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Workout Pet Peeves

29 May 2012

written by Carolyn

101107_110436 central park, new york city

When I first started seeing the dude, chilling at home with him was infinitely more interesting than going to the gym or a yoga class. I fell way, way off the workout wagon. I’m not blaming him. I got off track all the way around (damn you, delicious Nutella!) – by choice.

Now, once again, I’ve got major pounds to lose. I’m going back to the workout routine I established before I met the dude – yoga two days a week, walking home from work (3.5 miles) two days a week, walking in Central Park (4-6 miles) and going to Bikram at least once every weekend. I may need to step it up from there, but I first need to re-establish the baseline – and, more importantly, the habit of working out regularly.

There is one impediment I’ve had to fight through, though. Something that makes working out unpleasant. One word: harassment.

I live in Harlem, and men in Harlem routinely harass women on the street. As one friend said recently, “I couldn’t even walk a dog in Harlem” without hearing annoying, unwanted comments from men.

Women in workout attire, no matter what shape they’re in, seem to draw particular attention. Three years ago, I wrote about the challenges of dealing with street harassment running around Marcus Garvey Park. I’m sad to say that nothing has changed in the three years since that post.

On Saturdays and/or Sundays, I like to get up and go for a walk in Central Park. I live about a mile from the park. The time inside Central Park is peaceful and pleasant. The walk to and from the park is often irritating.

“Hey ma, can I walk with you?”

“That’s right girl, you need to be out here. You need to be doing more than walking.” (Thanks, buddy)

“Damn, look at that ass!” (A comment a black woman in Harlem might hear even if she were wearing a nun’s habit.)

“Get them knees up! Swing them arms!” (Usually said by an overweight guy sitting near the curb on a lawn chair or a milk crate.)

Most days I just look straight ahead and keep walking as if I haven’t heard anything. Occasionally, I come across someone so aggressive that I feel afraid – even though I always go on my walks around midday, walk on well-trafficked streets and paths, and keep my cell phone in my hand in case of emergency.

Often, these guys will say “I’m a trainer” as a way to justify the nonsense they’re about to spew. As someone on Twitter pointed out, “I’m a trainer” is the new “I’m a rapper/record producer.”  This past weekend, as I was steps from completing a 6-mile walk/run, some guy sidles up to me.

“That’s right girl, grind it out. How much you do today, ma?”

“Six miles,” I said, looking straight ahead.

“Oh for real? You do that every day?”

“No, I did it today.”

“Oh, see, cause I’m a trainer. You need to do them six miles every day. You do that, you be a’ight.”

Really? That’s your professional opinion? You had to become a trainer to figure out that someone who runs or walks six miles every day is probably going to be “a’ight,” health and physical conditioning-wise?

Trainer-dude was tall and lanky, with zero muscle definition. He might have been a trainer for real, although I doubt it. It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t looking for workout advice, and I certainly didn’t need it at the end of my workout.

The guy who approached me might have been a fake trainer, but I’ve had real trainers say equally ridiculous things to me. When I was going to the gym regularly, a trainer looked at me and said, “I can help you get all that -” gesturing to my hips and thighs – “right.” I was in the gym to get fit, but I didn’t think my body was “wrong” to begin with. For some reason, I ended up hiring him, and it was a disaster. He had one canned workout routine he used with all his clients. I watched him take other women who probably had different fitness needs from me, through exactly the same routine he forced upon me. And he never listened. I told him I couldn’t do squats on advice from my doctor (bad knees). He laughed and told me to quit punking out. I had to fire him, or I would have wound up injured. Lesson learned? Trainers who sell their services by preying on what they think are a woman’s insecurities are parasites.

Unsolicited workout advice from random men may be the mildest form of harassment experienced by women, especially women who work out. And street harassment happens all over, not just in Harlem. But I don’t think men understand just how off-putting and demoralizing these comments are. When a woman goes out for a run, or to the gym, she’s generally not looking for attention. She wants to focus on her workout. Unsolicited advice from “trainers” or gym rats, not to mention lewd comments, are beyond unwelcome.  Whether a woman is already fit or working on her fitness, harassment from men can make a woman not want to work out. It’s not encouraging, it’s discouraging.

I doubt this will be seen by the men who need to read it most, but if just one man rethinks how he deals with women he sees working out, it will be worth it. Guys: unless she asks for your training advice, don’t offer it. If you see a woman about to injure herself using an apparatus or equipment at the gym, alert a trainer or the gym staff. Otherwise, leave her alone.

That goes for you trainers, real or imagined, as well.


6 Comments on Workout Pet Peeves

  1. Chela

    Exactly why I belong to a women-only gym… My trainer is a man (a former Marine drill sergeant, no less) but there are no other men around to offer unsolicited comments or advice. I’m not here for all of that.

  2. Tyrone M.

    I wish someone would let these people know how annoying this is. No one needs it. All I’ve ever gotten was a stare or a muffled laugh…no outright harassment.

  3. CaliGirlED

    Great post! As with any venue and setting, there will always be idiots who DON’T get it! There is a time and place for everything. The middle of my workout is NOT the time! Nothing tickled me, on some days, but irritated me more on most, than when I was a trainer and would be in the gym doing my workout and would get WRONG advice from the gym rats. I broke one guy down so tough as to why I was lifting the weight the way I was and the maximum benefit to the muscles that I was working that he never said two words to me again.

    Also, as with any venue, there are always those women that misrepresent us as a whole. I would just shake my head at the ones who would come to the gym obviously on the prowl. I HATED IT!!! My advice to any woman who goes to the gym to workout, or who wants to go but shies away because of the unwanted attention, put your game face on! Minimal to no eye contact, quick hellos and good-byes, yes/no answers accompanied by a look that says, “I do not want to be bothered”. It works. But of course there are always the exceptions! SMH

  4. Whitney

    This is why I wear my sunglasses, a hat and a cheap version of a spanx when walking, because I’m bottom heavy and I see them watching me as I walk. I try to control my “jiggle” as much as possible. I try to walk as early as possible, I’ve been even thinking about going to a track, but that is so boring.

  5. Nic

    To me, this is part of a MUCH larger problem. Society in general feels as though they have carte blanche to discuss Black women and to tell them what they need to fix (and what they have no right to change). Black men are acting on that directive that really includes everyone. They are guilty of the same lack of introspection as everyone else. There are probably 100 ways you could tell them to improve themselves but don’t.

    I’d liken it to the way in which people feel comfortable saying now that many women are growing out perms that they look so much better that way, and that relaxers are ugly and gross. Um, no one asked you, and no, they don’t all look bad. Like many things, they can be well done and they can be badly done. The same is true for natural hair. But the same people who say, “good for you” don’t do the same for themselves or other groups. My eyes tell me that the majority of white women I see who have “blond” hair were not born with it. Ditto with a lot of redheads. But no one tells them that they should be natural and would look so much better that way. For some reason, they can alter themselves and don’t criticize the self-hatred or get told how ugly it is (and on a lot of them, the blond hair is hideous and unhealthy looking). If you want to go there, (and I personally think the use of relaxers and hair dyes is a personal choice), they are both unnatural substances that permanently alter your hair to achieve something you were not born with. But only one of those choices gets attacked by people.

    So the white lady who is jogging doesn’t get unsolicited advice. I don’t deal with sexual street harassment where I live (very few black people), but I do feel most comfortable in group exercise settings for that reason. I’m fortunate enough to be part of a bootcamp that runs outside almost every day, something that I would NOT feel comfortable doing on my own. And the number one reason for that is the unsolicited comments that I get.

    As I mentioned, there aren’t any black men around so I don’t get hit on or comments on my butt (they do not like them or black women at all for that matter). But I do get far too many “good for you” type comments which In find irksome. I’m sure that there are many things (sometimes obvious) that I could condescend to these people about or “congratulate” them about. I mean, people who come to class and nearly fall out still want to treat my presence like some great miracle (and they usually come a couple of times, can’t hang, and quit). Let’s be honest, a lot of people are only willing to be at the gym to hit a certain size, and if they don’t need it, they won’t come, or if they can do it by starving, they’ll do that too. They don’t really care about the “health” at all.

    And again I notice, the white ladies with the bellies and back fat and who can barely life 5 lbs don’t get bothered or congratulated for being in the gym. I’m frankly not surprised that you had a black trainer who treated your body like a problem to be fixed, when you were likely there making sure the INSIDES were healthy. And I’m sure he doesn’t “deal” with black women in real life. For some reason, a lot of people assume that we all want to look like women in Hollywood and if we don’t, we are a problem. I love my big butt. I like the fact that it is round and I like the profile it creates in my silhouette. But I do want it to be healthy and toned, but like Whitney, I know to keep a supply of Spanx too.

  6. Monica

    This is the main reason why I take my walks early in the day before the knuckleheads and lot lizards hit the streets.


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