The male gym-goer cuts a lonely figure: skulking around the weights room, headphones in, volume up. Meanwhile, he’ll have noticed the hourly ebb and flow of (predominantly female) human traffic into the gym’s studio. Out of curiosity, he may have paused to glance at the timetable by the door. But then, scoffing at class names like ‘Bodypump’ and ‘Zumba-robics’, he’ll have swaggered away.
If that sounds familiar, you’re making a big mistake. Training is getting social, and I’m not just talking about the post-workout selfies clogging up your feed. The latest figures suggest that 43 per cent of all gym members in the US participate in group exercise classes, and with American imports such as Barry’s Bootcamp, Orangetheory and CrossFit taking the UK by storm, you can bet your bottom dollar that the British fitness industry is catching up.
But yes, I’m aware of the elephant in the room – the one wearing Sweaty Betty leggings. Men have historically avoided classes because they mistakenly believe that they’re for girls. I get it. Once upon a time, I thought that, too. But gone are the days of happy-clappy step aerobics. Instead, there are now classes for calisthenics, strongman and HIIT. Almost every training style and fitness philosophy is available in the group exercise format.
Let’s clear up another thing, too: fitness classes are not easy. Structured around time rather than reps, they’re scalable for everyone from newbies to elite athletes. If you’re working at maximum effort – those 15kg dumbbells should do it – you will sweat, you will suffer, and you will reap the rewards. The best thing about group exercise, and the reason I haven’t worked out by myself in over a year, is that it creates a team environment. That brings three scientifically backed benefits: competition, motivation and enjoyment. Our innate desire to win, or at least not to lose, means that if the person next to you is smashing out burpees, you will push through the pain to keep up . Researchers also found that the fitter your classmates, the fitter you’ll become – a simple hack and welcome fast track for beginners. If the competition doesn’t motivate you, the coach will. It’s like having a PT, albeit one who you’re sharing with a handful of sweaty, swearing comrades.
For those bobbing along in the workout doldrums, struggling to find a training methodology that fits, think of classes as a pick’n’mix of movement, in which lies the sweet panacea to a leaner, stronger you. What’s more, group training was proven in recent research not just to boost fitness, but also to lower stress levels by 26 per cent when compared to going it alone. You will emerge both exhausted and elated.
So if you want to get fit ‘like a man’ and pump iron on your lonesome, with no guidance or external motivation, be my guest. But me? I’ll be in the studio, training ‘like a girl’ and getting all the fitter for it. Come join us.
Words by Michael Chapman, owner and head trainer of F45 Tottenham Court Road.