Women who want to lift heavy feel forced into co-ed sections of gym
For Candace Diptee, getting her weight training done isn’t always easy.
That’s because the City of Toronto employee needs to lift up to 100 pounds for some of her workouts, but she said the weights in the women’s section at her gym only goes up to 60 pounds.
Often she has to go into the co-ed area of the gym to work towards the level of fitness she’s aiming for.
“It makes me feel that men or gyms look at us differently, like we can’t lift a certain weight or they think that we’re not strong enough,” Diptee said.
The 26-year-old has learned how to get her workouts done despite not having heavy enough weights in the women-only section, but said she knows of other women who’ve been discouraged.
“There’s women out there that could lift like 100 pounds or more, but they’re unable to because there’s only a limit that [the weights] go up to,” Diptee explained.
Global News has learned that several women-only and women’s sections in co-ed gyms at popular gym facilities offer weights that are significantly less than the co-ed area.
GoodLife Fitness, one of the largest fitness companies in Canada, is one of them.
In five GoodLife gyms across Toronto, the dumbbells in women-only gyms or women-only sections went as high as 50 pounds (23 kilograms) and the fixed barbells only went as high as 60 pounds (27 kilograms). In two of the locations, the dumbbells maxed out at just 30 pounds (14 kilograms).
Compare that to the co-ed section of GoodLife gyms, where the fixed barbells in at least one of its Toronto facilities went up to 110 pounds and the dumbbells hit 120 pounds.
There are resistance machines available for women in women-only sections, however, these machines can be limiting, certified trainer Craig Ballantyne told Women’s Health magazine.
“Machines are inefficient — they target only one or two muscle groups at a time, while body weight or dumbbell exercises utilize several muscle groups in one move,” said Ballantyne.
Tracy Matthews, GoodLife executive director of member services, explained to Global News in an email the reasoning behind their weight offering in the women’s section.
“These weight options are based on our 38 years’ experience in the fitness industry and based on the expertise of our female and male senior team members, who have extensive education, a multitude of fitness certifications and knowledge of the needs and requests of our customers/members,” Matthews said.
She added that the women-only clubs offer seven-foot Olympic bars, onto which members can add five to 45-pound plates “in order to accommodate any heavier lifting needs.”
However, not every club has Olympic bars, though Matthews mentioned that it’s GoodLife’s mandate to have those pieces of equipment available for women’s areas and clubs.
Nicole Proctor, 25, said she’s fine with working out in the co-ed section of gyms but even though she’s comfortable with being around both men and women at the gym, that doesn’t mean the lack of options available for women is OK, she said.
“I also do think it’s a bit of a slap in the face in terms of, ‘here’s all of your light weights because you’re a woman and you should be lifting light.’ That’s something I’ve experienced tons of. Just being in the industry and knowing the stigma surrounding lifting heavy and being a woman with muscle — that’s frowned upon,” Proctor said.
“If your goal is to lift heavy and you’re in the women’s section and you make it to that 30-pound mark, then you’re kind of like, ‘OK, so that’s the strongest I’m allowed to be or can be,’ because there’s a limit. When you’re in the co-ed sections, the weights are a lot heavier.”
Global News reached out to other gym facilities, including LA Fitness, Fitness Connection, Planet Fitness and the YMCA. LA Fitness and Fitness Connection declined to comment on their gym’s weight policies.
The YMCA stated in an email that the equipment in the Greater Toronto area is based on popular fitness trends, member engagement and functionality.
“We keep weights heavier than 50 pounds in the general free-weight spaces where there are proper racks and space for larger weight ranges and equipment,” said Samantha Casmey, manager of adult programs, health and fitness at the YMCA.
Planet Fitness doesn’t offer women-only gyms or sections, according to McCall Gosselin, vice-president of public relations and communications. Gosselin said that’s because Planet Fitness is based on inclusiveness and targets the first-time gym user, compared to other facilities that advertise to avid gym-goers.
“Our free weights also only go up to 60 or 70 pounds even though we’re not a women’s-only gym, and that’s because we want to create an environment where people don’t feel intimidated,” Gosselin explained.
Despite the popularity of women-only gyms and women’s sections within co-ed gyms, the stigma persists that some women are not able to lift as much as their male counterparts. That’s not necessarily true, according to Parissa Safai, associate professor of kinesiology and health science at York University. In fact, there’s no way of knowing if all men are stronger than all women, said Safai during a telephone interview.
“You could have a woman outrun, out-lift, outperform a man, and then that man who figuratively lost to that woman outperforming, out-lifting, outrunning another man, [and] so on and so forth,” said Safai. “The human bodies and the differences between us are too complex to boil it down to [this] simplistic men-versus-women formula.”
Safai said gyms have traditionally been spaces for men, so though it’s common to see more women at gyms nowadays, fitness clubs are still seen as masculine spaces.
She pointed out that if gyms are conscious of their decision to place lighter weights in women’s areas compared to the co-ed sections, then they are feeding into the stereotypes of men versus women. If not, gyms could take this issue as an opportunity to not make assumptions about women.
Lyzabeth Lopez, founder and owner of The Hourglass Workout, also touched on the stigma of women lifting heavy weights or being seen as too bulky.
“I am surprised a little bit that some of the gyms haven’t caught up with the fact that women can lift heavy and it actually looks really good when they do,” she said.
At her facility, which was designed specifically for women and the female body, the fixed-barbells go up to 100 pounds and the Olympic bars have plates that can go up to 300 pounds.
“That’s our take on women. We definitely have them lifting really heavy,” Lopez said.
She added it takes a lot of work to purposely bulk up and get that “competition” type of look.
So what’s the solution to the discrepancy in the weights available to women compared to men?
According to Diptee and Proctor, the answer is simple: ask the gym to provide heavier weights.
“They have so many weights that they can put into the women’s section,” said Diptee. “Take some from the co-ed section, at least, and put it in the women’s section…it would bring out a positive outlook for us women and build up our confidence.”
Proctor agreed that having more weights available for women means spreading a message of confidence for gym-goers.
“If you want heavier weights, then you go to your gym manager and you say, ‘Hey, I’m a woman. I don’t feel comfortable in the co-ed section and I need heavier weights.’” Proctor said.Follow @alleywilson_
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