A few months ago, a pretty remarkable thing happened. The strength training class I lead, once a bastion for women seeking Michelle Obama arms, was overrun with men.
I’ve always had two or three dedicated dudes sweating it out to my Bruno Mars playlist, but they were always in the minority. Most men at my gym stick to the treadmills or weight machines, avoiding the thumping club music and three-count instructions in classes.
Classes full of women can be a little intimidating, but the guys who wound up in mine were game. They all told me they were looking for the same thing: variety.
It is easy to fall into a rut with solo workouts. At some point, you might find yourself doing the same exercises or training the same group of muscles. But with the wide array of courses available at most gyms — kickboxing, boot camp, spin or yoga — there is always something new to try.
“People hear group fitness, and a lot of guys think there’s like 50 women in leotards doing step aerobics, so it’s not for them,” said Anne Mahlum, founder of Solidcore, a fitness studio in Adams Morgan. “We focus on the idea of team fitness, using different words so people don’t create that stereotype, because our workout is hard and intense.”
Peter Anthony, 49, wasn’t thrown off by being one of two or three guys in the class at Solidcore. But the workout — a collection of slow, controlled moves on machines called Megaformers (think pilates on steroids) — made him a little apprehensive.
“It’s unlike any of the traditional workout programs I had tried in the past,” said Anthony, who has been taking classes for almost a year. “But if you take the class two or three times a week, you can see noticeable changes in your body — leaner, stronger muscles.”
One of Anthony’s classmates, Bo Huge-Jensen, was reluctant to join a class with a bunch of women, but he relented because his doctor recommended he strengthen his core to relieve his back pain.
“Here I am, an alpha male going into this class, but my perception was quickly squashed,” the 47-year-old said. “I have some buddies who were all, ‘Are you sure, Bo?’ But I told them to give it a shot. . . . They’re all in and almost don’t want other people to know,to keep the class to themselves.”
In the past year, pilates instructor Mike Huling has noticed a rise in the number of men showing up to his classes at Reformation Fitness in the District. He chalks it up to a broader realization among clients that the goal of working out is being “functionally fit,” not just looking good at the beach.
“I’ve seen more men who are saying it’s time to focus on flexibility, agility, muscle coordination — all of the things that will improve your body for the long haul,” Huling said. “Sometimes they come because their wife or girlfriend drags them in, saying, ‘This will improve your running or your CrossFit.’ ”
Camaraderie often develops in classes, with people encouraging one another during difficult moves, Huling said. It creates a sense of community, he said, that makes people want to come back.
Working out with other people is also a good way to stay motivated. I’ve noticed that some of the women in my class stepped up their effort to compete with the guys. One woman told me she felt empowered once she realized she could do more push-ups than some of the men.
Some classes have a better chance of attracting guys than others. It’s pretty common to see guys taking boot-camp or P90X classes, but not so much Zumba or Jazzercise.
“The first few times I went to Zumba, I had in mind that it wasn’t a serious workout because it wasn’t kickboxing or something,” said Dana Tai Soon Burgess, a 46-year-old choreographer in the District. “But after a couple of sessions, I really liked the aerobics.”
Every once in a while, Burgess said, a few other guys will drop into his Zumba class at Washington Sports Club, but “not often.” He doesn’t mind.
“Oddly enough, being the only man in the Zumba class feels like nobody’s watching as soon as the music starts,” he said.
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