BYU women’s gym offers private space, comfort to students

The Women’s Fitness Center has four treadmills and four ellipticals. This gym has been a place for female students to work out in more privacy and comfort since 2005. (Hannah McKinlay)

The BYU Women’s Fitness Center has been a place for female students to work out in more privacy and comfort since 2005.

While explaining the need for the women’s gym, operations manager Holly Madsen discussed the studies she’s seen detailing the fact that a significant portion of women who work out prefer having their own gym space away from any gym.

BYU student Autumn Walton is one such woman. She uses the women’s gym every day.

“My body is something I’m not super secure in, and exercising in bigger gyms can kind of just be harder,” she said. “I don’t usually like when there are men there — I feel like I’m being judged or it’s not a safe space for me — and so having a place with just women helps me to feel more comfortable.”

Zoë Bell is another student who attends the women’s gym. She said she started going because she heard it was less crowded and more lenient. “You don’t have to worry about guys there too, so it’s a little less of a self-conscious environment,” Bell said.

According to Walton, crowdedness depends on the time of day. The gym is typically most crowded around 3-5 p.m., when people tend to be done with classes.

All someone needs to enter the women’s gym is their BYU ID and a wristband, which can be found at the information desk (RB 112). 

Director of Student Wellness and Facility Services Nathan Ormsby said wristbands are necessary to avoid having community members or other unauthorized people using the gym instead of just students.

Although students enjoy the lowkey nature of the women’s gym, many have expressed a desire for it to be a bit bigger. 

“I think maybe people underestimate how good a place like the women’s gym is to have,” Walton said. “It’s so tiny and cramped all the time.”

Last year, Bell had to go on runs to help her knee heal after a surgery. She found it difficult to do so in the women’s gym because of its limited size and amount of equipment.

“There’s only four treadmills in there, and if there’s one thing girls do in a gym, it’s go on the treadmill for a long time,” she said. “So it’s been really hard for me to get my run in.” 

Madsen is aware of such requests and wishes increasing space in the women’s gym was a more feasible option.

“There are strict restrictions that apply to buildings here on campus,” she said. “When we have any kind of remodeling renovations, we have to go clear up to our vice president’s council.”

Ormsby encourages students to reach out with ideas of improvement when it comes to equipment. “If they have ideas and thoughts and ways it could be upgraded, we’d love to hear that,” he said.

Another point of contention in the women’s gym is the dress code, which requires shoulders and torsos to be covered and shorts to be longer than mid-thigh. 

“The students have signed the honor code, which entails that they’ll live a particular standard, and our dress code reflects that standard,” Madsen said. “So we request that they live that standard no matter where they are on campus.”

Some students, including Bell and Walton, question the necessity of such a dress code in a gym located in a place where women change clothing in front of each other.

“I can understand it more for the larger gym because BYU has standards that they’re trying to uphold, and they’ve had people sign to say they will do that,” Walton said. “But if it’s a tiny one in a women’s locker room where no men are allowed, I don’t understand why that would be a problem.”

Bell also said she understands the policy, but wishes it was more relaxed. “I don’t want to make other girls uncomfortable, but I also want to be comfortable.”

Despite its limitations, the Women’s Fitness Center continues to offer peace and security to women who prefer to exercise in a more private space.

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