Group fitness: Breaking stereotypes to raise male attendance

Liz Zabel

Early in the development of group fitness, classes such as “Jazzercise” and aerobics with Jane Fonda or Richard Simons laid the foundation for a stereotype that exercise in a group setting is primarily for females.

Group fitness classes at Iowa State, even without an overly charismatic instructor or a room full of leotard clad women, are seeing a trend of lower male participation. Why? Has the stereotype driven men away? Is there something about exercising in a group that men can’t appreciate like women do? Perhaps these classes just aren’t offering what men are looking for in a workout.

Kara Herbert, fitness coordinator for recreation services, said Iowa State does see a lower percentage of men opposed to women because in general men tend to be more focused on working out solo.

“Psychology professors [will] tell you women are more inclined to work out in groups, where men tend to be more inclined to work out on their own,” Herbert said.

Nora Hudson, also a fitness coordinator, said research has shown what motivates males is competition; group fitness more satisfies internal competition.

Based on the numbers comparing spring semester to summer; however, Herbert said group fitness is seeing a rise in the number of men from 13.83 percent to 17.6 percent, respectively.

Mike Giles, director of recreation services, said that higher intensity or strength developing type classes tend to have a larger male participation but emphasized group fitness classes are not targeted toward either gender.

Hudson agreed: “We just try to diversify different opportunities for people to experience fitness on many different levels. … As we diversify those opportunities, it’s opened the door for more males to be interested in participating. We’ve softened, perhaps, the stereotype that group fitness is only for females.”

Giles said recreation services tries to provide programming from group fitness and mind/body, to different types of equipment that allow users, both male and female, to create a well-rounded balance in their exercising program.

He said he would say to both populations, if they focus only one element of fitness they are really “missing the boat” on getting a well-rounded, balanced, healthy exercise program.

“I think the door has opened in terms of people realizing they want to move differently and stimulate muscles differently and be more balanced,” Hudson said. “We’re seeing more people be educated in the need to have a more balanced fitness program — flexibility, cardio, strength, function — we are seeing the trend of fitness programs offering many varieties of movement opportunities.”

Herbert said recreation services is constantly looking for ways to diversify their program so that they are offering something for everyone — not just specific populations.

“We’re always focusing on the latest trends and demands,” Giles said. “If there is a huge demand from the male population related to group fitness activities we’d certainly love to hear. … We need feedback from them as well.”