside the widely-acknowledged fact that all men are leering, posing, preening, ogling, egotistical and vain, what is the problem?

Seriously, what is the problem?

I’d bet that the vast majority of people who join a gym are at first nervous and a tiny bit intimidated. That comes with the territory of trying something new: it’s not because of all those mean-looking men with big guns and sweat dripping from their sweat.

There is nothing unlawful 
about an all-women gym, and rightly so.

Too many things are now outlawed, or forced out of existence by a chorus of bleats on Twitter.

In Quinoa World, we’d be banned from hanging around in single-sex groups of more than three. But men sometimes like to knock about with men, and women with women.

At a gym, though, it really shouldn’t matter.

Therefore, the all-women gym is either an unnecessary overreaction – or an indictment of the atmosphere at many of Norfolk’s other gyms.

I’m fortunate to be a member of a gym like no other that I’ve ever seen.

The members are genuinely of all shapes and sizes, men and women, older, younger, from all sorts of backgrounds.

There are no mirrors, no running machines or static cycles, and people are not allowed to simply arrive in a muscle top for a solo weights session.

If you want to look at yourself, look elsewhere.

The weights sessions are done in groups. In fact, every session is done on the basis of booking in and joining between three and 40 others on varied and fun circuit-style sessions.

There’s a great private Facebook group for shout-outs and to encourage each other, T-shirts and hoodies when you hit workout milestones, diet plans, and coaches who love their work.

I’m making some good friends through it, too. On New Year’s Day a group of us gathered for a walk at Blickling Hall, and next month there’s a night out planned in the city.

When someone is down, others lift them and encourage them. Milestones are celebrated; disappointments are shared. Also – brace yourself – women and men talk to each other.

Too many other gyms I’ve experienced have been lonely places, where people hardly acknowledge each other and it’s all down to self-motivation – which isn’t always enough.

Sometimes we need people to carry us through, not blank us. And it’s nice to have the attention of the coaches for longer than about a second after committing to the direct debit.

My feeling is that a women-only gym sends out a negative 
message about group exercise, and creates a problem that doesn’t exist.

If you were someone who was thinking of joining a gym, but felt a little nervous, seeing an advert for a “women-only gym” would sow a seed of doubt: if this is necessary, are gyms for me?

They should be fun. They should be inclusive. They should be for everyone.

Rather than banning 49pc of the population, the majority of whom are not there to ogle and intimidate, I’d rather see all gyms creating an environment that attracts and keeps anybody.

That’s how to remove barriers.

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