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  • Ciaran O’Connell

Gyms: How they have changed over the years


It’s fair to say that the look of gyms, the people who go to gyms, and everything surrounding gyms has changed massively in the space of 5-10 years.

Back as a little 13 year old, my gym experience was completely different to how I imagine 13 year old me would experience it now.


To give you a picture of what it was like, nobody was wearing tight clothes, nobody was taking selfies in the mirror, nobody was distracted by their phone, the aesthetic of the gym didn’t matter, the weights section was the least cared about thing.


As time has gone on all of this has changed dramatically. Is it for the better? That’s what I’m going to delve in to.


Right now I believe gyms are a much more inclusive environment than they used to be. This could have something to do with the influence of social media stars and celebrities boasting about being in the gym. This makes the idea of going to the gym ‘cool’ and acceptable. The range of people coming in to the gym therefore is broadened - great!


The more people that come through the doors of the gym, the more people are going to get healthier and fitter. Leading to a better lifestyle and happier life.

In the past gyms where dominated by men, with the odd woman running on the treadmill.


Social media, along with education, has now given women the confidence to lift weights in the gym. Something that previously was rarely seen through thoughts of becoming ‘bulky’ and so on.


Add the fact that having a big bum is now a trend and something adored by both women and men, it’s fair to say the amount of women coming to the gym to lift weights rather than run is on the rise. This for me as a trainer, is amazing. Women are lifting weights, getting stronger, feeling stronger, and seeing the benefits.

Unfortunately though, this can come with some side effects. Like many things there are a small proportion of people who can ruin something good. In this case it’s the age of ‘pervy men’ (could be women too, but I’m speaking from what I’ve seen). Women coming in to the area when men previously dominated is new for many of these primitive males, and so feel the need to stare at these women in tight clothes looking to better themselves. This is NOT the women’s fault and something I believe needs to be disciplined in gyms. It’s taken so long to get women feeling confident enough to lift weights, don’t spoil it by being sleezy.


On to the subject of clothing. What a change that is. In the past it was whatever clothes you had that you were willing to sweat in. If you supported a football team, you may wear that top because it’s ‘sporty’. In today’s gym it’s almost like a fashion show. I get it, everyone wants to look good and feel good. Doing this gives many people the confidence to keep going and motivate themselves. My worry is that people become too obsessed with the look and put off because they don’t look like the other girl when they wear their skin tight leggings. This for me is a devising topic. Myself, I like to look good when working out however, I won’t go out my way to spend fortunes on gym clothes. Whatever I’ve got will do, I’m not there to look good, I’m there to work hard.


Bring in other men though, the age of the modern man. Nowadays a lot of lads will chase the mystical 6 pack abs. It’s cool to have but it’s not the most sustainable thing in the world. I’ve heard stories of men denying a drink at the pub with friends as they’re trimming down for a holiday. This is where I believe the new age of social media has created a fantasy for both men and women around looking as perfect as they can. Spend endless hours in the gym, eating clean, staying in etc, all for a photo by the beach with your body in peak condition for some likes on Instagram and social approval.


In the past (and now to be fair), if me or my mates had a picture of ourselves topless tensing in front of the mirror we would be slaughtered. The act of being vein is very much a new one in this new gym culture. Most likely derived from the social media channels having influencers and models who are paid to look like gods, creating an illusion that perfection is needed to get social recognition from peers.


Recently, going to the gym seems to be a flex in itself rather than actually having muscles to flex. It is almost like it’s the trendy thing to do, regardless of how hard you work in there, or the results you get. Never forget to put it on your Instagram, if it’s not on there then did you even go to the gym? *rolls eyes*


Linking in to how social media has effects on those who attend gyms. Let’s talk about the actual look of gyms, which I believe has been influenced by the ability to market the gyms on these social media platforms. Gyms have to look cool on the gram, gone are the days of an unpolished look with chalk and weight plates scattered across the floor. Many gyms are going for the clean, modern look with the latest equipment, dark rooms with neon lighting, black and white themes. To me this can sometimes add to the fact that many consider going to the gym as a trend. The gym is a place to be sweaty and dirty, nobody looks good when they give 100%.


On the flip side, the old gym look does seem to be making a comeback. CrossFit is rife at the moment and the aesthetic of one of their ‘box’s’ is an open space with barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells and frames. There’s nothing fancy in there and people seem to love that. However, one can say that the look of gyms is designed to attract certain clientele. This is where I see gyms as different to before. A gym was a gym back in the day. Now a gym can be a spa too, a CrossFit box, an underground space, an exclusive club, and so on.


One thing that hasn’t really changed in gyms, other than the format, is class exercise. It continues to be a huge part of every gym, having a great class. We as people are sociable beings and love to experience things together with like minded people. This is why a T45 gym does amazingly. They create classes that are designed to kick your butt with people who are there to do the same, but all with a smile on their face. The same can be said for many spin classes. The only difference is the way these classes are presented. Looking at T45 again, they use digital screens to show timers and exercise demonstrations. Or look at SoulCycle, a spinning class gym who create a uniquely personal experience by booking the exact spin bike you want in the class. The gyms in today’s time have to create something unique to both stand out from competitors, but also provide value to clients in a very competitive space


These are the major things I have seen change in the gym. Have some been for the better? Yes. Have some been for the worse? Yes. But are more people coming in to the gym than ever before to get fitter? Yes. For me that’s what counts the most. It’s fair to say that the digital age has helped to both educate and misinform many people interested in fitness, but it has provided a platform to encourage health, positivity, and fitness.

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