Saturday, 18 September 2010

Should Gyms be Unisex?

“The greatest feeling you can get in a gym, or the most satisfying feeling you can get in the gym is... The Pump. Let's say you train your biceps. Blood is rushing into your muscles and that's what we call The Pump. You muscles get a really tight feeling, like your skin is going to explode any minute, and it's really tight - it's like somebody blowing air into it, into your muscle. It just blows up, and it feels really different. It feels fantastic. It's as satisfying to me as, uh, coming is, you know? As, ah, having sex with a woman and coming. And so can you believe how much I am in heaven? I am like, uh, getting the feeling of coming in a gym, I'm getting the feeling of coming at home, I'm getting the feeling of coming backstage when I pump up, when I pose in front of 5,000 people, I get the same feeling, so I am coming day and night. I mean, it's terrific. Right? So you know, I am in heaven.”
-Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pumping Iron (1977)

2006. I'm working out in Holmes Place, a city-centre gym. I got a week's free membership from a marketer after I filled in a questionnaire, and I'm making the most of the privilege. I'm feeling the burn on the chest press, but I can't quite focus on putting my all into the exercise. Something doesn't feel right.

I look up at the other people. There's a woman on the cross-trainer eyeing me with disdain. Another woman is power-walking on the treadmill- she's not keen on me either.

Do I really look that dodgy? I think.

I carry on working out until, a few minutes later, a gym instructor approaches me.

“You can't work out in here, mate,” he says, voice lowered. “This is the ladies' gym.”

I had no idea. I walk out of the area for women. It doesn't have a door, more like half a wall separating the “ladies' gym” from the “unisex” area. There's a discreet sign on the far side, that I missed.

What a jip, I think. It's the Naughties, and gender inequality is still rife in Britain. Only now it feels like it's going the other way.

Hence, I ask: Why allow women to work out in a “man-free” environment? And if you're going to give them that privilege, why let them choose whether they work out in their own area or the rest of the gym?

Despite this, I'm actually in favour of segregated gyms. When I work out, it's the one time and place that I'd prefer there be no women around. I don't want the distraction.

I'm not a big guy, so the heaviest weight I can lift really isn't ever that far up the range of weights available. I put everything into a 45-minute session, and by the end of it I look like shit.

It's not a massive deal when I work out. I shut everyone out mentally at these times, whether there are women there or not- even if she's fit. Okay, it can be difficult if she's fit. But on the heavy weights I grunt, sweat, sometimes scream in order to beat a personal best. In short, I look and sound like a total psycho. But hey, Arnie was doing the same thing when he was my age.

I don't have the porn music playing in the background, though. Normally just VH-1, or whatever.

Having said that, weren't gyms developed for men to build muscle tissue? That's what I use them for. I don't quite look like the guy in the video, but, y'know... a day at a time. I always thought the cardio machines were there just to warm up. If all I wanted to do was lose weight, I'd go for a run or use a skipping rope. Running is free. Ropes are around £10. If a woman wants to tone a certain part of her body, I know a load of weight-free exercises that she can do. It would save her a fortune.

So, yeah, if gyms still prove popular with women in future, we should segregate them for our own good- and certainly mine. And if Arnie can't discourage women from working out in men's gyms, I don't think anyone can.

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