Empowering spaces: The rise and impact of women-only gyms

Women-only gyms have emerged as a popular choice for many, offering a unique environment that promotes comfort, camaraderie, and confidence. 

These fitness havens cater specifically to women’s needs, fostering a supportive atmosphere that encourages personal growth and wellness. 

The focus is not just on physical fitness but also on creating a community that empowers women to reach their health and wellness goals. 

The gym is incredibly important to these women for a multitude of reasons.

It’s a place where they can strengthen their bodies, boost their mental health, and build resilience.

Regular exercise can help reduce the risk of various health issues.

It’s not just about physical strength but also about empowerment and self-confidence. 

Co-founders of Strongher and best friends Sam Prynn , 32, and Tig Hodson, 35, were once the women with no idea of what to believe, what they should be doing or who they should be listening to. 

Strongher is a strictly womens-only strengthening and conditioning space, located in Bethnal Green. 

The Strongher Space in Bethnal Green. copyright @strongher

Sam told me that she and Tig started Strongher for so many different reasons.

Sam said: “Essentially Tig and I were best friends and both female-only personal trainers and we realized that we were in competition with each other as we came from the same area. 

“We wanted to educate and empower women to take back control of their own fitness, so rather than getting from A to B and not understanding how you’ve got there, with us you can understand ‘right okay I’ve got to this weight because I’ve done this certain exercise’ and understand this is how I can continue this journey or I have got stronger because of this.” 

Their main goal was to get more women into weight training, as predominantly many women are scared of the weight area as it can be male-dominated. 

Sam said: “From my own personal experience there is sexual harassment happening in gyms and quite often involving men.”

Sam and Tig call themselves ‘silly little girls’, which from being very successful business owners they clearly are not! 

However, at the time they started Strongher seven years ago, social media was aesthetically very ‘posey’ and transformation-based when it came to fitness. 

Sam describes the pair as: “Two very loud women who are relatable and fun and looked like ‘normal women.”

So the pair began putting fitness content out on social media that didn’t fit the ‘norm’ but in a fun and relatable way. 

Sam said: “We are real women and we will go on social media and be like this is shit.

“We are open and honest about our journey with building Strongher, being two female founders, and Tig being a mixed-race woman.” 

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Sam worried that the business would be over due to not being able to use their space and open their business the way they wanted to.

However, Tig took to the internet and launched Strongher online, which created a strong community of women via a Whatsapp group. 

Sam said: “There’s now like 350 women in this group.

“Members said we are not going to let you guys go under, members paid their memberships in the periods that we were closed, they supported us financially, 

“And also by being just them. Amazing.

“They were there for each other by being vocal in the WhatsApp group.

“It was amazing to see. It made us realize this is more than just a gym, this is a community.

“You could come in the most shyest and most uncomfortable person and you will walk out of a class with a new best friend.” 

Sam Prynn , 32, and Tig Hodson, 35. Image credit @strongher

Before Strongher, Sam and Tig worked across the board from budget gyms to boutique studios across London and found that it was one demographic of person in the gym, and it was a ‘very white’ industry.

Sam said: “From a diversity and inclusion perspective, we wanted to change what that looked like and actually have a space that was welcoming to all women no matter what your culture, your background, or your disposable income.” 

“We have a huge Muslim community within the space and for those that want to take off their hijabs and headscarves they’re able to do that as there are no men on the premises.” 

At Strongher they essentially offer ‘a budget gym’, an open gym facility at the price of £30 to £50 depending on the contract to come in and use the space by themselves. 

They also offer class memberships, but the classes are kept small as the focus is strength training, being very technique-focused it is important that the coach has the time and space to focus on each individual. 

The Warrior project is Strongher’s semi-private personal training is offered which is five people to one coach, once again making things more personal for the training. 

The Warrior Project began by taking a group of women who had never lifted before and giving them the foundations of lifting. 

It is still predominantly used by beginners and offers people who want personal training but can’t afford that high price point. 

“It is a rolling periodized program that rolls every 4 weeks, which is going through the foundational movements, squats, bench presses, and deadlifts, all those big movements. 

“It is very personalized so if I can see you struggling with for example hip mobility your coach will give you extra exercises to do outside of the space, like homework.” 

Sam said: “Exercise in general is important obviously for health. I say obviously but nothing is ever obvious. For heart health, muscular health, and mental health.

“Strength training is important for a number of reasons. Women have been put off strength training because they do not want to get ‘bulky’.

“But an actual fact from the age of 30 you start to lose muscle mass, by the time you get to 60 years old you’ve had 30 years of your muscle wasting away essentially. That is where you have problems in your older life. 

“So strength training is important for building lean muscle mass and even just thinking about a strength perspective just making sure your body is able to move and you are able to live well.

“It also helps to improve your bone density, again as you get older women are more at risk of Osteoporosis. It helps regulate your hormones.

“It also makes you feel like an absolute badass!

“We have seen so many women over the past seven years who have come in and said ‘there is no way I can pick up that barbell’ but we as women carry around handbags all the time which probably weigh more than a big old dumbbell.

“Reframing that mindset really does transcend into people’s lives, from ‘Oh I didn’t think I could lift that huge weight’ to ‘Oh maybe I can go get that dream job that I’ve always wanted’.

“No matter what the goal is nine times out of 10 it boils down to the lack of confidence so building strength builds your confidence.” 

One of the key pillars of Strongher is making sure that they see things as a holistic approach. They have nutritionists who work with the team, who deliver workshops on a regular basis and they also have sports therapy and physiotherapists. 

So whether you are a beginner at strength training or an absolute pro – Strongher is the place to be the girl boss you plan to be. 

Another women-only gym that is thriving at the moment is The Bridge, based in Southwark it provides a multitude of great health benefits to the local women. 

The Bridge is a charity supporting women to make positive choices, and encouraging improvements to fitness, health & well-being. 

The Bridge started at the end of the First World War and during the early stages it was used to support women who needed a place of community, to come together, share ideas, and join in activities.

It grew from that to become a place for women to come together, talk, and support each other through physical and mental well-being. 

It’s a charity first and foremost that supports women, the building has a women-only gym that is part of the charity.

People don’t have to be part of the charity to go to the gym; any woman can pay to use it. 

I spoke to Wendy Bowen who is head of marketing at The Bridge, and asked her ‘why are women-only gyms so rare?’ : 

‘‘As a commercial enterprise, if you only say you’re only going to accept women that’s already excluding half the population before you even start. So your customer base already has less potential and I guess men historically were the ones who wanted to workout more.

“Encouraging women to join a gym and understand that there are women-only spaces is less well known.”

When speaking about why women should feel comfortable in the gym she said: 

“I think one of the key things we find is that women might have gone to a gym that had space for men and women and feel quite intimidated and less comfortable in their bodies. 

“A women’s only gym offers refuge from men being around, particularly if you have had a bad experience with men.

“A women’s only space allows you to just relax and be yourself and not worry about what you look like, or having to workout in a certain way. You can do it with a supportive community around you.” 

Copyright @TheBridge

A key quote stated on The Bridge’s website said ‘Physical and mental health shouldn’t be dependent on where you live or what you earn’, this is important as gyms can now be expensive and people in central London struggle to find this money. 

Wendy said: “I think we all kind of recognize that physical exercise is one of the things that help us feel better, and particularly in inner cities, places to exercise are more limited. 

“There are some parks, but in the evening you don’t really feel safe, so the gym is the one place you can go to but quite often you can’t afford to go to the gym if you’re struggling to put food on the table, bring up children or even just pay for your own rent or wellbeing.”

Another topic we covered was why women find it harder to go to the gym in comparison to men. 

“The pressures on women are different, they have different responsibilities and perhaps they are just busier people. They’ve got either elderly parents that they are caring for, young children, or trying to be the ones who juggle the rest of the family, so most women now work as well so they’re probably exhausted.”

Similar to what Sam said at Strongher, Wendy said it is the weight section that scares women the most.

Wendy said: “Women enjoy the weights in the gym because from what I’ve heard in regular gyms the women’s weights are pink and in the corner, they’re less heavy and it’s just patronizing. 

“Whereas in our gym they are the same as they will be in any gym, you don’t have men hogging them, and hovering over you telling you how to use them. So I think women enjoy coming along and getting involved in the weights.”

copyright @theBridge

The Bridge as a charity hope to see itself in five to ten years’ time in different locations, as they are currently just one place and there are lots of parts of London that desperately need places for women to work out feeling safe and secure in a harassment-free environment.

“We’re in the process of beginning a project where we’re trying to capture women who maybe have been through a few things in their lives like menopause, all sorts of things.

“We are trying to capture their knowledge so we can create a book that we will pass down to the younger generations.

“People no longer have those close connections with their families. Those stories that your mum or your aunty might have told you are getting lost. 

“We want to make a resource for people to find out ‘what would my relatives have said to this or what would my best friend tell me about this’”.

Women-only gyms are most definitely becoming more popular. 

And we hope to see more of them popping up all over London for all women to access. 

Whether your new year goal is to pick up those heavy weights or simply to use the treadmill and then sit down for a tea with friends, both the places I spoke to offer amazing opportunities for women and help push forward their fitness goals. 

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