The Fitness Center: Where Policies and Community Collide

Andre Louis Rocker ’22 talks to athletic director, Claudia Barcomb about changes in the weight room.

Andre Louis Rocker, Staff Writer

The Fitness Center on campus has been on the minds of many students recently. Whether it’s the new policies or its culture, students have been discussing, dealing with, or denouncing the Fitness Center.

With the implementation of new rules over the summer and the stronger enforcement of pre-existing policies this year, students want answers. “Why can’t we listen to music or wear headphones? Why can’t I get rowdy during a team lift? Why do I have to keep my shirt on?” Mrs. Claudia Barcomb was kind enough to answer some of these questions in an interview.

AR: Why can’t students use headphones while lifting?

CB: It’s a major safety student issue. Last year, a student was unracking a weight (loaded barbell from the squat rack) and walked into another student. They couldn’t hear the other students ask them to look out because they had headphones on. I think we need more space; there’s not enough space for students to unrack a weight and walk five to six feet out from the squat rack. The other major issue is a lot of the females feel that the boys don’t pay attention.

AR: To keep everyone safe while lifting, shouldn’t we educate people on how to properly perform an exercise instead of taking away the use of headphones? 

CB: Music is allowed. The problem is, many faculty and staff have reported the music to be too loud and too explicit. It’s a community weight room and everyone should feel comfortable using it whether it’s a younger student or older faculty member. But naturally in a commercial gym, the cable machines and other lifting machines have safeties on them. With new strength and conditioning practices, free weights are more common to use and there are no safeties on free weights.

AR: Are there going to be any new changes to the Fitness Center?

CB: I actually would like to renovate the weight room. Strategically, it would be most ideal to make the weight room one large rectangular space. Of course, we need to fundraise for it. The thing is, we just added $50,000 worth of new equipment. 

AR: How would someone who hasn’t been invested in fitness before get started?

CB: We have a strength coach there in the morning and evening who is there to help. He knows all about fitness and is there for the students. If you’re not available at that time, he could email you a few exercises or leave a list in the weight room while he’s there. Also, older more experienced lifters should help out a bit. If you see someone who might hurt themselves due to improper form, go show them how to do the exercise correctly.

Besides policies, we discussed the community as well. Historically, the culture of weight rooms has been masculine, or that of a “man’s space.” I find that there is a divide among men and women in where they choose to workout. I tend to notice that women typically go upstairs, where the cardio equipment is, while men usually stay downstairs with the free weights and cable machines. Since I, myself, am invested in fitness, I understand the different types of training such as strength, hypertrophy (muscle growth), and cardiovascular (cardio) training. At first, I assumed that women were more interested in cardio and that is why they would stay upstairs. I also thought that, since men in fitness typically train for hypertrophy and strength, they need to use the free weights and stay downstairs. However, after speaking with Mrs. Barcomb and two Sophomore girls, there may be another reason for this divide.

I asked Mrs. Barcomb about this:

AR:  Do you believe there is a toxic culture or stigma around the weight room? If so, how could we, as a community, fix it?

CB: I think weight rooms generally are more comfortable for boys. I would like to make sure that everyone feels comfortable there. I would like for everyone to be able to achieve their fitness goals but to also be there to give people advice or to help someone out. We need to work hard to keep gender from being an issue there. By constant supervision, by allowing kids to be comfortable using the strength coach, we can do this. A survey I sent out last year showed that around 80% of the women on this campus feel uncomfortable really using the weight room.

Wow 80% is a pretty big majority. Two sophomore girls confirmed this common stigma about the weight room.

AR:  How often do y’all use the weight room?

G1: I’ve never used it.

G2: I used it a lot more last year but I have been pretty busy this year. Maybe weekly.

AR:  Is there a reason why women seem to seldom use the Fitness Center?

G1: I haven’t had time, but I’d say the real reason is that whenever I look in there, it’s just guys… it’s just very intimidating. Like, I don’t want to walk in there because I don’t want to be there by myself, trying to workout and feel… pressure or anxiety. It’s just hard to walk in there alone as a girl.

G2: Honestly, I don’t think I have ever used the first floor. It’s just a lot of guys that are, not to say they’re rude, but are kind of menacing. I’m not that strong at all so I don’t want to embarrass myself while in there. When I go upstairs, there are usually more girls up there for sure, but it’s a calmer feeling upstairs.

AR: So more specifically, if you were to see a guy wearing headphones, are you even more intimidated?

G1: No I feel like it’s actually better because they’re in their own place or world.

G2: Yeah, I don’t really use the weight room to talk or socialize, really, so it doesn’t matter to me really.

AR: Do you think there is a point where someone can get too invested in their workout with their headphones on though?

G2: Yeah I feel really unsettled when someone, like, drops a really heavy weight and gets all excited and they kind of forget that other people are there.

AR: Do you think a female-only lifting session would help?

G1: Well, maybe. But I think having a female trainer in there would make it better. Because, while it’s not uncomfortable to have a male trainer, I just think it would be more comfortable to work with a female trainer.

G2: If enough girls were interested I think it might be good. What would really help is a female trainer like [she] mentioned.

 There is obviously a certain feeling towards the Fitness Center because of its culture. They also brought up how they feel that not only girls would feel uncomfortable, but that some guys who are not as experienced might feel pressured to throw on weights that are unmanageable. They might see other guys lift heavy weights and be intimidated or feel ashamed if they can’t do the same.

Academy Weightroom

Clearly, there is work to be done in making the Fitness Center a more inclusive space. It’s time to ask ourselves, as a community, how we should make that change.