I’m So Sick of the “Gym Bro” Culture

Growing up in the 1980s, I saw strength training the way many of us did back then, as a male-dominated pursuit that would only serve to give us delicate ladies bulky, unsightly muscles. I was on a competitive swim team during high school, and our coach never discussed resistance training or took us to a weight room.

But the tides are shifting. My oldest daughter, a freshman in high school, says her soccer coach encourages regular weight training. I’m glad kids are getting earlier exposure to the activity, and that it’s being normalized for anyone who enjoys being active.

And as it turns out, for midlife ladies like me, strength training is particularly important. Thanks to lovely hormonal changes, women lose both muscle mass and bone mineral density in the years leading up to menopause. But strength or resistance training can help counteract this. A 2023 review found that for boosting muscle mass and strength in menopausal women, “resistance training with 3 sessions per week, lasting 20–90 min for at least 6 weeks, is most effective.” While research on the impact of exercise on bone density continues to emerge, regular weight-bearing exercise seems to benefit bone density as well.

I’ll be the first to say I don’t really enjoy weightlifting. Give me a treadmill or a pool and I’m happy, but grabbing some dumbbells and lifting them overhead just feels silly. Still, I’m trying to commit more to the activity.

The fact that strength training is not only appropriate, but also beneficial, for women has never been more clear. Why, then, are so many gym weight rooms still stuck in the 20th century?

I’ll share something that happened at my gym recently. Some kid was lifting heavy weights and repeatedly emitted this noise that I can’t fully describe. It sounded like he was having a bowel movement while simultaneously getting punched in the face. A strangled yell so jarring and loud, the dude next to me on the treadmills actually turned around to look.

I’m aware that most guys at the gym don’t act like this at all. But the ones who do kinda ruin it for everyone else. Afterward, I heard a few regulars (men) saying they considered talking to the kid. They decided against it because they thought he seemed volatile, and they didn’t want to make a scene.

Unfortunately, these incidents contribute to a culture that discourages women from using the weight training space. It’s not just the loud, guttural grunting that happens at inopportune times, or the high school dudes spouting off about their bathroom habits. There are other, more insidious ways that gyms — knowingly or unknowingly — make the resistance training area less welcoming to non-jocks. Women tend to lift lighter weights than men, and sometimes the equipment we need is hard to find. Or it’s downright missing. Our gym used to have a handy step stool that I’d often use to reach the pull-up bar, and I haven’t seen it for months.

I’ve noticed, too, that all of the televisions in the weight room are tuned exclusively to men’s sports. Why not have one television highlighting female athletes, who are equally as bad-ass and fun to watch? (Hello, Caitlin Clark!)

And why don’t gyms prioritize staffing the weight rooms with female-identifying trainers? It seems like a no-brainer for increasing business.

I know this is a rant. I should probably at least write a comment card to the people managing my gym instead of screaming into the void. And I will.

Everyone should feel safe and comfortable in the weight room, regardless of their goals or experience, whether they’re “gym bros” or not.

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