Differences between women-only and coed gyms: an incomplete list

A few months ago, my ladyfriend (aka Dr. Fiance) and I moved from Boston to Cleveland, for a variety of reasons that seemed very adult and responsible at the time: primarily, she wanted to return to academia after working in pharmaceuticals for six months, and a postdoc salary goes much farther in the midwest than the money pit that is the east coast. Plus, Cleveland offered the possibility of one day being able to afford a house, and her family lives nearby, etc.

Of course, the move from Boston meant that I had to leave the fancy women’s gym I’ve called home since I started in the fitness industry back in 2009 (Let’s just refer to it as the Lady Gym). While I exercised exclusively at coed gyms prior to working at the Lady Gym, and, honestly, found the concept of a women-only gym kind of silly, I stumbled into love with my old gym. We had the ups and downs of many a relationship (including a near break up six months in), but we stuck it out, and I was sad to leave.

Enter my current place of employment, the co-ed gym a friend referred me to upon arriving to Cleveland (let’s call it the Man Gym, because, well, there are a lot of them here.) At face value, it’s still a lot like my old gym: still a fancy eucalyptus steam room and sauna and bath towels that don’t really cover anything, still the rows of cardio equipment and the shiny weight machines and Swiss balls and what have you. Nevertheless, I’m undergoing a bit of culture shock.

So, in case you’re wondering, fair readers, here are the differences I’ve noticed thus far:

  • So few women go into the free weight area. I got lulled into this sense that women understand the importance of strength training at Lady Gym, because folks were often waiting for a squat rack or bench. During peak hours, every inch of the workout floor was filled with women lunging, pressing, and rowing. Here, they’ll make up MAYBE a fifth of the population on the weight floor– and frequently, there aren’t any.That said, when I see women lift here, there are more lifting super heavy weights (we’re talking more than their bodyweight) or performing Olympic lifts– and not just youngins. I’ve witnessed women in the 50+ crowd snatching like pros, which is pretty cool.
  • Man Gym is significantly louder, between the grunting, the music, the dropping of weights (even ones that don’t technically merit dropping,) and, of course, the occasional yelling.  Granted, Lady Gym was above a restaurant and bank, so we had to remain mindful of our neighbors, but I don’t think neighborliness was the variable of most consequence.
  • NOBODY PICKS UP AFTER THEMSELVES. Yes, I did spend a fair amount of time collecting mats and weights at the Lady Gym, but nothing compares to the Man Gym. Like, seriously, why did you leave that 45 pound weight plate on the ground next to the rack? IT IS LEANING ON THE PEG WHERE IT SHOULD BE PLACED. YOU HAVE TO LIFT IT TWO INCHES. TWO. INCHES. I burn more calories cleaning up after other people’s workouts than performing my own.
  • Don’t get me started about the sweaty towels everywhere. See above.
  • People stare at themselves in the mirror a lot more. Not watching yourself for form kind of staring, either. No, this is that good-ol-fashioned bicep flexing, lifting your shirt to look at your abs kind of staring. Lady Gym harbored its fair share of exercisers checking themselves out, but there wasn’t as much clothes being partially removed.
  • On that note, I can happily say no naked people have yelled at me about problems like whirlpool temperature or lack of space in the locker room or whatever the complaint of the week was. I enjoy having fewer naked people yell at me.  I try to minimize its occurrence in my life, in fact.
  • There are some pretty cute husband/wife and boyfriend/girlfriend workout pairs.  There’s a couple in their eighties who just make my heart warm every time I see them on the treadmills or doing lat pulldowns together.
  • The soap in the shower smells like… soap. Not green tea and lemongrass. And no lotion! No cotton balls or q-tips! My skin will never be the same (unless I make the effort to buy my own skincare products, like normal people. Sigh.)
  • Less colorful weights. I mean, the dumbbells are, for the most part, the same shades of black at both places, but other items, like swiss balls and kettlebells, were color coded at Lady Gym. For the longest time, I thought the idea of colorful weights was just a sexist stereotype– women need their weights to be pretty, ha ha ha. But, let me tell you, it is incredibly helpful to know that red = 16 kilo rather than looking through a series of completely unorganized iron weights (see previous note about cleanliness), trying to differentiate between two of similar size and with only one tiny distinguishing mark carved into the side of the weight. Also, as a person who specializes in corrective exercise and working with people with injuries, sometimes those tiny pink one-pound weights serve a purpose!
  • No free tampons in the bathrooms (Guys, this is devastating. And don’t talk to me about those reusable menstrual cups and saving seagulls from choking.)(At this point, my mother is probably wondering what went wrong that I can’t, as a grown woman, manage to buy any basic self-care products on my own.)(Also, she may also be concerned that I’m talking about menstruation on a public venue.)
  • I hear about men’s, uh, “boy parts” roughly 80x more than I ever did before. I mean, technically an infinite times more; I don’t remember much discussion of boy parts ever at Lady Gym. (Granted, this may have been because my coworkers at Lady Gym knew my sexual orientation and figured I probably didn’t want to discuss male genitalia. Also: I’m kind of a prude.) Here, however, one of my coworkers asked me and another guy to watch his smoothie while he went somewhere. “No problem. I’ll just stick my dick in it,” said the other guy. Much laughter. Really. Really?! HOW IS THAT THE FIRST THING THEY THINK OF?!

8 thoughts on “Differences between women-only and coed gyms: an incomplete list

  1. I love this. I joined a boxing gym where all of the women wear even tighter outfits than I saw working at “lady gym” which confused me because I didn’t think things got tighter or more expensive but apparently adding men to the mix means they do. And did you know women tend to be the only ones who actually do the whole workout in a boxing class? Apparently half the men don’t care to do anything that is core or follow directions once you stick a punching bag in front of them. Quite odd.


    • I remember reading somewhere that each gender tends to do workouts that focus on their natural skill area (or the ones that are supposed to be their natural skill areas). As a result, women tend towards more balance, endurance, and cardiovascularly-challenging exercise, whereas men’s workouts tend towards quick, explosive, strength-focused workouts with more rest in between sets. I wonder if that’s part of what you’re seeing– the guys just haven’t trained as much for endurance to make it through the workout as the women have.


  2. Great post! I think you are seeing how culture has coarsened in recent years, as people have decided that we no longer need God. We can save ourselves, thanks to working out at gyms and thanks to improved technology. The energy problem is not really an energy problem; technology will save us.

    The thing they have missed is that our energy problem is a low price problem and a wage disparity problem. It is a financial system problem. Everything has been “baked into the cake” since the beginning of time. In fact, a huge number of “coincidences” have gotten us to where we are now. We have deluded ourselves, thinking we have solved the problems. We have simply created a wrong “sustainability” and “technology” story that misses the whole point of our predicament. This has allowed to see ourselves as little gods, who can spend our time posing in front of mirrors, and using coarse language.

    Liked by 1 person

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