I recently read this post about a person quitting a gym thanks to the harassment of the clients and staff. Or at least, clients with the non-action of the staff.
Why I Quit The Gym
First off, sexism and hassling at the gym aren't appropriate. They're not appropriate anywhere, but especially at a place where you just want to come and exercise. (The irony of the judgment-filled "Judgment Free Zone" of Planet Fitness has been explored elsewhere - a place that judges you for making judgments? No surprise it's not a friendly environment.)
But it's hard to argue it away. And you can't always solve the problem by pointing it out and standing up to it - sometimes you need to vote with your wallet and your feet and leave.
But it is also reality that even putting sexism and harassment aside, not every gym is an equal option for all people. They aren't all built for the same clientele.
Ultimately, everyone is limited in their choices of gyms. That is true no matter who or what you are - although, the range of places available aren't distributed evenly, fairly, or equitably.
You have to "find your tribe," as they say. You need to find the place where you fit in, physically and mentally - where you get the training you need and the respect you are due.
I've found places like that, despite being so introverted when it comes to workouts that I prefer an empty room or one so full no one bothers me.
There may be costs to find a place.
Money - It's hard to find a perfectly place on $10/month. Low-cost big box gyms have their place, but also their downsides. That could be the clients, the trainers or staff, the lack of equipment you need. You may need to pay more for a good place. The best place I ever lifted was DeFranco's Training when it was in NJ. Costly, yes, but the atmosphere was both intimidating and welcoming if you worked hard. Another good place was a YMCA - also costly, but members were treated as members, not as customers, and the gear was well cared for and the staff was ready to help with problems. There was a minimum of inter-client issues, because the staff was always present and always involved. I work at a place where you can't just drop in and train, and that is not especially cheap, but you get care, respect, and attention.
Time - It can take time to find a place. I've personally found that I know by the end of the first session at a gym if I'm a fit or not, for any type of gym - a workout gym or a martial arts gym. Even if there were obstacles, I knew immediately if I was going to overcome them or leave. That's even despite going to other places after to check them out too, which generally confirms the opinion I had.
But in the interim you have to put time in checking places out. Attend classes, go for training sessions, do a drop in - there is legwork involved, especially if there is a contract involved.
Time - Oh, you mean time to get there? Yes, sometimes the place you need isn't close. I've driven more than 40 minutes one way to get to a good gym, and I'd drive farther if I had to. That's not a brag (and in NJ, it's not really that hard to rack up a 40 minute commute), just a fact. It can be inconvenient in terms of time and work to get to a good place. It's a cost you need to factor in with a choice. For a good place, the commute will seem short enough. Even 5 minutes walk is too far for a gym environment like the one described in the article above.
But what if you can't find a gym? Or one you can afford, or make the time for?
There are some options:
Home Gym. This can be tough with people living in an urban environment or with small space. But consider picking up a few small pieces of equipment you know you'll use (no aspirational purchases - buy things you can't live without at the actual gym) and use them.
Consider an equipment-minimal workout, such as Simplefit or the swing-only routine in this book.
My own personal home gym is small - as a trainer at a small gym, I have access to the facility when I want to train (only around client times, of course, so it's not total access.) But I have a few things I know I will use all the time, and a couple things I use occasionally but can't do without when I need them. I have an adjustable dumbbell, a kettlebell, some warmup gear, a couple of grippers, and a yoga mat in case I need to workout indoors so I can spare the rug.
Again, make sure you'll use what you have. Don't invest in anything that you won't immediately gravitate to using. But a home gym is an option.
Outdoors. You can train outside. Running, walking, biking. Assorted outdoor exercises. Find a sledding hill nearby, cleat up and run up it and walk back down.
This is a tough option in cold winter climates, but it is an option. it's also a tough option in unsafe areas. Don't trade up to jogging in a crime-filled neighborhood.
Sports. Don't overlook trading your "workout" for a game. Joining a martial arts class, a sports league (especially if it's a group of people you'd mesh well with), or just a sport-centered training facility (ones catering to basketball, soccer, and skating exist.) Get the joy of activity combined with the competitive nature of sports.
None of these are a catch-all solution, but they can help you find a place where you feel accepted, welcomed,and safe - yet challenged and able to express yourself physically. If the cheap and close place isn't doing it for you because of its nature or its clients, there are other options. Some of what I wrote above can help you find them. Put in the time and the money, and it will be worth it when you find your tribe.