Damn, Can I Work Out in Peace?

by Rana Campbell
Coretta (left), Rana (right)

Coretta (left), Rana (right)

Why is it so rare to see two young women working out in the inner city? When is the last time you’ve taken an early morning drive and seen troops of female fitness goers traversing their local neighborhood of predominantly lower-classed minorities? It’s not uncommon to go to the local park and see young men shooting hoops or bench-pressing in groups.

Powerful bodies are a marker of masculinity for young men in urban America, but is this the same for the young inner city woman?

My best friend Coretta and I believe that it isn’t. See, we are life-long natives of Orange, a small urban town in Northern New Jersey. Though small, many people within the town suffer from chronic health problems such as extreme stress and obesity, and yet it is SO rare to see active community members — especially women — out and about in our neighborhood partaking in fitness activities. I’m not saying that fit females don’t exist or that all inner cities are plagued by physical inactivity. There are plenty of running groups such as Black Girls Run in neighboring East Orange and Bootcamp classes that cater to women that take place in Orange Park. Outside of these groups and classes, however, there isn’t much.

Coretta and I have always worked out by ourselves. As students, we didn’t have the money to get a personal trainer, so we took to Youtube, fitness blogs, and workout websites and taught ourselves the ins-and-outs of healthy living. We don’t see fitness as something only men do.

We have come to accept it. It’s not the norm to see women who are in their early twenty-somethings — and not professionally training for an athletic event — doing interval workouts on a neighborhood street.

It is sometimes uncomfortable feeling “watched” by men who stop their cars to try to have a conversation with us. Would that happen if we were working out in a more affluent neighborhood? Probably not. Heck, streets are designed for fitness needs in those communities.

Glenridge, a suburban town that borders Orange, has main roads with bicycle lanes that cater to bikers, joggers, runners, rollerbladers, and more. Why is it that we feel like a spectacle when we work out in what others might deem “the hood?” How would you feel if every time you worked out you have to deal with men trying to become your boyfriend because you have a “fit ass?” Or, what about the women who indulge in petty side remarks such as “Oh, she thinks she is hot because she has abs and can run.”

Despite some negative experiences, we find our workouts to be very uplifting and encouraging. A lot of times we receive a lot of motivation and positive comments from onlookers. Many women have come up to us and encouraged us to continue “sticking out” and “setting an example.” They marvel at our execution in the parks and often ask for fitness tips that they can apply in their own lives. We stand out as individuals who are courageous. These are the type of responses that we love and like to share with others.

It’s important for all individuals in urban communities to reclaim their neighborhoods. So many times we hear, “I need to lose weight, so I’m going to get a gym membership.” The person then signs up for a gym, which can get be quite expensive and often outside the community. She goes for a few weeks and never goes again. For people in inner cities like us, this can be a money guzzler. The cost of living is not cheap. You don’t need a membership to get in shape. Sometimes, it is better to initially build up the dedication and commitment to fitness, so that sustaining a gym routine can be easier in the long run. Use what you have around you; It could be your driveway, your front stairs, or even your living floor. The awkward stares and looks from amused onlookers, overtime, can turn into motivation for those who don’t have the courage to start working out or publicly display their yearning to be healthier.

If more and more people within inner cities took to the streets to declare their health their own, a lot could change within urban America. Fitness would be embraced. It might even become a “norm,” something that doesn’t require stares or judgment. We need to start creating a culture within our communities that celebrates being healthy. The only way to start that is to embrace our communities. Use the “streets” for positive. This type of thinking could revitalize urban America. It would force lawmakers and politicians to really rally for the people’s needs and make neighborhood parks and streets that cater to the physically active citizen. It could bring back hope to the hearts of the females that power urban communities and provide motivation to inspire future change.

Follow Rana and Coretta on Instagram to track their workouts, meals, fitness progress, and healthy living experiences.

Have you ever had a “Dang, Can I Work Out in Peace?” moment? Feel free to share your thoughts and comment below.

  • Ash

    LOVE this! Keep running ladies :-)

  • http://creativegirlinacorporateworld.wordpress.com Esta Fiesta

    Love it! I don’t exercise in the streets literally – I do at a local park – but I wish more people would do so. Even if it’s just minimal exercise like jogging a few laps or tricep dips on the park bench.

  • http://gravatar.com/rspencer30 rspencer30

    I understand where you’re coming from. I work out for mental health, more than anything else, so it can be annoying to get hit on when you’re just trying to relieve stress.

  • The Comment

    Just keep on doing it. You are strong for not letting your not so rosey community hold you back. I applaud you for that. Crime keeps a lot of people from enjoying their surroundings.

  • Zombie Killer

    No, I have never had a “Dang, why can’t I work out in peace” moment. What I have had nearly every day for the last fifteen years of my life is, “Dang, why can’t I exist in public in peace” moment.

  • omfg

    when my mother moved out of the hood several years ago, i told her to choose a neighborhood that she could go for walks in. whereas she would never go walking in her old neighborhood, she does it where she is now.

    just being able to walk outside your door and take a casual stroll without feeling threatened is important in ways that aren’t even tangible.

    the ‘hood simply isn’t safe for women and girls. well, i guess it isn’t safe for anyone, but women and girls are very vulnerable.

    having said that, if someone feels “trapped” in their home and has an internet connection, they can still workout. there are tons of free fitness channels on youtube and hulu. and fitness dvd’s sell for under $10 at walmart, target and on amazon. so there’s still no excuse.

  • apple

    nope i can’t! i would loveeee to jog in my neighborhood so i wont have to pay a gym membership but men won’t leave the fuck alone! and its not because i’m pretty neither maybe because i’m just a woman in general. its so annoying, and when i did have a gym membership, i could never wear shorts like the white girls (or whoever girls) because as soon as i did.. “HEY GIRL…LOOKING GOOD” or some other shit.. i really can’t do much in piece with the joys of street harrassment , cant enjoy summer clothes, can’t enjoy a walk down the street, or in the mall, or the store.. yay us.. (excuse my language)it fucking sucks..

    yes i know “ignore it” but you know what ignoring gets me? more harassment, then possible threatening, name calling, and even grabs.. i once tried to “ignore” it enjoying a nice walk,the car with the shouting men followed me 2 blocks holding up traffic until they started to get real angry and banging on their cars

  • apple

    if you can hook up your ipad to your tv, you can get tons of free jillian michaels work outs.. lord i was passing out tho

  • nononsense57

    They look great, and should serve as inspiration. I wish them continued success.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Yes, I hate when someone wants to get chatty during my workout or interrupts it when I am in the zone. Working out is a mental break for me so I don’t want to be interrupted during the peak of it. That is why I work out early in the morning or late at night in the gym it is much easier that way.

  • http://katherinerw.com Katherine

    do you know about Girl Trek? girltrek[dot]com
    GirlTrek is a national nonprofit and health organization that inspires and supports Black women and girls to live their healthiest, most fulfilled lives – simply by walking. Our mission is to rally one million people to join us by 2018.

  • girl cj

    I live in a major city, semi hood, but kind of not. Seeing joggers is very common in certain neighborhoods. Still, i have a running buddy, a male, and that keeps the creeps away. I also utilize the university track in the early morning around 6am

  • http://katherinerw.com Katherine

    also red, bike+green collective of Black urban cyclists normalizing biking in the ‘hood. Check redbikeandgreen on Facebook.

  • Anthony

    I never hit on women working out when I was young, but I have been guilty of wandering eyes. I agree that men have to learn to leave women alone and let them work out in peace. I’m sure it works for some people, but random hollering at women never got me anything but dirty looks. Old guys like me, have to find ways to teach young men to help create spaces where men and women can interact without feeling sexual pressure. I know I will be talking to young men at my church’s men day programs, but we have to do more. I think will start a blog soon so I won’t just be bothering you sisters with all of my ideas!

    Back to the main point, working out is the best thing a person can do. Weightlifting, walking and bicycling have helped me manage my blood pressure and stress. I am have also managed to avoid diabetes so far too. Even if you have bad habits eating, working out can help. I think working out is just something that some black women just won’t do. I know my wife won’t do although she knows she can benefit from it.

  • BeanBean

    It’s unfortunate that women have to put up with being disrespected. I think it’s a good idea for more black fitness to be created. I think it would cut down on the harassment, if women were in larger groups. If all else fails, pepper spray the bastards!!! A woman should be able to work out in peace.

  • Josh

    Wow I didn’t know it was that bad for women in these neighborhoods.

  • bob

    If I see a nice fit woman jogging and the booty looking good. I jog up besides her and say ” hey Ms. Parker.”

  • http://gravatar.com/latinlover Pseudonym

    I feel you, which is why I love headphones- I just block everyone out, even if I can actually hear them loud and clear. (Even though, I do say “Hi,” to elderly people.)

  • Zombie Killer

    Headphones don’t always work. I have experienced many times men going out of their way to say something to me or speaking to me several times because they just don’t care that I am wearing headphones.

  • http://gravatar.com/latinlover Pseudonym

    Are you running? If so, you should be halfway down the block already. For stretching, I choose random, less populated areas (sad to say, many times this means NOT at the park) that are a bit out of the way.

  • vintage3000

    Don’tet mad when you get pepper sprayed.

  • http://clutchmagazineblog.wordpress.com ajaveen

    I agree Pseudonym,

    10 years ago I was 250lbs. I gradually dropped 100 lbs within a year. I remember getting catcalls and etc from men driving past. I turned the volume up on my head phones.

    It is sometimes uncomfortable feeling “watched” by men who stop their cars to try to have a conversation with us. Would that happen if we were working out in a more affluent neighborhood?

    I currently do not live in an affluent neighborhood and when I was heavier I lived in the same neighborhood I would get weird looks for working out….If I had lived in an affluent neighborhood I would probably have not gotten the same look.

    As for the men stopping to talk I would ignore them unless them.

  • Lex

    Headphones in, jogging with my dog, this man drives past me, stops, and REVERSES his car in order to keep up with me to yell something out the window. Needless to say I cut that workout short and took my butt back home!

  • Erin

    This is exactly how I feel about working out at the park! I’ll go for a few days and one day some man ruins my experience for me by hitting on me while I’m attempting to work out or trying to leave. Then I’ll avoid the park like the plague for a few weeks or a few months so just to avoid having to run into that person again. It doesn’t matter what I wear, usually a head scarf, workout pants and a t-shirt, sunglasses, and my headphones. Still, some will go out of their way to speak, and it’s always older creepy men that I’m not remotely interested in. It’s so annoying! Can’t I work out in peace and enjoy the beautiful day without being bothered? That’s exactly why I go to an all female gym.

  • Laura Charles

    I think these girls have an amazing vision for fitness in their community. I hope they keep it up!

    All men gawk. Maybe in the hood men are more likely to yell from their cars or whistle and comment while walking by, but ALL men stare as women run or workout in activewear, which is usually form fitting.

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Thanks, Ash!

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Thanks for the feedback. I do wish more people worked out in the streets. It could transform our community. -Rana

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    This is something that we have experienced too and it is devastating that women have to endure such when we have the right to exercise and enjoy fitness peacefully. What do you recommend? – Rana

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Thanks, we will check this out!

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Anthony, I really enjoyed reading your comment. Thank you for the positivity.

  • Mo

    Congrats to them for being committed to health and fitness. I also think it may be time for them to actively serve as inspirations in their community. If you think perhaps women aren’t working out because of safety concerns, why not start a walking group? Flyers could be put up in libraries, community centers and schools encouraging people to meet and exercise together.

    Sometimes it just takes someone putting in the effort to organize to make people join. Oftentimes people want to do something,but just don’t know what or how. At an HOA meeting in our community someone suggested a walking/fitness group and many people joined saying “I always wanted to start one but…” People also need to keep in mind that most public schools that have tracks are required to make that track accessible to the tax paying public at certain intervals, many schools, for various reasons, ignore this. Public tracks and fields are an excellent place to group exercise in lieu of a park.

    Secondly, I think a group could also spur community advocacy. As stated, many middle and upper class communites are designed around giving residents easy access to recreational activites (walking, jogging, biking). There is a push to “go green” and be environmentally counscious so communities are easily navigatable for people who, for the most part, ironically, have access to vehicles. In many of our communities, where people actually walk and bike out of NECESSITY, there often aren’t even sidewalks or properly placed crosswalks, let alone bike paths or trails. An organized fitness group might be able to lobby for some of this to change.

    Good for them for taking care of themselves and here’s hoping they take it a step further and help out others who may b receptive to a bit of guidance.

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Thanks for all the support on this article! We really appreciate it. Keep the dialogue going!

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Something for us to look into…

  • Vanessa

    I also don’t feel comfortable running on the “streets” so I often opt for the park. I live near Prospect Park (in bk) so I go there. Most people who exercise there are on their grind and I have yet to, thankfully, have the experience of men trying to hit on me.

  • Aria

    Clearly you didn’t read the article. This is the garbage we have to deal with. Its not cute. It never was. I don’t understand why some guys think its okay to annoy women, especially when we make it clear that we aren’t interested. Our bodies do not belong to you. Cut the harassment. Its unfortunate that women have to sacrifice their freedoms because of some men who can’t learn to back off.

  • Apple

    I don’t have the answer to that . I guess if you have the physical space do it at home. But I don’t have the space :-(

  • CB

    This is my story. I’m in nearby East Orange and I dread running or biking through my neighborhood, for the exact same reasons. I’ve learned to smile and keep moving as I head to the peacefulness of neighboring Glen Ridge and Montclair for my workouts.

  • http://ranacampbell.wordpress.com Rana Elyse Campbell

    Hi CB, Let us know if you ever want to work out one day. We should be able to work out in our own community!

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