Opinion: The Tempe SDFC doesn't do enough to curb gym anxiety

The layout of the SDFC can create an intimidating environment for students' physical and mental health

Everybody is at the gym for a different reason. There are the heavy squatters, the treadmill walkers, the cardio experts, and the "gym, tan and laundry" masters. 

Throughout high school, I loathed going to the gym. It seemed to be the place where the powerlifters tried to best each other in a grunting match. I only ventured to the gym when I had to for the hockey team. I never excised other than that. 

At the Sun Devil Fitness Center in Tempe, both of the main exercise rooms are quite intimidating and in order to counter gym anxiety, ASU needs to do more to separate their gyms by level of intensity. While the Tempe SDFC is designed so that the two weight rooms are separated by level of expertise — one weight room is for amateurs and the other for more advanced weight lifters — it's still not enough to cater to those with gym anxiety. 

For students who might be uncomfortable exercising in that environment, they may never go to the gym, which poses a more serious problem. 

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, healthy adults should get at least 2.5 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and also do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

Students who are afraid to go to the gym most likely wouldn't be able to meet all those requirements, leading to a less healthy lifestyle.

"In regards to the SDFC, they don't really do anything to help [gym anxiety]," said Mackenzie Paul, a sophomore majoring in exercise and wellness and a personal trainer recently employed at the SDFC. "Even for someone who doesn't suffer from gym anxiety you can just feel this tension."  

The "macho" stigma surrounding those at the gym is extremely toxic and there can seem to be tension between those who go to weight rooms and power lift, and those who go to casually exercise.

A way that ASU could lessen this stigma is by enforcing a judgment-free gym environment. 

A company that advertises this well is Planet Fitness. According to Planet Fitness rules and regulations, "You must not use foul, loud, or abusive language, & you must not physically or sexually abuse, or harass other members, guests, visitors, tenants or members of staff." 

A quick internet search reveals instances in which Planet Fitness employees have removed weight lifters from the premises, even for minor offenses.

While Paul said the Tempe SDFC has what they call a "platform staff member," whose job is to make sure weights are in place and that no one is hurting themselves while exercising, he said that they often aren't the ones to combat gym anxiety.

"Although they could maybe there to reduce some of the gym anxiety people have, it's not exactly in their job description and many of them probably don't know how to do something like that," he said.

Gym anxiety is a real issue and many people experience it. For those who may just be starting to take those first steps toward building an exercise routine, feeling comfortable at the gym is necessary. 

Other schools, such as the University of Missouri have taken an interesting approach to separating weight rooms by exercise and intensity. Weights are categorized among the gym's four floors, with the heaviest weights on the bottom floors. There is a "pump room" that keeps all free weights separate from the "jungle gym," which contains machine-assisted weights.   

According to an MSN article, Mizzou ranks in the top 11 college gyms in the country. 

A better school gym can result in happier students. College students that work out in their university gyms do better in school, according to a 2013 study by Purdue University.

“I do think the SDFC can grow,” Paul said. “I think there is a sort of fear factor with people when they are doing something that’s different than the powerlifter next to them.” 

The SDFC can solve the problem of gym anxiety by enforcing stronger gym etiquette and laying out specific rooms to better tailor them to a specific level of intensity.


Reach the columnist at weveret1@asu.edu and follow @therealwillyevs on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the authors’ and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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