Though the Weinstein Center for Recreation is open to students of all gender identities and expressions, some students find the hypermasculinity of gym culture to be exclusionary.
The University of Richmond chapter of Girl Gains, a national organization works to make female and non-binary students more comfortable in the gym, specifically in traditionally “masculine” areas like the weightlifting community.
Co-founded in April 2022 by juniors Ally Palalay and Stephanie Guza, the club has quickly gained traction on campus. Palalay and Guza recruited a board of student executives, including sophomore co-president Abby Bangs.
Bangs began weightlifting as part of conditioning for her high school cheerleading team. She first thought about continuing weight training in college when she saw a TikTok video aimed at new college students transitioning from the schedule and rigor of high school sports, she said.
“On TikTok especially, there’s this big pipeline from high school sports into weightlifting,” Bangs said. “Once I came to college, I was like, well, we’re not doing sports anymore, but I want to still stay active.”
Girl Gains UR hosts weekly meetings, informal workout sessions and occasional instructional sessions with outside professionals.
Last week, the group hosted Makayla Callender, ‘22, who now works as a certified physical therapist.
“She talked to us about getting into weightlifting and how to deal with gym anxiety, because gym anxiety is real, especially in a male-dominated space, and so she talked about ways to cope with that, other than just avoiding the gym altogether,” Bangs said.
Girl Gains member first-year Kiana Lum said she feels gender politics affected her first few experiences at the gym.
“When I first started going to the gym, I [got] a lot of anxiety from wondering how other people perceive me, especially in a male-dominated space,” she said. “It was really nerve-wracking for me to work out in public.”
Lum explained how it’s common for men to dominate the first floor of the gym and its weightlifting area, while many women opt for the cardio-centric second floor.
“It seems like a safer space upstairs, but I definitely want to change that. I think it’s really empowering for women to be in the gym and lifting weights,” Lum said.
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The group, which does most of its recruiting at SpiderFest but accepts members anytime, recruits a mix of students new to weight training and those already well acquainted with it, Bangs said.
“We also have a good amount of people already interested in weight training, [but] they just want a supportive community,” Bangs said.
While the student-led group doesn’t train beginners themselves, they recruit certified professionals to run crash courses, like the event they hosted on Feb. 19, where Girl Gains advisor and Weinstein Fitness and Facilities Manager Sarah Lee taught members proper form and execution for several weightlifting techniques.
“I think that’s how we help a beginner—not necessarily learning how to weight train… but becoming comfortable in the weight space,” Bangs said.
Sophomore Daria Gemmell, vice president of public relations for Girl Gains UR, enjoys her position on the club’s executive board for the opportunity to put her passion for marketing into practice and acquaint herself with powerlifting, she said.
“My dad was a powerlifter, so I wanted to learn how to do that as a girl. I love when people tell me I can’t do stuff,” Gemmell said.
While she focuses on the executive side of the group, she finds Girl Gains to be a supportive environment in which she can weightlift judgment-free.
“When I do want to try something out, I know I have a community of girls to support me if I want to try benching, or something with dumbbells because I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Gemmell said.
When asked what they’d tell a student who was interested in joining but hesitant, the group was united in their response.
“Please go for it…. It’s one of the most supportive communities I can think of on this campus,” Lum said.
Contact features writer Avery Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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