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Talking point: How can we attract more men to group exercise?

Group exercise is usually associated with women, and while men are welcome in these classes, they remain the exception rather than the rule. Lauretta Ihonor turns to industry experts to discover what can be done to attract more men to this type of exercise

By Dr Lauretta Ihonor, Health Club Management Magazine | Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 2

As group exercise was thrust into the fitness spotlight by dance aerobics workouts designed with a female audience in mind, it’s unsurprising that women readily embraced the aerobics movement in its heyday. However, the group exercise concept has come a long way since the 1980s.

Dance aerobics has given way to classes that are not intrinsically gender-specific and incorporate almost every exercise modality, from circuit training to strength and flexibility. Yet despite these changes, figures from Exercise Movement Dance (EMD) – the UK’s governing body for group exercise – show only 19.5 per cent of group exercise attendees are male.

So why are so few men drawn to fitness classes? Is it down to gender differences in coordination or instruction-taking – both considered key skills for group exercise classes? Research suggests not. Male and female brains are wired differently, but brain scan studies repeatedly show that male brains are better designed for tasks that require coordination.

Perhaps the problem lies with the marketing of group exercise or female-centric programming choices made by class creators. Of course, the influence of personal preference cannot be discounted. But what do the experts think?

Ross Perriamnce,

CEO,

Exercise Movement Dance (EMD) Partnership

Ross Perriamnce
Ross Perriamnce

This is a really interesting question and as the national governing body for group exercise we tried to answer it when we carried out EMD UK’s 2016 National Survey. The results from the survey showed us that group exercise is extremely popular at present, with 3.86 million weekly group exercisers recorded. When we looked specifically at gender, we identified a big divide, with 3.11 million female group exercisers and just 750,000 male group exercisers.

Our insight indicates that this difference in the uptake of group exercise may be because a higher proportion of women (70 per cent) than men (45 per cent) believe that group exercise helps them relieve stress. Women respondents said they generally preferred holistic and aerobics-based classes as well as the social element of group exercise, with 30 per cent attending classes with a friend. Men, on the other hand, said they preferred training on their own. And when they do attend group exercise classes, they prefer sessions that focus on strength and body conditioning.

I believe that increasing the variety of group classes available to all will result in a steady growth in male participation in the coming years – especially if the industry places more attention on promoting the benefits of group exercise. EMD UK is helping new group exercise brands enter the market every year, and as more strength and body conditioning concepts break through, I expect to see an increase in male participation. To further support this, we’ll also be running a campaign later this year to showcase the brands that offer men the benefits they desire from a workout.

“Men said they preferred training on their own. And when they do attend group exercise classes, they prefer sessions that focus on strength and body conditioning”

Matthew Miller,

Founder,

Broga

Matthew Miller
Matthew Miller

It’s true that group fitness is heavily dominated by women, but it’s encouraging to see that more men have started to participate in group exercise over the past five years. This change has come about largely because of the growing functional fitness trend. But despite this, the majority of men remain turned off by the thought of going into a studio and just won’t do it.

It’s something that I’ve experienced myself. As a former professional American football player and bodybuilder, I had many old injuries, no balance and limited flexibility by the time I left competitive sport. I did some one-to-one work with world-class female yogis and instantly fell in love with the effects of yoga on my body.

But when I ventured into a group yoga class, I was incredibly turned off by everything about it: from the expectation of a uniform level of ability among all participants to the use of cliched language by teachers.

Spurred by this experience, I started the two-year journey of developing my own brand of yoga, Broga. It’s based on mindfulness, building in intensity and never assuming that everyone in the class can already do everything. Yes, we’re focused on getting men into yoga, but we cater for anyone who may think yoga isn’t for them – women included.

I would have to say that the answer to getting more men into group exercise is to think outside of the box – literally. Operators should try hosting classes on the gym floor, outside the gym itself or on an indoor court. Doing so will help to get rid of the belief that if a class happens in a studio, it’s for women. We do this a lot with Broga by holding yoga classes on the gym floor. The end result is that the guys are eased into a studio space for other classes on the timetable without even realising it!

“Operators should host classes on the gym floor, outside the gym itself or on an indoor court. Doing so will help to get rid of the belief that if a class happens in a studio, it’s for women”

Broga is designed to help get men into yoga and is often held on the gym floor rather than in a studio
Broga is designed to help get men into yoga and is often held on the gym floor rather than in a studio

Israel Rivera,

Head of Group Exercise,

Virgin Active UK

Israel Rivera
Israel Rivera

While many women tend to turn to exercise for fat loss, men often prioritise strength and muscle gains. Group exercise participation begins with mindset and the reality is that group exercise is generally not perceived as being as results-focused as functional training. I think that this perception is the main reason why men can be more hesitant to participate in group fitness classes than women.

When I joined Virgin Active UK, I noticed an interesting gender divide when I looked at our group fitness programming. Our strength, cycling and signature classes are often evenly split between female and male participants. Mind body classes are still female dominant, but we’re beginning to see a gradual increase in male participation, specifically in yoga and Pilates classes. Group fitness will always offer participants the benefit of variety to keep things fun and challenging, but I believe that if we can help male participants understand that group fitness is also capable of producing excellent fitness and strength results, they will readily come back for more.

We’re really focused on this at Virgin Active UK, and as such, we’ve launched gender-neutral, results-driven classes such as Grid and Heat in recent years. By combining aerobic and strength exercises that can be adapted to suit a variety of fitness levels, these classes are doing a lot to show that group exercise is a challenging and enjoyable fitness option for both men and women.

“Group exercise participation begins with mindset and the reality is that group exercise is generally not perceived as being as results-focused as functional training”

Results-driven classes like Grid and Heat are popular with women and men
Results-driven classes like Grid and Heat are popular with women and men

Steve Tansey,

Head of Research and development UK,

Les Mills

Steve Tansey
Steve Tansey

I believe it’s the social experience, combined with intelligent, instructor-led coaching and guidance that attracts people to studio workouts in the first place, while the group environment motivates them to return. However, there are several reasons why not everyone is drawn to group exercise.

Firstly, some people feel that they need to have a good level of competence before they commit to a specific type of training, especially if their ability is showcased in front of a large group.

Secondly, some people think group fitness programmes can’t deliver the results they seek. For example, if they’re focusing on strength training, they may not believe group fitness classes can help them achieve their goals, but in reality, classes like Les Mills’ Bodypump can improve muscular strength and endurance, as well as aerobic fitness.

We need to try to encourage both men and women to take part in group exercise. One reason is that we all need to train every part of our body in order to be healthy and group fitness delivers great total body workouts.

This means that we must educate people of both genders on the benefits of group classes. Strong role models are also needed in the female and male instructors who take charge of group fitness and instil trust in participants – they must believe that the instructor’s experience and knowledge will ensure that time in the class is well spent.

Les Mills actively encourages everyone to discover the benefits of group exercise by offering a variety of classes that appeal to a wide range of individual goals and to both men and women. These classes vary from HIIT workouts, like Les Mills Grit, to the Bodypump barbell workout and the yoga-based Bodybalance, all of which are delivered by both male and female instructors.

It’s incredibly important to the industry, and to the health of the nation, that both men and women feel the studio area is inviting and a place where they can rely on getting an effective workout.

“Some people feel they need to have a good level of competence before they commit to a specific type of training, especially if their ability is showcased in front of a large group”

Group fitness classes like Les Mills’ Bodypump deliver a total body workout that benefits both sexes
Group fitness classes like Les Mills’ Bodypump deliver a total body workout that benefits both sexes
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/HCM2018_2men.jpg
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