By Nikki Peach, Deputy editor
The University gym should be a place where all students are welcome, whether they drink 3 litre protein shakes or not.
There are many factors contributing to my overwhelming lack of fitness. To name a few: there is a damaging and pervasive trend in every café, restaurant and bar to supply stools and benches in the place of supportive and comfortable seating; I am partial to sitting down and avoid physical exercise unless absolutely necessary (e.g. walking to Sainsbury’s); and significantly, I have not regularly exercised since year 11 when I occasionally participated half-heartedly in team sports.
At 21 years of age, the effects of my lifestyle choices and the ones forced upon me by eating establishments have surmounted into a problem that ironically, I can no longer run from.
I have complained of knee pain and used the phrase ‘I’ve done my back in’ multiple times. I have used the lift to go to the second floor more times than I care to mention. I have tried going on runs and ended up walking, slowly, whilst on the phone. Since I have always heard rumours that exercise builds strength and reduces stress and might prevent me from wheezing at the top of staircases, I thought it was time to try it.
This year I live uncomfortably close to the Uni gym, so close that I can smell the protein powder pouring into the Love Island water bottles and so close that I could not think of a more suitable venue to begin my journey to basic health and fitness.
However, like many people, I had a long list of reservations about the gym. It smells of a pungent partnership between stale sweat and new equipment. They repeatedly play top 40 Calvin Harris remixes. Everyone will judge me for getting off the cross-trainer after 9 minutes and will ask if I am ‘done with my set’ when I have spent too long looking at the picture instructions on the scary machines. There are mirrors on all four walls, the ceiling and the floor and soon the equipment will also be made of reflective and insecurity inducing materials.
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Little insight into this weeks training 🏋🏼♂️ There’s no better feeling than when you catch it right and the bar feels completely weightless for just a moment. These lifts are now starting to feel a lot smoother and more efficient 🙌🏼 the learning continues ... Video 1: Power clean jerk (105kg) Video 2: Squat clean spilt jerk (120kg) Video 3: Snatch (100kg) Video 4: No idea 🤷🏼♂️ inspired by @sonnywebstergb (60kg)
However, my largest concern was undoubtedly that the gym is an exclusively male space, that everyone in there is trying to build another empire in the foundations of their thighs. If a girl in the gym is a fish out of water, a girl who does not exercise in the gym is a fish asking to be battered and fried.
From my (limited) experience, more female students attend classes and opt for the cardio equipment whilst male students feature in clusters in the weights areas and around the unidentifiable machines. In that sense, there is truth in the preconception that the gym is a male dominated space.
Thanks to Bristruths, I was able to speak to some female students about their experiences. One female athlete who is entirely comfortable in the gym told me that she has been offered unsolicited ‘tips’ with her assisted pull ups, offered physical help without asking for it and has even been backhandedly complimented by a Personal Trainer who, looking at her six pack, said ‘wow, most girls don’t want to look like that’. These micro-aggressions are discriminating, off-putting and make women feel objectified and unwelcome in what is supposed to be a unisex environment.
Of course, such experiences are not restricted to women.
There are thousands of non-athletic, non-cis students who do not feel there is a space for them in this environment.
One male student and member of the gym commented, ‘because it is always busy and there is a macho energy, if you are not super clued up in how to use different weight machines it’s quite hard to feel like you can try something new’. Rather than being just male-dominated, it is experience-dominated as well, deterring new members and non-subscribers to Gym King and Lulu Lemon from even entering. Though this is unfortunate it is also rectifiable and, to give the healthy people and gym rats the benefit of the doubt, I expect is unintentional.
In a University community where there are noticeably more female students and a societal community where gendered spaces are being forced not just to open their doors but to remove the hinges, it is time for the gym to reflect this. It has the potential to be an inclusive and safe space for all genders to improve their mental and physical wellbeing. Whether they can deadlift 300,000kg or not.
The reality is that most people who go to the gym are there to mind their own business and if you think someone is looking at you, you are probably just obstructing their view of the mirror.
All students who choose to pay for a gym membership must invest in the idea of an Indoor Sports Centre utopia where classes, equipment and the weight areas are shared readily and cease to be gendered. The only way this can change is if those of us who do not have pulsating neck muscles or a personalised school P.E kit start to use the gym regularly, without fear. And those who struggle to refrain from analysing another person’s workout start a Fitness Instagram instead. That is when we will all feel the benefits.
Featured Image: Epigram/Nikki Peach