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The Ten Commandments of Leading a Group Fitness Class for Guys


2016-02-09-dominating-group-fitness-class-03jpgWhile Group Fitness Classes are traditionally attended more by women than they are guys, there are some classes that appeal to the male gender and when that happens, you want to be sensitive to what it is that’s going to resonate with a guy and what will be uncomfortable for a woman and vice versa.

While these aren’t in stone, they are nevertheless good to keep in mind.

Here we go:

1) Never Make a Man March

Sometimes you’re asked to “warm up” by marching in place. While this may not be that big of a deal when your class is comprised of just men or just women, for a man who’s “marching” alongside several women, it’s hard not to feel pretty conspicuous. Waves of humiliation wash over you as you’re doing this. Instead, make the men in your class double time (run in place).

2) Never Make a Guy Dance or Rotate His Hips 

Again, we’re looking at the “warm up” part of the workout, but you’re setting the tone, here, so this is important. When you want to stretch out your hip flexors, do a “seal” stretch. Don’t ask a guy to rotate his hips as though he were doing the Hula. By themselves, in the context of a martial arts class, sure. But in the company of women, not so much. And the same goes for any kind of dancing. Think of the Junior Prom and the number of guys that remained against the wall until a slow song was playing. Dancing is not something most guys are comfortable with, so don’t go there. Again, waves of humiliation…

3) Woman Want to be Affirmed, Men Want to be Challenged

You can’t say “Good job!” enough when you’re teaching a class of women. You can tell them “Good job!” when they’re stretching, you can say “Good job!” when they’re glistening with perspiration and it’s welcomed as something that’s establishing a positive tone for the class. But when you say “Good job!” to a man and he’s not doing anything that, in his mind, warrants that degree of encouragement, it compromises the substance of the class. Rather, say “Good job” only when they’ve finished doing an excruciating round of Burpees. Men want to be challenged! And, yes, women want to be challenged as well. But generally speaking, a man will process affirmation as being appropriate only when they’ve done something that justifies praise. Stretching as part of a warm up, marching, an exercise that doesn’t require any real effort – that’s not a “Good job!”

4) Never Humiliate a Man, Never Embarrass a Woman

Embarrassment, in this context, is being concerned about the way you’re being perceived by other members of the class. For a woman, calling them out individually when they’re doing pushups and they’ve got their butt way up in the air is not something you want to do. Saying “Get your butt down” is not processed as “training.” In that moment, it’s embarrassing and there’s an excellent chance that they won’t be coming back. If you want to adjust their technique, address the entire class and use it as a “teaching moment.” But don’t single someone out in a way that’s processed as embarassing

For a guy, saying, “Get your butt down!” is processed differently. That’s going to be registered as being “pushed” and “coached.” If they are embarrassed, there’s still a competitive dynamic built into their DNA that will ultimately process that kind of admonishment as a cue to bring their butt down rather than rehearse in their mind what the other members of the class might be thinking.

On the other hand, if you have a guy do pushups on all fours to match what everyone else in the class is doing, that’s humiliating. It’s not what everyone else in the class is thinking that is being considered, rather it’s the way they’re seeing themselves. In the absence of a real challenge and in the context of something that makes them feel like they’re being asked to conform to something that, in that moment, resonates as feminine, it’s humiliating and they’ll look for another class the next time around.

5) When it Comes to Music: Women – Dance Tracks. Men – More Cowbell.

There’s a place for the industrial, bubble gum, dance mix that is often used for Group Fitness Classes. It’s perfect for a Woman’s Fitness Class because it’s upbeat, it’s positive and it encourages a feeling of community. But for a guy, apart from the fact that it’s “dancing,” it doesn’t motivate them like Classic Rock and Roll where you’re hearing a ripping guitar punctuated by a rude cowbell. Guys – More Cowbell! Women – Dance Tracks!

6) Men Want to See Their Instructor Perspire, Women Want to See Their Instructor Smile

I’m thinking of my military experience where the NCO that was leading PT (Physical Training) was dripping with sweat as he lead the Series (four platoons – approximately 320-350 men) in a grueling round of calisthenics. Even if he wasn’t struggling like so many of us were, the fact that he was perspiring meant that he was engaged and the activity we were doing was legitimately challenging.

Imagine that same scenario, but in this instance the NCO was smiling and not breaking a sweat, despite the 90 degree heat and outrageous level of humidity. The only way that could happen is if the Sergeant wasn’t really exerting himself and the exercise session has just taken on an entirely different look and feel. It’s no longer challenging and guys are now looking at their watch to see how much longer they have to stay before they can discreetly make their exit.

Women want a good workout, yes, but there needs to be a positive sense of community in order for that workout to be embraced. The music, the affirmation and…a smiling instructor all combine to create that tone. Without that social climate, the class is processed as something negative and unapproachable.

You can do both if you’ve got both men and women in the class, but be sure to do both and not leave any one dynamic out. Sweat AND smile and not in a way that  comes across as patronizing.

7) Women – Don’t Yell. Men – Don’t Whine.

Being loud and motivating is one thing. But if you’re loud and critical, that’s “yelling” and that’s not going to be processed by a group of ladies as something they want to sign up for.

Guys don’t mind the yelling as much because they process it differently. But don’t complain about the difficulty of a particular exercise in a way that sounds like you’re whining. Guys want something to respect and therefore worth imitating. Set a good example and inspire your crew to truly strain by pushing yourself. But don’t whimper. That’s not motivating.

8) Put the Women in the Back, Put the Men Up Front

In a co-ed situation, you don’t want to put the women up front because if you do, there’s a chance they’re going to feel as though they’re on display for the guys who are behind them. They won’t feel comfortable so don’t do it.

9) Never Ask a Man to do Something Feminine, Never Ask a Woman to do Something Un-Ladylike 

There are certain stretches that can be accompanied by dramatic, ballet-like movements of the arms. Reaching down and touching your toes, for example. Or taking a big breath. Don’t ask a guy to do that. Stretch? Yes. But not in a way that inspires mental images of leotards and dance recitals.

On the other hand, there are certain exercises that involve spreading your knees. Those kind of exercises need to be approached very judiciously when you’re doing them in a class of women. Those kinds of movements, along with anything that has them bending over – if it puts them in a position they process as being un-ladylike, come up with a different exercise. It may not be an issue, but be sensitive to it nonetheless as a matter of courtesy.

10) To a Man, Sweat is an Indicator of Effort. To a Woman, Sweat is an Indicator of Odor.

As a leader, you want to be taxing yourself to the point where you’re perspiring, absolutely. But where a dark t-shirt so your perspiration is not a distraction. And if you tend to “drip,” have a towel available so you can dry your head or wear a doo-rag that will absorb the moisture that would otherwise being raining down from your forehead.

To a man, sweat is part of working hard and the smell of a locker room is recognized as part of workout out. But to a woman, it’s not embraced in the same way. It’s more a matter of poor hygiene than it is something to be held up as a “good effort.” Be aware of that, especially if you’re going to do a group photo at the end of the class!



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