More Group Exercise Programs Are Shifting to Men

New programming options that focus on quantifiable results rather than complex choreography are attracting men who also are compelled by the coaching and camaraderie found in the group fitness environment.

After decades as a female-dominated domain, group exercise may finally be going coed. New programming options that focus on quantifiable results rather than complex choreography are attracting men who also are compelled by the coaching and camaraderie found in the group fitness environment. For the first time, health club owners are beginning to see the benefits of approaching group exercise from a more masculine point of view.

The rise in male participation has companies that provide group exercise programming taking notice. Workout programming provider Les Mills has had success attracting men to BodyPump, cycling classes and the recently released Les Mills Grit, a program focused on high intensity interval training (HIIT), speed, agility and strength.

Les Mills is seeing more male participation and is certifying more male instructors than ever before, says Steven Renata, co-founder of Les Mills International, Auckland, New Zealand.

“Getting males into the group fitness studio means getting more people hooked on group fitness, which is the key to improving acquisition, retention and overall profit,” Renata says. “The first step is increasing the availability of proven, pre-choreographed workouts that reduce the time and effort required to put together a world-class workout.”

Other health club operators are incorporating CrossFit, Beachbody’s Insanity and P90x programs, or their own versions of boot camp or HIIT classes with the goal of involving more men in group exercise.

“Programming of movements, exercise, music and coaching have tremendous impact in making a male comfortable in a group environment,” says Terry Browning, president of MOSSA, the company that invented The Step, which started the 1990s fitness craze. “Certain programs like cycling have typically appealed to males far better than others because it can be very simple and athletic. Our cycling programs, Group Ride and R30, have clubs reporting between 30 and 50 percent male participation.”

Even if clubs have the right programming, they still may not see an uptick in male participation if the programming is not marketed to appeal to men. Browning says his company has had success with a class called Group Blast, where participants use a step for athletic and agility training. The name and focus of the class have changed what was once considered a female step class into a coed training class. After incorporating the class, male participation in group exercise has risen as much as 20 percent in some clubs, he says.

Joy Keller, executive editor of IDEA Publications, says: “In some cases, it’s just a matter of rebranding or renaming classes to make them sound more masculine, but it’s the same content. It may continue to be a female-friendly domain, but I think there’s plenty of room for men to participate. Growth may be imminent. Many classes, such as Tabata, for example, are great turnkey group programs for men [to] get them in and introduce them to other classes.”

Strategic location and scheduling have helped boost male participation in group exercise classes at the 92nd Street Y May Centre for Health, Fitness and Sport in New York, according to Director Stacey Eisler.

“I do think the exposure and the visibility of seeing the classes is important,” she says. “I think, generally, people will tend to enter a group ex class if they can see it, see what is involved and know they can participate in the class comfortably.”

Using this logic, Eisler has placed group exercise classes that might appeal to men near the basketball courts, where she knows they will see what is going on. She also schedules them at times when the most men are in the gym playing basketball. Men have seen their friends in classes and realize it looks like something they might be able to do, prompting them to venture into classes themselves, she says.

“Before their game starts, or if they are being rotated in and out, they will hop in for 20 minutes or so and then go back over to the basketball court,” Eisler says. “I think proximity has an impact on drawing people in.”

Eisler also posts video of classes on the 92nd Street Y May Center’s Facebook page. Doing so allows members to see the class beforehand, which helps men get over the intimidation factor of jumping in to a female-dominated space, she says.

These changes in group exercise programming do not usually mean that female-centric classes have been replaced.

Most clubs report that they still offer dance-based classes, yoga and aerobics. These new formats simply present opportunities to market to the rest of their member base and motivate women who already participate in group exercise to try new things.

“With the right instructor, team and programs, it is an extremely viable market,” Browning says. “Males represent about 48 percent of the current club population and nearly half of the consumers, so attracting them and putting them into group activities is a powerful way to have long-term, active members.”


Article first published in Club Industry on 14th April 2014.

Scroll to Top