The Anti-Male Approach of the Fitness Industry

Written by Mark Tiffney

Every 2 minutes there seems to be a new ‘latest’ trend in fitness. One that either sounds too good to be true (but many will give it a go just in case), that sounds new and exciting (even if the workouts have been round for years, but have simply been given a shiny new title) or that are simply made to be attention grabbing (style over substance).

My disdain for these approaches have been well documented. Not because they are all terrible, far from it, anything that gets people off the couch and moving is something I heartily welcome. What I object to is the marketing of them. Every one of these ‘gimmick’ based classes, systems and workshops do the same thing. They are offered as a ‘complete’ solution to a specific problem rather than, what they truly are, a good start to getting active.

Just to give a few examples, there is the Les Mills approach where you have classes such as ‘Body Pump’ which suggests that you are going to learn to use weights in a class environment and end up looking like the people on the posters. Body Pump is, at best, a session that may induce a little confidence in holding a barbell and allow understanding of some of the terms used to describe some basic exercises. But as with all Les Mills classes, the workout is done to a beat and that in itself is a problem. Yes the tempo and the length of time the sets last for are going to cause fatigue in the muscles, but the class will always be the same length of time, even when they do their 12 week change-up and the number of ‘beats’ in the class will be roughly the same overall. So once your body adapts to that training method you have nowhere left to go. Yes you could add weight, but only so far. And given one of the main moves in the class is a squat, but you are required to lift the bar from the floor to put it on your back, your squat weight is never going to be particularly challenging in the long run. Certainly not to the level that the people in the posters are most likely doing in the gym on a regular basis.

All such classes that are done to a CD and a beat (Les Mills, Zumba, bouncersize etc) are all going to have similar effects. They will provide initial progress to those who have gone from doing no exercise to doing this. But, once they get good at the movements and their body becomes accustomed to the workouts, there is no room for development and the progress stops.

With Metafit, this is nothing new, it’s a workout pattern that has been being used for hundreds of years. It’s simply bodyweight interval training. Just because they slapped a shiny new title on it and started selling CDs to instructors doesn’t make it innovative.

There’s nothing wrong with the approach, but again, to suggest that this is a one stop shop to your ultimate physique is ridiculous.

But even if you get away from the fancy titled approaches, you then have those that are modelled around a single piece of equipment. Look at the popularity of Kettlebell Classes or TRX classes. As soon as a piece of equipment becomes popular you can bet your house on the fact that there will be a class dedicated to its use.

There are men out there who, through lack of confidence, lack of experience or simply lack of genetic size, feel intimidated going into a weights area filled with people who seem to have more experience than them

So what’s the problem?

The equipment isn’t the thing there to get fitter, so why is the structure of the class designed around it?

If you go to a workout with the hope of dropping some unwanted poundage, should you really be caring about which piece of equipment you are going to be using to achieve that? A Kettlebell is nothing more than a tool and if you were going to try to build something, does it make it easier or harder to restrict yourself to only one tool? If you wanted to build a house, would it be an intelligent approach to restrict yourself to only a hammer? Of course not.

All workout approaches SHOULD have the goal in mind. Regardless of whether that’s in a class, a workshop or the straight forward approach of hitting the gym floor. The starting point should always be “WHAT do I want to achieve?” rather than “What method do I want to utilize?”.

But there is a trend that has become extremely popular in the past 3 years or so that again, is made to be an eye-catching title and focus in on a select audience.

LADIES WHO LIFT training groups.

These are generally set up as group personal training sessions for women to teach them how to do weightlifting or to improve their lifting techniques. Which, on the surface, sounds all well and good.

But my question would be, “Why Women?” Why is it that only women are being invited to join these groups or to look at it from the other side, why is it that all women are being lumped into a category all of their own as if they are all the same?

The standard justification for this is that women feel intimidated going into the weights area of a gym as it is usually mostly populated by men. So they have a tendency to head towards the safe haven of the cardio equipment with occasional use of fixed resistance machines.

So what about men who feel the same way? There are men out there who, through lack of confidence, lack of experience or simply lack of genetic size, feel intimidated going into a weights area filled with people who seem to have more experience than them and are lifting bigger weights than they can so they may be embarrassed at the idea of what they would be able to do. Plus, anyone, regardless of gender, is going to feel lost with a barbell or a set of dumbbells if no one has shown them what to do.

So what is it about women that means they need their own group to the exclusion of ALL men?

Shouldn’t these groups be “Novice Lifting Groups” or something similar?

If the reasoning is that, genetically there are significant differences between men and women, so having a group where everyone can be trained in the same way is going to make the training process easier, I’d agree that is a good reason. But that is making the assumption that all women are built the same, have the same strengths and weaknesses and the same goals from this lifting group. It suggests all women are of the same build, with the same movement patterns and essentially function the same. Obviously that is far from the case.

The truth is, it just sounds good and it makes for an empowering tagline for the women involved “I’m a women who lifts!”.

It has nothing to do with what is best for those involved. To do so the groups would either have to be broken down further into categories of experience, age, build and goals. Some women attending such sessions may be doing so because they want to get stronger, some may be doing so because they believe lifting heavy will increase their metabolism and help them burn fat, some may feel they are too slight of build and want to build up their frame and increase their bone density. But these are all goals men could have too.

In a world where the fact that some golf clubs continue to have men only membership options is newsworthy and cause for outcry, why is it that women only gyms, women only classes and now women only lifting sessions are acceptable?

In a world where the fact that some golf clubs continue to have men only membership options is newsworthy and cause for outcry, why is it that women only gyms, women only classes and now women only lifting sessions are acceptable?

The reason is simply that those tags attract interest and make money. Nothing more. There is no agenda to improve the fitness of the nation. There is no justifiable reason for such a specific segregation. You would be as well having a “Gingers who lift” or an “Asians who lift” session, it would make just as much sense.

However, imagine it was the other way around. Imagine we had “Men Only Lifting Classes”. Would that be acceptable? Something tells me it wouldn’t. And as such, I’m not aware of any such classes or sessions in existence.

I am aware of men only yoga classes appearing now (or Broga) which has exactly the same issues. It suggests that all men are at a lower level so there will be no flexible men showing up and creating intimidation or that all women are flexible enough to attend regular classes and keep up. The one plus I have found here is, by going to the main ‘Broga’ website one of the first images shown is a class that is predominantly men, but there are still women taking part in the class, suggesting it is not as segregated as the name suggests. But the problem remains that the name is now not a true reflection of the service and is just a catchy marketing ploy to draw money through the door.

In an industry that is supposed to be focused on health, happiness and improved wellbeing and self-image, to be so focused on marketing gimmicks, false claims and now segregation, seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Hopefully, over time, people will become more educated in what is useful and be able to prevent themselves being led by their emotions towards a ‘quick fix’. Having said that, it’s those same emotions that direct people to comfort eat or self-sabotaging behaviors in the first place. Though, for the industry to then be praying on those emotions rather than helping to educate people away from them is shocking in itself. But that’s a topic for another day.

In the end, these ‘marketing techniques’ are going to happen regardless, but we all have a choice in voting with our feet or standing up to them and I’d like to hope that putting a spotlight on the fact that these practices are not the answer to everyone’s prayers that they are made out to be may make some kind of difference in how they are viewed.

Again, all training protocols, systems and advice should have one thing in common, they should be there to solve the problems or realize the aspirations of the individuals not to smother them in the glitz and glam of well crafted marketing techniques. So whenever you are looking to make a choice with regards your fitness, make sure it is an informed choice based on what is best for you, not what sounds good on the marketing copy.  And ensure it is a fitness ‘community’ so segregation for the sake of increased revenue is certainly not the answer.


Photo credit: Flickr



About the author

Mark Tiffney

Mark is a Fitness Expert, Personal Trainer and Coach.
As a Director of Dynamic Core Solutions Ltd. he has worked with clients from 3 separate continents and has helped hundreds of clients develop and improve their physique, fitness levels and more importantly, self image.

With over 14 years experience in the sport and fitness industry, he is driven by one thing with his clients - getting the best results possible.

Now owner of Dynamic Core Studios in Clydebank Glasgow (Scotland) he is able to help even more people on a one to one & small group basis.

Check out to see the facility and find out a little more about what he does.

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