Are Women’s Only Fitness Environments Beneficial?
BY ARNELLE PATERSON
A female’s only fitness scheme has been launched in Islington in a bid to break down the barriers that women face when it comes to exercise. As part of the “This Girl Can Islington” campaign, women can take part in activities from trampolining to boxing for just £2 per session without the need to commit to a membership.
This event comes at the right time. According to the Islington Evidence Hub, the prevalence of obesity increases with age, those aged 25-44 are the most overweight. Additionally, modelling carried out on behalf of the Government in 2007 estimates that 50% of women in the borough will be obese by 2050.
While this scheme may promote a healthier lifestyle, one may question the benefits of a female’s only fitness scheme. In a poll commissioned by charity The Women’s Resource Centre, 56% of respondents revealed that they would rather go to a women’s only gym than a mixed one.
Personal trainer Gemma Ridley was the first female trainer at Islington Boxing Club in 2008 and continues to work with the club. She works in the North London areas of Highbury, Islington and Holloway and has experience of leading women’s only as well as mixed classes. She believes that a women’s only environment fosters a different atmosphere. “I find the atmosphere more relaxed even though the girls work hard. There’s also a camaraderie amongst the girls, they’re always shouting out encouragement (come on girls we can do this) in mixed classes I don’t hear the same kind of encouragement.”
Gemma incorporates boxing as a means of toning, weight loss, stress-relief and self-confidence. She feels that confidence is a ‘large portion’ of women feeling comfortable with a female personal trainer. “If a lady is starting out on the fitness ladder, I think they do tend to feel more comfortable with me being female, but once their fitness/confidence grows that does tend to change and often they join the mixed classes too. I understand better as a female certain body insecurities and I find it easier to tap into what women want.”
Gemma, who completed courses with World Heavyweight Champion boxer David Haye, reveals that that honesty is another important factor. “I need to take it easy today because I’ve got my period, or in the case of a post-natal client who might come to me for a 1-2-1 session asking about their pelvic floor control, ‘I can’t do impact exercises I might wee myself’ – I think [they’re] sentences easier said woman to woman!”
Despite the benefits, the keen spokesperson believes that gender’s role in exercise is subjective. “I believe it’s absolutely down to the individual, what works best for one might be different for another. Actually, many of the ladies who come to my women’s only class also come to mixed classes in the week so they absolutely come for the class rather than the fact that its women’s only.”