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Avoid Unwanted Attention While Working Out

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When you join a gym, you expect it to be a positive environment — an enjoyable place to work out, help you sustain your physical activity goals and even relax.

What you don't imagine is that you might be bothered by unwanted attention, often sexual in nature, from other members, staff or trainers.

Some women have joined fitness centers or gyms and experienced comments, stares, jokes and intrusions into their personal space that were unpleasant and harassing. What's more, such behaviors can escalate into unwanted physical contact or worse.

College or community-run gyms may have conduct codes that specifically ban any form of physical or verbal harassment, including abusive language, following you within the facility, staring, intimidation, touching or lewd acts. Those codes serve as roadmaps to guide you in having your complaint taken seriously. Privately-owned gyms often have no such code — or may only have rules regarding harassment between employees.

If you're being bothered and telling the person to stop hasn't ended the matter (or you don't want to confront the person), go to the gym manager and describe the problem. Ask what the facility's rules are about harassment of members and what action it will take to ensure that you are not bothered again.

Tell the manager you will call the police to file a complaint and get a restraining order if the person doesn't stop bothering you. Then do so.

But don't wait for a next time if the behavior has been threatening or if you have been touched without your permission. Go to the manager and call the police.

Other ways to protect yourself:

- Do not use a locker room for undressing or taking a shower, unless there are other people you feel comfortable with nearby. Ask them to stay until you're finished.

- Avoid being alone with a trainer in a room with closed doors. Ask to be in a more public area or have another staff member present.

- If you need to be "spotted" while working on equipment or exercising, the trainer can use a ball or towel instead of touching you directly.

- Maintain boundaries with your trainer. Keep it a fitness relationship; don't let it develop into a personal relationship.

- If you're uncomfortable with the trainer the gym assigns you, ask to be assigned to someone else.

- Check your contract before signing to make sure that the gym prohibits all harassment by members or staff and backs that up with expulsion or firing.


Wayne State University. "Recreation and Fitness Center — Membership Policies and Procedures." http://rfc.wayne.edu/membership-policies.php. Accessed June 19, 2009.

Confessore N. "When a Personal Trainer Gets Too Personal." The New York Times. April 14, 2005.

Archer S. "Reward Carries Risk: A Liability Update." IDEA Personal Trainer. April 2004. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/by-shirley-archer-jd-ma. Accessed June 22, 2009.

© 2009 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.

(from the National Women's Health Resource Center's e-newsletter, HealthyWomen Take 10)

Link to article: http://www.healthywomen.org/articles/attention_nwhrc.html

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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