Gymtimidation: 61% of women want to work out in a female-only gym

·Lifestyle Writer, Yahoo Life UK
·6-min read
Woman doing dumbbell squats during fitness class in gym. (Getty Images)
Most women would prefer a work out space that's female only, but not all gyms are doing well to accomodate this. (Getty Images)

Ever been put off by the intimidating weights section in the gym? Or wanted to work out but opted to do it in a more private space? It seems you're not alone.

Almost two-thirds of women (61%) would prefer to work out in a female-only space, a new poll of 2,000 UK adults finds.

Searches relating to 'gym confidence' are up 1,600% year-on-year, while 'getting over gym anxiety' has risen by 300% in the last year, analysis of Google Search Trend data discovers.

What's more, nervousness surrounding the gym varies depending on gender, with nearly twice as many women (28%) as men (16%) admitting they find it intimidating.

People working out on fitness equipment at a busy gym. (Getty Images)
Nearly half of women find the weights area in the gym intimidating. (Getty Images)

A quarter (29%) of women surveyed would rather opt for a gym that only women go to, while 13% would prefer to go to a mixed gym with a workout space that is female-only.

Meanwhile, a fifth (19%) said they are already a member of one of these two options.

As few as 7% of women say they feel totally comfortable in any gym setting, while this number is just over double for men (15%).

Among the top reasons women say they can find the gym daunting include a lack of knowledge around exercises and form (26%), an overall sense of being uncomfortable (26%), and feeling as though they're being stared at (22%).

While far fewer men report finding the gym intimidating, the reasons they do give include generally feeling uncomfortable in that type of surrounding (19%), finding the equipment intimidating (17%), and a lack of knowledge about exercises and form (16%).

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It seems it's not just the space, the company, or the exercising that can cause concerns, but self-confidence over image too, the research conducted by European lingerie specialists Hunkemöller found.

Some 15% of women revealed they don't believe they look good in gym clothing, as did a smaller number of men (10%).

While going to the gym and exercising is meant to relieve stress and anxiety, one in 10 women (10%) shared that going to a workout space makes them feel stressed (10%), with 7% saying they even feel worse about themselves afterwards.

Barbell, dumbbells lie on the floor against the background of the gym. (Getty Images)
Women wanting to lift weights is on the rise – they just need to feel comfortable to do so. (Getty Images)

While this might not be a surprise just from conversations between friends, there are different areas of the gym that make women feel the most anxious. Nearly half (49%) have worries about both free weights and the weights-based machines.

However, this does not by any means there isn't an appetite for this type of exercise from women, as UK searches for 'women's weight training' have increased by 81% in the past three months alone.

The term 'weightlifting routine for women' has also risen by a drastic 350% over the past three months, with an increase in searches of 83% year-on-year.

So, is it right that while women are keen to use weights, they often feel scared to do so in a gym environment, usually where they are most accessible?

Read more: Gym Buddies: Lower Body And Core Workout

Women lifting weights. (Getty Images)
Would you be more likely to do exercises like lift weights in a women only work out area? (Getty Images)

This led Hunkemöller to dig a little deeper and discover which major UK cities are the most accommodating for women wanting to use a female-only workout space.

The brand analysed the number of listings on Google for 'women's gyms' and 'gyms with women's only areas' situated within a 3-mile radius of major city centres (10 miles for London), comparing with the female population in each city.

Nottingham, with eight gyms for women only exercise options, has been found as the most female-friendly city in terms of dedicated workout spaces. Overall, there is currently one female-only gym per 16,466 women in the city.

Liverpool came a close second, with one gym for 40.6k women, then Cardiff with one for 49.5k, Norwich with one for 58.4k, and then Bristol with one for 61.9k.

However, the number of women currently having to share a suitable space to meet their desired needs is still large, with extremely limited options available despite the evident interest in wanting to use non-mixed spaces.

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There are just 73 female-only gyms, or workout spaces with female-only areas, across the 15 major UK cities analysed in total.

Southampton offers the least female-friendly workout spaces, with no gyms just for women within three miles of the city centre, and the nearest five miles out. This is despite almost half of women from Southampton (49%) saying they would be interested in a gym that offered this type of space.

Glasgow (one gym for 269k women), Sheffield (one for 237k women), and Edinburgh (one for 227k women) also had minimal options available. Notably, London has one for 99.7k.

Watch: The time you choose to go to the gym says more about your personality than you might think

So, other than gyms needing to better cater for all women's needs, what can we do to overcome self-consciousness and intimidation in the gym, including in mixed workout spaces?

Emily Servante, Personal Trainer and Global Trainer Education Manager at Ultimate Performance, says 'gymtimidation' is far more than simply a media buzzword.

"This phenomenon presents a significant barrier to exercise," she tells Yahoo Life UK. "While such fears stem from various sources, common causes of gym-anxiety include feeling body conscious, worrying about exercising in front of others, and pressure from social media expectations.

She says it's important to remember that everyone started exactly where you are now.

"One of the biggest elements of improving the gym is skill acquisition, which comes with repetition of effort. The more consistently you train, the faster you’ll start to see results from your hard work and feel more confident in your environment. Your fitness journey is unique, so try not to fall into the trap of comparing yours to somebody else’s.

She adds that they are many reasons why you shouldn’t let gym anxiety get the better of you. "Regular exercise and weight training have extensive beneficial effects, including lower disease risk, improved mental health and cognition, and increased life quality and duration.”

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