Grunty gym bloke, please pipe down

JILL STARK
Last updated 10:35 14/11/2013
gym

GRUNTY GARY: Oi, you, pipe down!

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My gym has begun to sound like the set of a porno. So much grunting and heaving and panting. It reverberates around the room in a testosterone-laden symphony of man clownery.

I've had enough. Grunty bloke, it's time to shut up. I'm fairly certain I work out just as hard, yet you don't hear me groaning like a constipated caveman on steroids every time I break a sweat.

Women deliver babies with less fuss than the way you puff and whine through a bicep curl.

Unless you're attempting to pass a bowling ball through the tip of your urethra there's really no reason for all the noise.

And I'm not buying your  ''but grunting makes me stronger'' nonsense. Judging by the way your eyes dart around the gym after every volcanic exhalation, I'd say you're more interested in who's witnessing your heroic feats of manliness than you are in performance enhancement.

Generally, with the exception of elite tennis players - a rare breed of female grunter - women don't feel the urge to populate a shared workout space with aggressive vocal stylings.

Perhaps that's because exercise, for us, is not intrinsically linked to sexual identity.

Grunty Man uses the gym as a showcase for his masculinity. The louder and sweatier he gets the more secure he feels in his own jockstrap.

With all that swagger and chest thumping, is it any wonder many women don't feel comfortable in gyms?

But it's not just the grunters' fault. The differing ways the fitness industry markets to male and female clients perpetuates the problem.

My gym is covered in gender-themed ''motivational'' posters that, for the most part, motivate me to want to punch a hole in the wall. In the girly cardio area next to the treadmills - because clearly pumping iron is a guy thing - you'll find pictures of svelte glamour models in tiny sports bras next to quotes such as: ''You can choose to feel sore tomorrow or you can choose to feel sorry tomorrow.'' Another, written on a pink wristband reads: ''Ten more reps and the cupcake is history.''

Meanwhile, in the groaning man cave where the serious heavy lifting happens, it's all Eye of the Tiger quotes next to images of Arnold Schwarzenegger squeezing out one more glute squat, and Rocky Balboa punching his way to glory.

It seems women's exercise motivators are shame and weight loss. For blokes it's about strength and being a man. It's patronising to everyone involved.

Several times a week I circuit train. I swing kettle bells, pull ropes, flip tyres, run, lift heavy weights and box the living daylights out of a trainer who pushes me to my limit. It leaves me feeling energised, empowered and ready to tackle the challenges of the day. When my heart's racing and the endorphins flow, it's the most alive I feel all week. Cupcakes and guilt play little to no part in why I'm there.

But although I reckon I could hold my own with most blokes in a fitness test, Grunty Man still looks at me as if I've stumbled into the male locker room when, during solo training sessions, I dare to do weights on the bench next to him.

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Chains of female-only gyms have sprung up to provide less intimidating environments but even if you find a strength-based exercise option among the usual ladylike array of Zumba classes, Pilates sessions and beach body blitzes, the goal seems to remain the same: dropping dress sizes.

On the Fernwood Fitness website - where helpfully everything is pink so you know it's just for chicks - they promise to ''help you understand your unique shape'' and  ''tone up your trouble areas'', while over at Body Shape, they guarantee ''you will achieve a firmer, more toned body shape''.

While no doubt many women do visit gyms to lose weight, we need to stop selling that as the main reason to exercise. If not, we risk creating body image issues in those who previously had none.

With obesity at epidemic levels, encouraging people to get healthy is important. But not everyone who's overweight is unhealthy or unhappy. And there are other incentives for getting off the couch.

Working out brings so many benefits - better sleep, improved productivity, increased energy levels and general fitness - yet we continue to pigeonhole people with narrow, unrealistic expectations of why they should train: women to slim down; men to toughen up.

How about working out for fun? Or to see what your body's capable of? Or because it's probably the single best thing you can do to improve your mental health?

Forget the calorie-counting cupcake quotes. I'd be more motivated by one that read: ''Ten more reps and the chances of you getting so stressed you freak out at your boss and spend half of Tuesday's lunchbreak cowering in the office toilets will be greatly reduced.''

It's doesn't fit neatly on a gym wall poster, and it might not fire up the grunters, but at least it's honest.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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