Walking into the Western Student Recreation Centre, masculine grunts can be heard from the main floor weight section, while women whir away on the treadmills and other cardio machines upstairs.
What’s up with the gender divide? Does it deter students from trying new types of exercise?
Second-year kinesiology student, Kiera Hill, generally uses the upper floor cardio section and mats when she goes to the Rec Centre. But Hill also feels comfortable venturing down to the weight section a couple of times a week, despite the obvious female/male split between the upper cardio floor and the lower weight floor.
“I think the general consensus would be that women stick upstairs and guys are downstairs,” says Hill. “I think there’s a definite stigma about the weight section… I know a lot of my friends think that about going down [to the weight room].”
Craig Hall, kinesiology professor and faculty director of Western's Sport & Exercise Psychology Lab, confirms Hill’s observations. Hall says research suggests that in general, women prefer aerobic-type exercise and men tend to prefer resistance-type exercise.
This split can be intimidating. But the recent cancellation of Rec Centre's women’s-only times and programs, which began in 2009, indicates that there isn't a demand for gender-specific areas or programs at the gym.
Michelle Harvey, Rec Centre program coordinator of fitness and wellness, says, “Over the years we have tried various different programming options… Unfortunately, we have discontinued this programming this year due to lack of interest.” Last year the Rec Centre offered women’s-only studio time every Tuesday for two hours — only once did one attendee show up.
Though Hall agrees there is a gender divide, he suggests skill level deters students from trying new types of exercise.
“If you just kind of stick to your thing and put your headphones in and know what you’re doing, I think it’s a lot easier to not be intimidated,” Hill says. Hill explains that otherwise, students may run the risk of feeling like people may be watching them as they do something incorrectly.
To boost confidence when trying new types of exercise, both Hill and Hall suggest working out with a friend. Hall explains how increasing competency or knowledge in a certain area through using a fitness instructor or watching others can also help increase self-efficacy.
“We call that observational learning or modelling,” says Hall. “And certainly it’s the old adage of if someone else can do it and it doesn’t look that difficult, then probably you feel you can do it too.”
So yes, it may feel intimidating to try new types of exercises or venture into unknown gym territory. However, be it bringing a friend, watching an instructional Youtube video, or making a workout plan, gaining confidence appears to be the remedy for feeling at home in the Rec Centre.