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Shy girl workout trend is helping women gain confidence in the gym

  • Designed to use minimal space in the gym, the workouts are empowering women to overcome ‘gymtimidation’ and take up space

The shy girl workout trend has spawned a digital support group for its practitioners, all of whom share their workouts online
The shy girl workout trend has spawned a digital support group for its practitioners, all of whom share their workouts online (Unsplash)

An online trend that began since late 2022, the shy girl workout continues to grow in popularity. Targeted at women who may be beginners or have anxiety about going to the gym, the premise of shy girl workouts is simple. They are designed to use minimal space in the gym and only a couple of pieces of equipment – such as a pair of dumbbells. While the initial benefit of these workouts is that they can help women overcome their fear of going to the gym, they may also have the more long-term benefit of empowering them and helping them feel more confident about being in the gym says a PTI report quoting The Conversation.

It's a well-acknowledged fact backed by research that women face societal pressures to attain the perfect fit and toned physique. Ironically, the pressure to look good is particularly acute in gyms where people’s bodies are the focus. Weight stigma in the gym is a real thing. One study, in fact, found that people who were overweight experienced harassment and ridicule while exercising. In such a scenario, it is easy to understand why some women may avoid the gym entirely for fear of ridicule. But body insecurities aren’t the only reason women feel intimidated by the gym. 

Also read: For successful weight loss, embrace failure

Many women also feel like they’re being “looked at” when they’re in the gym. This feeling is known as “hypervisibility”, and tends to happen when people think they’re different from others in a particular social setting. In the case of the gym, hypervisibility occurs due to the male-dominated nature of the space, making women feel like they stand out. This feeling of hypervisibility can worsen women’s existing body insecurities, and may encourage some women to avoid the gym altogether.

Social scientists have long shown that the geography of the average gym floor is highly gendered. For example, one study found that gyms have distinctive gendered “zones”, with the weights area seen as “masculine” and the cardio machines and stretching area seen as “feminine”. Many women in this study reported that they felt judged, and even sexualised, when they tried to use the weights area in their gym. This, coupled with experiences of sexual harassment in gyms, could explain why some women feel anxious in these environments. Research also tells us that many women find it hard to take up space in public places. “Taking up space” is about making yourself visible and feeling like you belong in the setting you’re in.

Since shy girl workouts only use a small amount of space in the gym, they may help women to feel more comfortable while working out. There are other positives to the trend. The exercises tend to be aimed at beginners, making them accessible to people who may otherwise find “gymtimidation” to be a major barrier to them working out. It may also help women to get used to the gym environment, and eventually get the confidence to try different exercises or use new equipment. 

Another benefit of the shy girl workout trend is that it acts as a digital form of social support. When women share their shy girl workouts online, it not only helps give other women ideas about the kind of workouts they can do, it also normalises experiences that are common to many women. Looking at the bigger picture, these shy girl workouts are also a collective response to inequality in exercise spaces.

Also read: Why you should increase your core strength for a healthy life

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