Updated: May 7, 2019
Have you ever taken a look at the demographics in the gym? Why do women flock to group fitness while most men stick to the weight room?
Group fitness has come a long way from the days of jazzercise and dance aerobics. Gym schedules are packed with everything from cycle to bootcamp; yet the ratio of women to men still seems to be about 8 to 1.
"That's for women. You know what they say - 'fight like a girl'... I'm not going to work out like a girl unless I'm trying to slim down."
I’m at the gym getting ready to teach my Wednesday strength class. Because the weights in the group fitness room only go up to 15 lbs. I usually try to grab some dumbbells or plates off the main floor for participants who need to go heavier. As I am coming back into the GX room, weights in arms, I encounter a man and woman chatting in front of the door. I say hello and ask “are you guys coming to class?” – I just wanted to introduce myself and welcome them if they were new participants. But that’s not what went down...
Me: (as I am putting weights down so I can open the door) Hi. Are you guys coming to class?
Him: (chuckles) Uh, no, no... I don’t take those classes. I don’t do all that jumping around.
Me: Oh, this isn’t a cardio only class. It's strength based – we mostly lift. You are welcome to come check it out.
Him: (chuckles some more) Oh no no... That’s for women. You know what they say ‘fight like a girl’... I’m not going to work out like a girl unless I'm trying to slim down.
Me: (trying to still smile politely) You actually can build muscle in this particular type of class.
Him: No, no. Unless your name is Ronda Rousey or Laila Ali, I’m not taking your class.
Ahahaha! #Rude I was so fired up! I couldn’t believe this guy! The nerve! Fight like a girl? I wanted to throw a dumbbell at him! Instead, I put the remaining weights down, extended my hand, and said “I am not Ronda Rousey. I am Angelica Barquero. But you are welcome to join us if you ever change your mind”. Then I walked into class, trying to contain myself.
I was over it by the end of the warm up but I never forgot this guy and his misconception of group fitness. Statistics indicate that the genders of gym members are roughly 50/50. However, in my experience, the men are rarely represented in class. I usually have 1-2 men for every 10 women. Why? Why are (more) men not taking group exercise classes?
First, The History
Made For Women, By Women
"Jacki Sorensen, a dancer and U.S. Air Force wife, was asked to develop a fitness television program for other Air Force wives at a base in Puerto Rico. Sorenson combined dance and aerobic exercise by choreographing a set of vigorous dances to upbeat music – Dance Aerobics. "
When you hear the word “aerobics” what do you picture? Colorful leg warmers. Steps. Spandex. Dancing. Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta doing pelvic thrusts...
If not, you are probably part of the younger demographic. But the older folks, such as myself, know all about the leotards and leg warmers. It is, after-all, how it all started.
Group fitness began in 1968 when Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D., M.P.H. introduced aerobic exercise for maintaining and improving health. Around the same time, Jacki Sorensen, a dancer and U.S. Air Force wife, was asked to develop a fitness television program for other Air Force wives at a base in Puerto Rico. Sorenson combined dance and aerobic exercise by choreographing a set of vigorous dances to upbeat music – Dance Aerobics. She later introduced the first Aerobic Dance class at a New Jersey YMCA.
In 1969, Judi Sheppard Missett created Jazzercise as a student at Northwestern University. She had been teaching dance when she realized that many students were attending for exercise rather than dance technique. In an effort to improve class attendance she began holding classes with a bigger emphasis on fun and fitness. Jazzercise was born!
In the 1980s fitness associations such as AFAA and IDEA were developed to create an industry standard by certifying aerobics instructors. By the 1990s aerobics classes had begun to evolve into the group fitness classes of today. Classes such as boot camps, strength, cycling, Pilates and yoga were developed as a means to get a workout in a small space and focus on fitness components beyond cardiorespiratory health.
Exercise Behavior & Motivation
Men & Women ARE Different
There is a limited amount of research available on why group exercise participants (still) tend to be females. But that’s okay because I think we can come to some conclusions by looking at the differences in our exercise behaviors.
In researching the gender differenc