With obesity-related health problems on the rise and the growing pressure to live up to societal body norms, going to the gym is a practice that’s gaining popularity—especially for students. The gym has become the choice venue for student such as Sarah Langford, ArtSci ’08, to sweat out their personal fitness goals. Despite being less scenic than exercising outdoors, Langford’s primary motivation for hitting the gym is efficiency.
“I work out much more and better at the gym,” she said.
Langford exercises nearly every day at the gym, rarely deviating from her routine.
“[I won’t go] if it’s really nice outside or when I’m super stressed while studying at home and don’t have time to walk to the gym,” she said.
Although Langford enjoys exercising at the gym, there are those who stand on the other side of the fence. Laurin Archer, PhysEd ’07, makes a conscious effort to avoid the gym whenever possible.
“I only go to the gym if a friend wants me to go with them,” she said. “I would much rather be outside than in a gym—even in the winter.”
Mary Louise Adams, a sport and exercise sociology professor at Queen’s, also thinks the gym is not all it’s built up to be. “If you go to the gym, you get caught up in the numbers,” she said. “You get very regimented. It is all about how far you run and how hard you work”.
Through machines which highlight the number of calories burned, distance traveled and average heart rate exerted, self-monitoring can become a primary focus of exercise at the gym.
Lisa Rideout, a health representative at Florida Fitness in Ottawa, has observed similar gender segregation in the type of exercise males and females participate in at her gym.
“To try and lose weight, many women only do cardio,” she said. “Guys do weights and girls do cardio.” Although he finds a lot of guys are pretty good about balancing their workouts, frequent gym-goer Matthew Dylag, Law ’08, says its still common for guys to only want to focus on weight training.
“It’s a habit among men at the gym to slap on as many weights as they can and they often don’t exercise properly,” he said. “Men tend to ignore cardio and go straight for the weights and forget about things like flexibility and stretching.”
Dylag said at the gym a lot of guys are more willing to help each other out than to size each other up, but he still sees the stereotype of men just wanting to be buff.
“With guys, you can’t really get away from the macho [mentality] at the gym,” he said.
Just as guys may be missing out on doing proper cardio or stretching, the pressures for women to look a certain way means that they forget about important resistance and weight training at the gym.
Natalie Sinclair, the general manager of Kington’s Goodlife at Loblaws in the Kingston Centre, said some women—as well as men—feel pressured by the fact that it’s easy for other people to watch you at the gym.
“Whether or not it’s true that people watch each other, some do feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Those people may rather choose to go to a women’s-only gym so they don’t even have to think about that at all.” Adams agrees. She feels people-watching is an intrinsic part of the gym experience.
“Gyms are designed for people to watch each other,” she said. “Only recently has the Goodlife downtown put frosted glass on the group exercise rooms so people can’t see in.”
Chantal Vallis, ArtSci ’09, said having people watch her exercise can be disconcerting.
“I am not comfortable breaking a good sweat in front of some strangers,” she said. “The gym is just a big pool of embarrassment. It’s a workout just to leave not feeling embarrassed!”
Adams said being comfortable at the gym depends on the person.
“For Queen’s students that are young, thin and fit going to the gym is completely comfortable,” she said. “But if you’re older, out of shape, or wear baggy t-shirts and shorts it might not be.”
She points out, however, that it’s important to remember every gym is different and tries to cater to a specific clientele.
“You have to be acculturated to the gym, wherever you go,” she said.
At the end of the day, Adams believes we’re better off without it.
“We think too much about the benefits of fitness in very specific ways,” she said. “A long time ago, part of being healthy was simply being in the fresh air.”
Adams’ recommendation is simple: “Get outside and go for a walk. Everyone should just own a dog!”
So the next time you need to feel the burn, head outside. And wear your rattiest pair of gym shorts—trust us, no one’s watching.
—With files from Katie Elphick
Some would argue that exercising outdoors in the sunshine is the way to go, but some also get really bad sunburns. If hitting the gym this summer is on your to-do list, read on to find out which is your best fit.
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