Note: For those of you who didn’t grow up listening to hardcore indie rock and are about to send me hate mail, you should know that Girls Against Boys is the name of a band. 🙂
A reader (who asked to remain nameless) asks: “I have the opportunity to do weight training and martial arts training either with all women or in a co-ed environment, and I’m not sure which I should do. What do you think?”
This seemingly simple question is actually quite complex, and there are numerous factors that come into play. Let’s look at some of them. Today, I’ll discuss different factors in fitness center-style gyms (such as the YMCA, Gold’s Gym, Bally’s or, say, Curves). Tomorrow, I’ll address martial arts gyms. I’ll also explain how I personally would make the decision.
When you’re looking for a gym to lift weights at, or hop on a treadmill at, or attend fitness classes there are many important factors to keep in mind. Many of them do not involve the clientele, but a lot of them do. And some co-ed gyms have women’s only training areas, which also have their pros and cons. Here’s some of the questions you can ask yourself.
Hours and Location
If you are just starting to work out for the first time, or after a long layoff…or even if you’re trying to bring your training program to the next level, one of the most important things is making sure you are consistent. If you don’t have equipment at home or wish to do bodyweight exercises, then you absolutely need to make time to go to the gym. This means reducing any possible inconveniences. And hours and location are too big ones. If you often have to stay at work late and your gym closes early, there goes your workout. If you don’t have the time or energy to drive far away, you may not go. Only you know your patterns and habits and level of commitment, but make sure you are being honest with yourself. Just remember that it doesn’t matter how ideal a gym is if you don’t ever go to it.
If you’re okay with paying more for a gym that rocks, more power to you! But if money’s tight and you’re looking at two gyms, make sure that the benefits are worth the cost.
If your gym membership is very expensive because of services you do not plan on using, looking at a gym with just the basics may be a good idea. And again, location and hours are key. I once spent extra on a gym that was open 24 hours a day because I knew I wouldn’t go otherwise and would be wasting my money anyway.
When I was shopping around for a new gym in Tucson (a very long time ago), I checked out an all-female gym several women had recommended. It was called Curves, and this was long before they popped up on every street corner. Anyway, I liked the fact that it was all women since I did not like the people at my current gym at the time who would have long conversations while “using” my favorite equipment, leave heavy weights on the bars, and try to “save” equipment I wanted to use. I also found people (read: men) trying to talk to me while I was exercising a bit distracting. I liked that Curves was all-women, but I did not want to be limited to thirty-minute circuits on hydraulic resistance equipment. The benefit of what was presented as a better environment was clearly outweighed by the negatives of not being able to do anything I wanted to in said environment.
Likewise, there was an all-women’s weight room in a co-ed box gym I worked out at. Unfortunately, the room only had Swiss balls, dumbbells and circuit machines. I’d definitely use the room while doing warm-ups because the main gym area was cramped and because I didn’t want to worry about people looking at me (as I attracted attention through my unconventional choice of exercises), but if I wanted to deadlift, squat, bench or use a pullup bar I’d go to the other room. (Also, the women’s area was preferable to me because there was nobody in there, not because there weren’t men in there.)
The type of equipment you’re looking for depends on what type of program you’re on or how you like to train. I always make sure the equipment is well-maintained. My last gym had many frayed cables and disasters waiting to happen, not to mention the cardio machines that didn’t turn on. As far as equipment, I have some I specifically look for. This will vary based on your personal preference.
The best gym I’ve ever worked at was Power Physique Systems. They had a wide selection of equipment, including kettlebells in five pound increments, bumper plates and an Olympic lifting platform. Although the only women I’d ever seen in the gym were working there and I’d been looking for women-only solutions, I found the atmosphere absolutely amazing. Everyone in the gym was a serious lifter. Everyone was there for one reason only: to work out. I didn’t have to deal with weird comments from strangers or listen to groups of guys having conversations while hogging the squat rack. If I wanted pointers on my form or technique, there were knowledgeable people resting between sets who were eager to help. And no matter how bizarre my workout sequence was, nobody ever gave me strange looks for it.
The atmosphere of a gym may seem like it’s about gender, but it probably doesn’t have all that much to do with it.
The amount of people who show up at a gym will vary depending on the time of year, time of day, day of the week and various other factors. But if the gym is filled to the brim with people and equipment and you consistently find yourself waiting or going without, that’s a problem.
I don’t have a lot of interaction with staff, but I like to be able to check in when I come into the gym.
Is there enough parking? If I choose to ride my bike, is there a place to lock it up? Is the locker room clean? What classes or amenities are offered? Parents may wish to inquire about childcare and/or children’s programs. Contract terms are also very important.
Going back to the original question, it becomes clear how hard it is to answer. If the equipment, hours, cost and location are exactly the same, the staff is equally knowledgeable, both gyms are not crowded and all other factors are equal, I think what it really comes down to is the atmosphere of each particular gym. If there are other factors at play (as there almost always are), you’ve just got to determine which are most important to you and proceed accordingly.
I hope this helps. Tomorrow I’ll cover choosing between all-women and co-ed martial arts gyms.