In most group exercise classes, men are nowhere to be seen. While women gather in the studio, men prefer hunting in the weight room, isolated in their quest to conquer the heaviest monster they can lift.
He may not know how many calories he’s burned, but ask any man and he can tell you how much he can bench.
But there is a secret most men don’t know: you can get a great workout in a group exercise class which can actually improve your numbers in the weight room. The only hurdle is getting over the stereotype that classes consist solely of soccer moms in headbands doing grapevines to 70s disco.
As a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I also took some time to realize the potential of group exercise. Watching my bodyfat shrink and my abilities grow after I started teaching classes was a big inspiration for why I actively try and recruit men from the gym into the studio: my fellow men are missing out.
“They have no idea just how challenging and fulfilling the classes can be”, says Andrew, 35, an investment banker who wandered into my muscle conditioning class 2 years ago because the main gym was full. “I think men assume that all the group exercises are essentially dance classes.”
While some men do enjoy them, most can easily be put off by complicated step and aerobics classes. A group ex regular for 20 years, Mark, 50, speaks for many when he says “I don’t like classes which have too much fancy footwork at the expense of a good workout.”
Luckily for Mark and guys like him, there are many classes offered at most gyms that appeal to their need to work up a serious sweat without the tap-ball-change.
Boot camp, kickboxing, core conditioning, circuit, and BOSU classes challenge your whole body through basic exercises that train you like an athlete, not a dancer. This athletic training is exactly what most men need to push through their weight-loss or strength-gain plateaus by incorporating power, compound exercises and explosive movement.
Consider plyometric push-ups, power lunges, burpees or balance challenges. Many people aren’t comfortable trying these on their own in a weight room. But in a class with several people doing the same thing and a knowledgeable instructor who will help you and give you options to suit your skill level, your body will be forced to adapt to a new style of training that can boost your performance, increase muscle mass and improve your endurance.
And opposed to solitary confinement in a squat rack, a group environment taps into our basic instinct to keep up with the next guy.
“There is a competitive environment in the class where you push yourself further than working out by yourself in the gym,” recognizes Thom, 53, an IT director who feels classes have greatly increased his strength and endurance.
I’ve seen this competition be integral to success. In the gym, you can stop doing sit-ups and no one notices, but in a class when everyone else is crunching while you’re hurting, men tend to keep going just to save face.
And as instructors, it’s our job to keep injecting new and challenging material into our classes to prevent your body from adapting to the same stimuli. Therefore, instead of spending your time researching new exercises, all you have to do is show up on time and be prepared to work hard and sweat harder.
Aside from the motivation, challenge, and competition, perhaps the most attractive aspect of a class is the efficiency of a non-stop full body workout that pushes you to your limits, burning the maximum amount of calories in a short amount of time. This is exactly what Andrew was looking for.
“I am looking for efficient workouts now that I have long hours at work and a family that I want to get home to in the evenings whenever possible.”
So to all the men out there who think fitness classes are just dance classes or social gatherings for women, pick up your gym schedule and try a few boot camp or abs classes. I’ll be waiting to change your mind.
*I originally wrote this article for the winter 2008 edition of Beyond Fitness magazine, but it’s still true today!