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The New Rules

There are some things that only a woman has to deal with at the gym. Find out how to address the issues to even out the playing field.

Gym equipment that’s designed for men, see-through leggings and “over-friendly” fellow gym-goers – just a few of the things women have to endure at the gym. We are not the same as men, it’s a fact. Yes, we can be as strong, as fit, and as fast, but we’re still different and that’s why we have different needs and different problems too. According to a survey of more than 1,400 women conducted by sportswear company, women are desperate to find female-only gyms, with one in three preferring to work out without men nearby. Gyms are often designed with men in mind, but you can overcome any gender-related problem with a bit of know-how using this expert guide.


Inconsiderate lifter

“Guys often leave the equipment loaded with heavy weights (50kg or more) without giving a thought to the person who comes after, who might not be able to unload such a heavy weight and use the machine,” says Andrea. But it’s not only women who can’t lift heavy that have this issue. “I strength train a lot,” says Laura. “And I can match almost any guy at my gym but the non-regulars seem to think that because I’m a woman I won’t need access to the squat rack, for example.” This is why you’ll often get some hulk of muscle sitting or standing right in your way, not budging an inch to let you pass.
The fix: There are people paid to help you. Gym staff. So just ask. What’s more, most gym attendees are polite and helpful, so if you can’t lift a weight ask for help.

Gym layouts designed for men

You want to stretch on the mat area or do yoga or pilates, but the gym is laid out so that every single guy in the weights area looks right in your direction when you’re mid-happy baby pose.

The fix: When looking at gyms to join, pay close attention to the layout – some gyms have been sensitively and cleverly designed so that each gym goer can feel relatively alone while working out, while other gyms seem to be designed precisely for ogling others or competing with others. If you’re already shackled to a gym with a layout issue, complain to the gym manager. If possible, suggest a way to move things around so that this is no longer a problem.

The legging issue

They fit well but you reveal your underwear when doing a squat, they’re too snug around your crotch, they get dark patches when you sweat, they go opaque when you stretch… But despite shorts being a possible alternative, many gym goers can’t give up their leggings. “I love leggings because I don’t have to worry about shaving my legs,” says Kayla. “But to address the stretch issue, I wear a big baggy T-shirt to cover the lower areas too.”

The fix: If the idea of covering up doesn’t appeal, look for leggings from Under Armour. The company pioneered their new fabric which is great at wicking away sweat and keeps you feeling cool and dry. Lululemon’s leggings also have excellent stretch, so that squat or yoga pose shouldn’t cause any problems.

The equipment hoggers

Men are natural hoggers. Whether it’s the seat on the train (manspreading!) or the bench for ab work, or the leg press, they’ll sit there like they own the thing. “And when you ask them to move, they look at you like you’re an alien who’s just landed from Mars,” says Mara.
The fix: Be firm and respectful, but especially firm. While some gym goers can be insensitive when it comes to recognizing the faults in their own behavior, most will politely move out of your way if asked. If you do happen to rub up some roid-filled guy the wrong way, don’t be shy about talking to the manager. Managers will want to know if a client has behaved in a way that offends or makes other clients feel uncomfortable. Why? Because it affects their ratings and recommendations. Talking (facts only, please!) about your problems on social media is also a sure-fire way to get issues addressed.

Being judged for being female

Olympic-level athlete or stay-at-home mum nipping to the gym to get back into shape, it doesn’t matter – we’ve all dealt with that feeling of being judged as lacking in know-how when it comes to the gym equipment.

The fix: There’s only one way to feel more confident and be able to ignore the judgers, and that’s to arm yourself with knowledge. There’s no better way to highlight another person’s narrow-minded views about women at the gym than by showing them you know your stuff. Carrying a copy of TFH with you and slapping it down on the bench next to you should do the trick. If not, watch their mouths fall open in amazement as you deadlift 300lb with perfect form.

Panda eyes and sweat streaks

It’s not always possible to go to the gym without your make-up on. And while you know it’s better for your skin to take it off first sometimes you just haven’t got the time. Which is probably why, according to the survey from thousands of women search for workout-friendly make up each month. If more men wore make-up, we’re pretty sure there’d be a wider range of sweat-proof but breathable make-up out there…

The fix: Look for make-up used by professional sportswomen, golfers, surfers, tennis players who need to look good to please their sponsors as well as survive the elements and sweating. Commonly recommended-by-sportswomen brands include La-Roche-Posay, Eyoko sport mascara, and Lucas’ Pawaw Ointment for rough skin.

Being viewed as a target

Being the lone female at the gym can feel like walking down a dark alleyway at night – the feeling of vulnerability to an unwanted approach can be so off-putting, that many women avoid the nearest gym for this very reason.

The fix: Strength in numbers. Go with a friend (male or female) when you hit the gym, or work with a personal trainer. Another way to yell ‘clear off’ without having to open your mouth is to put very visible headphones on (bright colors work best) and a baseball cap pulled down low. That way you can get into your zone and just ignore those around you.

Wanting fat-only gyms

It may well be that men would also appreciate this, but it seems to be a more common theme for women. While seeing superfit men and women at the gym might seem motivating for some, it can have the opposite effect, especially if you’re far from reaching your fitness goals.

The fix: There are always times at the gym when the crowd is slightly different. Afternoons are always better than early mornings, which is when you’ll get the superfit crowd getting in their pre-work workout. And if there are classes for the silver-haired crew, you’re also likely to enjoy a quieter gym with people who might not seem as threatening, fitness-or-physique-wise as those gym bunny types.

Getting conned by personal trainers or a gym

When it comes to getting ripped off for services such as a personal trainer you might well be more vulnerable than a guy. Why? Because life changes, especially extreme ones such as an unhappy split, having a baby, drastic weight gain etc make you more vulnerable because you lose your equilibrium. “There’s some really interesting work that shows you end up more susceptible to all types of cons when, for instance, you have lost a job,” says Maria Konnikova, researcher and author of >The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It… Every Time (Viking). “Not just financial cons but a sweetheart scam or a health scam too.” That scam or con might involve your PT not turning up, cancelling at the last minute, making sessions too short and then not returning your money.

The fix: Demand a written contract. If you’re not happy with an aspect of it, ask for it to be changed. Ask that it includes information regarding cancellation allowances (how much time you need to give before cancelling/changing a session and the same for the PT), of circumstances when a refund can be issued, and of the time period within which you will receive your sessions. Always read the fine print, especially when signing up for a gym membership. Gyms often require a minimum time period before you can stop paying and leave, and they’ll likely include a notice period too. Also, check that they allow a pause period for whether you get ill or pregnant, for example (provable with a doctor’s note), which means you won’t be paying for a gym membership you can’t use.

The hair, the hair!

While men undoubtedly also have to face clumps of hair in the shower, there’s no doubt that this is a bigger issue in the women’s changing rooms than the men’s. “I see women emptying their hairbrushes and just discarding it on the floor,” says Eva. “It’s gross. I don’t want to have to pick it up and put it in the trash, but I don’t want to see it or walk on it either!”

The fix: Talk to the management. If hair accumulation is becoming a problem or you’re aware of regulars being gross or unhygienic in the changing rooms, the staff need to know. “I once told a woman she’d dropped something when she threw her clump of hair on the floor,” adds Eva. “She looked pretty mad, but I never saw her do it again after that!”

The noisy grunty ones

There will be the occasional woman who grunts like cavewomen grappling with a still-squirming sabre-toothed tiger as she lifts, but in reality, most of the grunters, huffers and puffers are men. And, says Lily, they’re also guilty of dropping weights too loudly. “The noises these guys make as they lift and then drop their clearly-too-heavy weights onto the machine or the floor makes me mad,” she says. “It’s so unnecessary and just shows they’re lifting too much.” They’re also missing out on the benefits of full control – more muscle.
The fix: There’s only one way to shut these guys up and that’s to close your ears. Headphones playing your favorite music is ideal, but you can also block the sounds with noise-canceling earplugs. “I prefer silence when I’m working out,” says Lily, “so I use foam earplugs. That way I avoid hearing all the caveman grunts and can think as I lift.”

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