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Trainer’s Talk – Women and Exercise

With obesity overtaking the population, exercise science and fitness industries have become a necessity.  Technology and ease in transportation have allowed us to become lazy and less active.  As a society, we are always conducting research and making new discoveries to “fix” these problems we have created for ourselves.  Since daily activities are no longer as physically demanding as they once were, people now have to make a point to incorporate a “workout” into their day.  Many changes have taken place associated with fitness, especially as the industry and research relate to women.  Around 100 years ago the possibility of a women sweating was publically unheard of and completely unacceptable. 

As women began to show interest in involvement with physical activity, they were still limited to certain sports and activities.  After research began showing extremely positive benefits associated with physical activity, societal perspectives began to change.  Only 20 years ago, the involvement of women in physical activity for health and self-image concepts began to take place.  According to researchers in 1984, evidence suggested females often lacked confidence in achievements requiring physical activity. One specific study repeatedly stated “recent research indicates that females are particularly likely to lack confidence in their abilities to perform physical activities” (Corbin, Laurie, Gruger, & Smiley, 1984, p 17).  They suggested females tended to lack confidence in their own physical abilities again mentioning, “given females’ general lack of confidence in physical activity” (Corbin et al. 1984, p18).  All prime examples of the stereotypes and societal stigmas of this era.   

Their study consisted of a relatively small sample size of 39 women ages 22 to 54 who agreed to participate in a month long 2-day-per-week aerobic exercise class.  All subjects were exposed to a 10 to 15 minute long presentation regarding the “facts” about exercise.  In addition the treatment group watched three videos demonstrating success in physical activity for women.  These video topics were used to access motivation and retention through viewing the examples vicariously.  The issues and topics presented in the videos demonstrate thinking related to the era.  Women were only recently being allowed to participate in physical activity but many stereo types still existed.  Apparently, there was still an attitude only men could play sports and that exercising would make the female physical body less attractive and manly due to an increase in muscle tone.

Fast forward 20 years and we still cannot get it right.  Society has spent all this money, effort, and research to motivate women to be physically active; however, research now shows women are involved in physical activity not for health reasons but rather to lose weight or improve body image.  The motivation focus has changed.  Despite the health related benefits associated with regular physical activity, some women are actually developing a poorer body image.  Women, especially in fitness facilities, are now more at risk of developing body dysmorphic and eating disorders.  Not all individuals actually benefit from all exercise.  Aside from the physiological benefits, a psychological perspective also needs to be considered.  As a society we have lead people, especially women, to believe the body is a completely malleable object, and when desired results do not occur, especially with a quick response or an ineffective approach people are even more likely to be dissatisfied. 

A recent study of 571 females ages 18 to 71 from various fitness centers were accessed by questionnaires on; reasons for exercise, self-objectification, body esteem, and disordered eating symptomatology.  In today’s society women are relentlessly evaluated on appearance and constantly objectified.  This causes women to place more emphasis on appearance and internalize an outsider’s perspective of their own bodies.  As a result women are continuously scrutinizing their bodies, which in turn causes greater anxiety, body dissatisfaction, and body shame, in addition to lower self-esteem, and greater symptoms of disordered eating and depression. 

As a society we need to re-direct the focus for physical activity.  People need to “exercise” daily for life-long health and functionality, not for media or societal appearance standards. Most fitness facilities actually provide an atmosphere where women’s bodies are on display with an extreme emphasis on weight loss and the “perfect” body image.  An abundance of mirrors and posters depicting the ideal body image with women often in tight and revealing clothing, does not help the majority population. In the 80’s we struggled to convince women to participate in activity, now society has disproportionately emphasized appearance benefits causing a focus shift from general health.  As a culture we need to motivate people to be active because it is healthy.  We need to assist people in finding an activity they enjoy so they can participate simply because they enjoy it and feel more capable at life rather than seeing exercise as a miserable chore they have to do to look good. The environment we have created at

Beaverton CrossFit and the entire CrossFit movement is leading the way in changing this dilemma.  We don’t have mirrors all around for a reason.

We want you all to feel comfortable and part of both a team and community.  You are not here on display you are here to train.  Sweat and bleed together.  Train to be better at life!           

– Valentine Calvin  

 

References

Corbin, C. B., Laurie, D. R., Gruger, C., & Smiley, B. (1984).  Vicarious success experience as a

Factor influencing self-confidence, attitudes, and physical activity of adult women.

Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 4, 17-23.

 

Prichard, I. & Tiggemann, M. (2008, November). Relations among exercise type, self-

Objectification, and body image in the fitness centre environment: The role of reasons f

or exercise. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 9(6), 855-866. Retrieved February 11, 2009,

from SPORTDiscus database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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