After nearly twenty years in the fitness business, I have a learned aversion to all-things related to a locker room! And while the men may have the women cornered on revolting semi-public behavior – apparently, every gym in the world has their own “old naked guy wearing just socks striking up conversations with everyone” – But the ladies win when it comes to withering eye glances, catty stares and sometimes overt hostility. I’d like to simply chalk it up to hormones, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Women are much pickier in ways; that can work both positively and negatively. Compared to men, who typically tend to jump first and figure it out as they go, women are more likely to only accept or ask for a promotion when they feel they have fully earned it. As a general rule, women will work diligently on achieving a skill-set and be unwilling to advance to a new or more complex task until they feel totally confident.
JoAnna Barsh of McKinsey & Company sites massive research that supports this. “Women often elect to remain in jobs if they derive a deep sense of meaning professionally. More than men, women prize the opportunity to pour their energies into making a difference and working closely with colleagues. Women don’t want to trade that joy for what they fear will be energy-draining meetings and corporate politics at the next management echelon…Of all the forces that hold women back, however, none are as powerful as entrenched beliefs. While companies have worked hard to eliminate overt discrimination, women still face the pernicious force of mindsets that limit opportunity.” http://www.mckinsey.com/client_service/organization/latest_thinking/unlocking_the_full_potential
This is true whether we’re talking about corporate leadership and management or doing a set of lunges and pull-ups. In training, I find that men will want to do the most challenging thing they can until they get hurt. This will then cause them to rethink their techniques as in, “Hmm, maybe I’m doing it wrong and should get some help.” Conversely, women will hold themselves back from proper workout progression due to anticipation of a future injury; “I can’t go up in weight, even though I know my purse and child weigh more.”
Ironically, women tend to be faster on visual assumptions and perhaps that comes back to the underlying “entrenched beliefs driven by fear” that Ms. Barsh mentions. In a gym, women are much faster to judge a “good” trainer or a “bad trainer” by how big are the biceps or how good the legs look. Compounding that is women’s ability to quickly cut down other women! Likely, it’s a poor way of bolstering the negative voice inside one’s own head. But this behavior really has to stop and we need to be more inclusive of all women trying to improve their health, physical composition and mental well-being.
I had the privilege of working with a female trainer who was obese. She was also a psychologist that specialized in eating behaviors. Many women would take one cursory glance at her and scoff, deride and judge. Yet, this trainer worked with fellow obese clients. And when she said, “You can do this, ’cause I can do it!” they believed her. I may have all the scientific learning and coaching behind me, but I will personally never know what if feels like to need to lose 100 pounds. This woman, gave hope to the hopeless and made their hearts, lungs and minds stronger and healthier in more ways than one!
Similarly, I have seen women flock to a “hot” guy trainer who has zero education or credentials, cares nothing for his clients’ well-being save only when they are complimenting him and has reckless disregard for their well-being. Take for example a trainer without any certification having a 45 year old woman, with DD breasts, bad knees – as evidenced by the patella tracking bands and thirty pounds to lose doing jump squats onto a 6-inch step while holding 10 pound dumbells. The kicker is that while the other trainers in the room are rolling their eyes, waiting for the “snap” and impending lawsuit, the women walk by, flirt with the trainer and comment, “Wow, that’s what I want to do.”
While I do whole-heartedly feel that trainers should practice what they preach and look professional, perhaps don’t pick a trainer by their physique, but rather by their credentials and experience. I have many men clients ranging from high-end athlete, to elderly with Parkinson’s and obviously, some of my most trusted colleagues are men who work brilliantly with women! But know that with many businesses, women trainers have a longer/slower road to sustainability. And part of that comes from women’s unwillingness to trust and promote other women. And yet, who can understand better trying to do abdominals while suffering from cramps than another woman?!
Ladies have an internal struggle where we work really hard at self-improvement, but often that self-improvement is tempered by self-loathing. That in turn shows itself in the petty behaviors towards other women seen in the gym. We will only truly help ourselves by empowering women around us. And we need to use the great skills we have to not only better ourselves but other females too.