Contrary to some belief, I think it’s totally possible to talk to women at the gym (with or without the intention of picking them up) and not be seen as terrifying.
Terrifying? Why would anyone find me terrifying?
Let me put you in our shoes: from day one we are taught certain behaviors to decrease our likelihood of assault. Plain and simple. Imagine spending your entire life bombarded with “How not to get raped” or “How not to get assaulted” etc. We live in constant fear that certain group of people (namely men) are going to take advantage of us at any given point and time, so we better be hypervigilant and not wear certain things, go certain places, etc. We’re also taught not to be “too mean” to guys when we let them down, because they may actually retaliate with violence. Additionally, if you’re in the gym, chances are you’re fitter than our average non-gym-going suitors. That puts us at higher risk of injury should you decide to act on any impulses we’ve been taught you have (despite the fact they’re ingrained via rape culture and social construct).
BUT I DIGRESS.
It’s totally possible to come up to a woman (or any person who identifies as a woman) and speak to them without making them feel awkward, uncomfortable, frightened, etc. Here are some tips from a female who gets approached often and has made friends and enemies based on those interactions. I want to stress that this does not work for everyone, especially since people are so diverse. However, I think I hit the main reasons women HATE being approached so you can avoid them.
- We are not Sweetie, Honey, Sugar, or any other perversion of this pet name. You start a conversation like this you sound like a condescending asshole. Please make sure the first thing you ask us is our name, and then use it.
- Make eye contact. Do not creepily sweep my body with your eyes, blatantly stare at my ass while I squat or deadlift, try to look up my shorts while I bench, nor down my shirt while I do bent over barbell rows.
- Do not ask to spot us. Unless we are doing 1RM (and it’s fucking obvious that we’re doing 1RM) do not ask to spot us. Most of the time spotting us involves putting your junk in our face or your junk into our ass (I mean, someone once asked to spot my squat while I was warming up about 100 pounds LESS than my 1RM. No no no no no) You’re right, I will eventually need someone to spot my bench. When that day comes I will look for a familiar, friendly face…not some creeper always asking to push his man parts into my personal space.
- Respect our personal space. If you want to talk to us after a set, do not stand awkwardly close to us while we’re finishing up. It’s distracting. Imagine if some bro stood inches from you while you were doing preacher curls and just stared.
- If you’re going to compliment us, be sincere and not superficial. I’ve made a great friend at my old gym because of this. One day I was benching and he came up to me and said, “Hey, I saw you squatting yesterday, you had fantastic form.” This is a sincere, non-threatening compliment. You’re appreciating my strength and/or skill, not some physical attribute. After you’ve known me for awhile it may (or may not!) be appropriate to say something like, “Wow, you’ve really sculpted your calf muscles nicely!” But to approach a woman with, “Girl, your quads are fine” is the best way to get a dirty look.
- If you want to talk to us, make sure we’re not busy. Resting between sets, before/after a workout (sometimes neither of these), etc. are all appropriate times. Pretend we’re some random guy you asked to spot you, when would YOU want to talk to them?
- Don’t be a fucking know-it-all. There’s an “off-duty trainer” at my old gym that would interrupt me to correct the most mundane, stupid things ever that weren’t relevant or just downright wrong. If your first conversation with a girl is you telling her that her arm needs to be at a 90 degree angle, not a 89 degree angle, she’s going to fucking hate you. Go away. Unless we look clueless, lost, about to injure ourselves, etc. do not put your two cents in. Even then, don’t do it. Ask a personal trainer or staff member to do it – that’s their job.
- Don’t be condescending. This ties into #1 and #7, but sometimes you guys do it and don’t even know it. “Sweetie, you’re doing it all wrong” or “You know, if you do this and this you’ll be more explosive” or “you can lift more than that!” You don’t know our training program, goals, if it’s a deload week, if we’re injured, etc. Don’t be condescending and act like you’re teaching us something to drastically alter our routine. What I’ve learned from other lady lifters is that we’re usually uber paranoid starting out. We don’t want to be the idiot at the gym who doesn’t know wtf is going on, so we google and youtube and Tumblr until we have a clear understanding of what we’re doing. This is in direct contrast to a lot of men in the weight room. Obviously this doesn’t apply to all/most men/women at the gym, but still. Don’t be a douche.
- Don’t waste our time trying to have a 45 minute conversation. Once you’ve started a conversation, keep it short. 5 minutes max, maybe. I like to do circuits, and if my heart rate drops for 5 minutes it’s 5 minutes wasted. A quick hello, introduction, etc. is sufficient. After you’ve made first contact start to incorporate waving, nods, smiling, etc. when entering/leaving the gym and you see the other person. If they return them, are the first to smile/nod/etc., or openly seek conversation then you’re golden. Most women who feel threatened (or just aren’t into it) will smile, nod and act friendly but will reply with one word answers and not seek you out again. Does this annoy you? See the disclaimer above.
These are pretty straight forward, but how can this be implemented? Let me share some great conversations I’ve had with people at the gym that have lead to friendships or just gymships.
“Flag Nor Fail shirt? You’re a DLB fan too?”
“Hey, I saw you squat yesterday, I just wanted to say you have amazing form.”
“What’s your name? My name is ______. I see you here all the time and damn, you go hard/your squat is insane/etc.”
“I saw you were doing this exercise I’d never seen before. What’s it called? What muscles does it build?”
“How are you today?/Some anecdote about the weather/How about them Cowboys?”
Likewise, there are some inappropriate or just downright wrong things to say. Like…
“Hey honey, do you need a spotter?”
“You lift heavy for a girl”
“If you do that in the Smith Machine it’s safer”
“You have really pretty biceps/hair/face/you’re really pretty for a lifter”
In conclusion, the best way to approach someone at the gym is to be courteous of their time, space and routine. Do not interrupt sets, do not give out free advice, and do not act like you’re a judge at the Hooters International Swimsuit Show. First and foremost people are at the gym to exercise, and not everyone finds the gym an appropriate place to socialize and/or make friends. Do not get mad or offended if women don’t respond to your advances at the gym – they may feel uncomfortable or are just plain not interested in meeting someone (at the gym or otherwise).
I hope this addresses some fears women have with being approached by men at the gym and helps to correct them at the right level – where men can see it.