The Indiependent: Home work-outs exposed how toxic the gym can be


If you asked anyone with a gym membership pre-pandemic how many times they’d been to the gym that week, chances are they’d glance away guiltily. In a society built on capitalism and busy schedules, gym memberships had become more a comforting lie than a means of self-care. For many, the point was not to use them but merely feel you have the option to if you wanted to.

Yet, in the midst of a pandemic, exercising became an integral part of retaining our sanity and HITT work-outs started to pop up in every computer’s Youtube history– the sweaty look now officially more fashionable than the lockdown wine-stained PJs one.

The era of home workouts had arrived.

Don’t get me wrong, home workouts had been around for a while with exercise gurus like Chloe Ting and Pamela Reif earning millions of views with each new video way before lockdown started. But it took a pandemic to uncover how convenient they really are, especially for women.

Up until now, the gym was the go-to space to work on both our body and mind. You feel unhealthy? Try the gym. Your mental health is down? Go to the gym. Yet we forget what a toxic place it can be for women. As someone with a bodybuilder for a father, I practically spent my entire childhood in and out of gyms and as of now have worked out in enough to be able to recite the names of each piece of equipment in one by heart.

Yet, I’ve never felt at home in any of them.

The gym has always resembled more of a man den to me than a mixed space welcoming to all. How can I concentrate on my body when one move that has me bending at a certain angle can read like an invitation for male gazes and lazy smiles to turn my way? On numerous occasions, I had to awkwardly stop midway through an exercise when wandering eyes landed on me uninvited. And I’m not the only woman who feels this way. A recent study by Mindbody found that 57% of women have felt inappropriately looked at in the gym by at least one male member.

It is a reality women endure every day; being cat-called, whistled and inappropriately gazed at while going about our day has always been more of a tragic commodity than an out-of-place occurrence. While exercising is considered a time of self-care, meditation, and even healing, many women are left feeling self-conscious because the atmosphere in various gyms does not differ from the one outside and the message is clear; every woman is still fair game.

Then lockdown was enforced and people had to find something to occupy themselves with to limit the unrelenting mental breakdowns. Suddenly, Chloe Ting’s work out routines started trending and yoga mats were being shipped off by the kilo to the homes of women ready to move their bodies in a different way than walking from their bedroom to the living room couch.

It was then, sprawled onto my yoga mat and thankfully accepting Chloe Ting’s suggestion of a ten-second break, that the revelation came to me. This is so much better than the gym!

For the first time, I was not worried about how masculine my labouring grunts might sound, how I looked flushed and dripping sweat with no make-up on to hide my imperfections and I certainly did not care about clothes. I could wear as tight or loose a work out outfit as I wanted without worrying about what I was putting ‘on display’. It should sound ridiculous. Why should you care what you look like when doing something that gets everyone glistening with sweat? According to a study by Sure Women last year, most women do not share that sentiment. The research showed that 70% of women between the ages of 18-24 felt negatively judged when working out at the gym while 28% admitted to worrying about others finding them unattractive. Despite what all the sports adverts show, exercising was never about looking good while doing it. Yet our society is one that expects women to look ready to walk a runway the minute we step out of our home, no matter the destination.

In the safety of my living room I felt none of that pressure.

Finding a good gym is also a tedious process; you need to check out the space, the classes offered, and the equipment available. Settling on one will inevitably mean your bank account dipping down at least £15 each month not counting the additional cost of any additional classes you may book. While that may not sound a lot to some, Sure Women found that the top reason why women avoid the gym, in addition to it being an intimidating place, was being unable to afford a membership.

On the other hand, home work-outs require only a good yoga mat, a pair of trainers and you’re good to go. They dismiss the notion that you need big machines or a large wallet to do a proper work-out. Plus, motivation to exercise comes easier when you don’t have to spend money and precious time on transportation because that one good gym you have a membership with is on the other side of town. Unlike before, I am now able to squeeze in a 20-minute work-out at any point in my day without feeling guilty for ‘wasting time’.

In the comfort of my living room, my body confidence grew more than it ever had in a gym. Exercising turned from a chore to the highlight of my day; what brought a little dose of happiness during the long, silent days of lock-down. So pick up that mat, get in those fitting leggings you were reluctant to parade in the gym or that large, cosy t-shirt and press play. Let Chloe Ting’s voice carry you through intense work-outs while you grunt and sweat and curse out with no reservations. Make exercising something you enjoy and feel confident doing.

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