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Crossing Over in the Segregation of the Sexes

One last thought about the opposite sex. Every fitness professional knows that gender stereotypes abound in the fitness facility setting — grunting, ripped men and scantily clad females dressed to pick up their soon-to-be date for Friday night. And although the health club world is changing to encourage more “normal” people into the gym and recreation centers these days, don't be fooled — many of your members are playing the gender card just fine.

For instance, take the weight area. The women's only section offers 1 lb. to 10 lb. free weights, and the women who use them seem to get major satisfaction from saying they've moved up 1 lb. in their free weight workout. However, in the testosterone-filled domain of the free weight room, a 1 lb. weight wouldn't even be used as a door prop. This area, which has contraptions that look more like torture devices than fitness gear, has been declared male territory, although a few brave and usually buff girls cross the line regularly.

At the opposite end of the testosterone spectrum sits the group exercise room. It is generally loaded with estrogen. Of course, some clubs have fantastic programs that cater to both sexes, but when you walk into most clubs' studios, you most likely will just see the ladies — with the exception of a couple of brave men.

As a group ex instructor myself, I admire these men. Defying the gender stereotypes and jumping right into the estrogen-dominated scene, these men usually come in two types: a guy who is a better or more skilled dancer than the instructor (or a former group ex instructor himself), and a ladies' man who figured out that one man to 30 or so women was better than the male-to-female ratio in the weight room. While these men don't need any tricks to get noticed in the class, they often pull a few nonetheless.

You would think that women wouldn't fall for these tricks anymore, but they work almost every time. A man will walk into the class, attracting the attention of every female. Once the music starts, he attempts to follow the instructor's cues, but usually trips over his feet or misses a step. While many hard-core group exercisers might find this annoying in just about anyone else, for this lone, lost, brave man, it is cute. So cute that typically even the instructor falls prey to it. I know I have. All the women usually end up after class giggling over how adorable the guy is.

Now there's a lesson or two to be learned here. First of all, not all stereotypes are true. As I mentioned earlier some clubs have high male attendance in their classes and have no gender-specific areas. Secondly, many of your female members are probably happy that their aerobics studio is free of men. In fact, more and more clubs are becoming gender-specific to make everyone feel more comfortable.

However, some clubs are breaking down those gender stereotypes instead of supporting them by encouraging their male members to try out the group ex classes — or designing classes that are genderless. Have you ever tried marketing your group ex classes to your men with a tongue-in-cheek message that says how great working out is in a room full of ladies? Sure, you don't want your group ex studio to become a singles mixer on every night of the week, but it sure does add a different dynamic to mix up the regular gender routine. Or try to make the males-only side of the weight room less scary — put up diagrams on how to use the equipment and mix your lighter weights with your heavier weights to encourage females to cross over. Also, try to explain to your members that they can use all parts of the club. You never know what might happen when barriers come down and your facility's space becomes less segregated by gender.

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