Why are there more women in group exercise?
Wed, September 10, 2014 at 15:12
Brad Spiegel in Group Exercise, IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, Jessica Matthews, Laura Wilson, Michele Melkerson-Granryd, News, P90X, Tabata, Yoga

With 48 percent of club members male, one would think that participation in group exercise classes would also be split down the middle.

Surprisingly, according to the latest IHRSA Health Club Consumer Report, only 38% of group exercise participants are men. And, seeing options like yoga and spinning can often see numbers closer to a 50-50 split, other options like Zumba, P90X, Tabata and others have 3-to-1 or even 4-to-1 women-to-men ratios.

So, why the discrepancy? And, does it really even matter?

A big part of it may just be what men think they know about group fitness classes. The advent of classes, in the 1970s and 1980s, probably makes men and women alike shudder: big hair, bad music, outdated outfits and complicated choreography.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what group fitness is. There is a lack of education and understand of what is currently in the marketplace,” said Jesica Matthews, assistant professor of Exercise Science at Miramar College in San Diego, and former exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. “Men hear ‘group fitness’ and think about things like aerobics, leg warmers and step aerobics. 

“This is a topic I talk a lot about (in my classes). I feel like group fitness still has a misconception, lack of understand and preconceived notions. That is why I think a lot people steer clear of it. They might not realize the great class options that are out there.”

Other explanations for the uneven split include:

“Over the course of the 15 years I have been teaching, when I ask men to come I get one of two comments: ‘I couldn’t get through that hour’, or ‘yeah, maybe’,” said Laura Wilson, Fitness director at Commonwealth Sports Club in Boston, Mass. “Once they realize the class will challenge them they tend to come back. I think they originally feel like the class won’t hard enough or they couldn’t do it.”

Wilson noted that Commonwealth sees 85%-95% females in its group fitness classes. 

BodyBusiness Health Club & Spa., in Austin, Texas, doesn’t see numbers as low as Commonwealth, but probably hover in the 25%-30% range – still below the 38% calculated in the Health Club Consumer Report.

Michele Melkerson-Granryd, general manager and instructor at BodyBusiness, said she tries to incorporate ideas that will appeal to men. One class, Recess, which has a 50-50 split, has dodge ball with stress balls and tag with pool noodles, and when they take it outside the monkey bars and other apparatus is used. Another, Group Power, obviously has a title the might endear men. And, one of the more muscular male instructors teaches it.

“I do think there is a certain need for male instructors if you want men to take part,” Melkerson-Granryd said. “If you make the class more sport-oriented than dance-oriented, it is more likely you will get guys in there.”

Matthews added that in addition to what is offered and titles as good ways to change men’s ideas of what happens in a class, educating them is important, too. She suggested approaching male members and inviting them to a class, explaining what the class entails and how it can help them. For example, yoga aids in range of motion, balance and certain areas increasing in strength. For Tabata or P90X, aerobic and anaerobic capacity increases, and fat loss are major benefits.

“Invite men to participate in order to let them know what you have to offer,” Matthews said. “If male members never thought group fitness would appeal to them then they won’t think about looking at posters (promoting the class) or the website. Let them know how classes can complement what they are working on.”

While it is not imperative for clubs to have an even mix of men and women in classes, it provides a nice variety and doesn’t limit to half of the membership. Of course, giving a member choices is good for them and the club.

“We know if members are engaged … they are more likely to stay at the facility,” Melkerson-Granryd said. “If they are just jumping on a piece of equip, there is nothing keeping them there. They could go across the street where (another club) has new equipment.”

Article originally appeared on IHRSA (http://www.ihrsa.org/).
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