Removing shame from the gym experience

One thing that keeps women away from the gym is a cycle of shame. Shame is a terrible emotion that does the opposite of what we set out to do as gym owners, but it happens all the time.

Where women can experience shame:

  • Missing classes
  • Not meeting expectations or achieving (expected) results
  • Not being able to perform movements
  • Spending time away from home or responsibilities
  • Not looking a certain way or feeling like they fit in
  • Being called out or hearing language that is triggering

Missing classes

As gym owners, we know that consistency is paramount for our members. In reality, life is going to get in the way sometimes. When women miss classes (for whatever reasons), they can feel guilt and shame. Here’s what happens:

  • She misses classes (more than 1 week)
  • She starts to feel guilty that she hasn’t been back
  • She starts to feel embarrassed and then avoids going back  
  • She quits

The communication we have with our members is critical. First, we have to set the expectation that sometimes you need a break. Life gets in the way sometimes, and that’s OKAY. Don’t set them up to expect to make 3 classes a week every week. 

Make sure you have a nurture campaign to encourage them to listen to their bodies and do what’s best for them. Movement is a lifelong journey. 

Prioritize the benefits your members get in addition to coming to classes. Community is an essential piece that you can build for your members. People come for the classes, but they STAY for the relationships and the community.

Not meeting expectations or achieving (expected) results

What is the expected result for your class or program? If you’re setting up unrealistic expectations, this can lead to women feeling shame when they aren’t successful.

Avoid results that focus on changing body size:

  • Lose weight
  • Lose belly fat
  • Fit into that bikini
  • Get your summer body

When you focus results on changing body size, you suggest that their current body size is not desirable. The industry has sold the idea that fitness is only for losing weight. Marketing schemes have overshadowed the benefits of fitness. Stay focused on these results:

  • Stress relief
  • Build confidence
  • Feel happy
  • Feel balanced
  • Gain energy
  • Relieve anxiety
  • Feel strong

Not being able to perform movements

Coming to the gym can be intimidating, and one reason is that the movements are new. Having a beginners class or women’s class can help alleviate concerns, but being mindful of your members’ movements and skill level is key.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to movement:

  • Does she feel comfortable on the floor (laying down)
  • Is she able to move from the floor to standing with ease
  • Can she perform the movements without struggling to maintain posture

When a woman is put into an odd position and asked to perform an unusual movement, she could feel embarrassed and shame if she’s not successful. Set her up for success! Program movements that have everyone leave feeling good.

Spending time away from home or responsibilities

Women are nurturers. Oftentimes, they are responsible for taking care of others — their kids, partners, pets, parents, etc. Going to the gym is an opportunity for them to invest in themselves but sometimes they can start to feel guilty for taking this time.

Remind women that their time in the gym is when they can recover, become strong, and leave being able to handle their responsibilities better than before. 

Not looking a certain way or feeling like they fit in

Women are great at observing their surroundings to see if they fit in. They don’t want to feel too old, too big, too out of shape, too anything. They want to feel like they fit. 

Being mindful that women are observing can help the conversation. The language and the words the staff and the coaches use will either put them at ease or make them feel more left out.

Being called out or hearing language that is triggering

Always praise publically and give feedback privately. In some cases, newer women don’t even want the public praise. Check-in with new members to get a sense of what they might be comfortable with. During class, make sure you are giving tips and feedback privately, which will help her feel more comfortable. 

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