Guys, gals and dumbbells
In Motion Fitness personal trainer weighs in on gender roles in the gym
When considering the attitude of male gym members toward receiving advice in the weight room, In Motion Fitness personal trainer Ryan Flenner offered an interesting comparison.
“It’s the same as when guys won’t ask for directions when they’re driving,” Flenner said during a recent interview at In Motion’s personal-training studio. “When they’re out on the floor, they ‘know what they’re doing.’”
As both a personal trainer and instructor of group exercise classes at In Motion for the last year and a half, a soccer coach at Chico High School and someone with “an all-around passion for sports and exercise,” Flenner has drawn several conclusions regarding behavioral differences between men and women in the gym. And when it comes to achieving a level of overall fitness with real-life athletic applications, he believes women have the right idea more often than their male counterparts do. Men are far more likely to be concerned with adding muscle mass (which involves focusing on specific muscle groups during workouts that can be hours long), but this approach doesn’t necessarily translate to athletic performance.
“As a coach, my kids will want to go in [the gym] and just do a bench press,” he said. “Your chest is going to get bigger, but what are you doing it for? What is the functional purpose, and how does it help you through the season?”
Meanwhile, group workout classes emphasizing aerobic conditioning, flexibility, balance, and core strength are mostly attended by women, Flenner noted. Increasingly, he finds the CrossFit classes offered at In Motion—which involve a fast-paced mix of strength and cardiovascular endurance training—are also a huge draw for women.
“The high-intensity cardio and weightlifting aspect does a really good job of physique stuff, trimming down body fat and defining muscle,” he said. “The women understand that and really find a love for it, as well as the challenge. I don’t think the guys have quite figured that out as much.”
Further, the group setting can foster greater individual effort. Flenner often observes camaraderie in which women “come together and work through it.”
Grant Conner, another In Motion personal trainer and CrossFit instructor, agreed that many female gym members have achieved a high level of overall fitness through group instruction.
“The group exercises—women dominate them,” Conner said. “Guys out on the floor [independently working out, not with a class] are a little stubborn—they ‘know it all’ in the weight room. But when they do come to a class, they get their butts kicked by the girls.”
There is evidence to suggest we begin developing, at an early age, a sense of which athletic activities are seemingly “appropriate” for which sex. In a Louisiana State University study titled “Gender Differences in Participation of Physical Activities” (go to www.tinyurl.com/gendergym to read the study), the author writes that “elementary students explained the main reason for sex-stereotyped views was the need to feel socially accepted. Parents and other influential people expect boys to play basketball while girls are expected to participate in dance and other feminine-typed activities.”
The author continues: “If students stepped outside the realm of social acceptability, they viewed themselves at risk for some sort of social penalty.”
Since we begin fearing such a social penalty early in life, it’s easy to understand why some find it difficult to participate in athletic activities mostly practiced by the opposite sex.
“Especially if it’s a female-dominated class, it can be intimidating,” said Flenner. “When you become a trainer [at In Motion] you have to take about 30 different classes throughout the gym to familiarize yourself. I know my biggest hesitation was going to Zumba—but I had to stick it out, and I did.”
Flenner hasn’t set foot in a Zumba—a combination of international dance and cardiovascular exercise—class since, but he maintains that mixing up a workout routine is an excellent way to progress as an athlete. Performing unfamiliar exercises is particularly helpful when confronted with the dreaded “plateau”—after following a routine for an extended period, the body is no longer challenged and gains become few and far between.
Greg Clink, the men’s basketball coach at Chico State, shares the same philosophy when it comes to his players’ training regimens. In the fall of 2011, Clink supplemented his players’ routines by hiring local yoga instructor Rex Stromness to lead his team in 14 sessions over seven weeks.
Though some of the players initially may have questioned the potential benefits of practicing yoga, Clink said the men “really bought into it.” After three or four weeks, players saw an increase in flexibility, core strength and balance—things that “really translate well to the basketball court.”
“[The players] were really open-minded; they enjoyed it,” he said during a phone interview. “It was challenging, it was fun and we had a good time learning and getting better at it.”
The team discontinued the yoga sessions due to cost, but Clink said he would “love” to bring the program back and has incorporated many of the exercises into his players’ pre-practice workouts.
Flenner said he encourages anybody who has made fitness a priority to shake up their routines by reconsidering the social boundaries in the gym.
“Even if a class is dominated by females or males, it’s always good to get out of your comfort zone,” he said. “That’s why we have trainers teaching the process—we want people to know exactly what they’re doing and feel comfortable doing it.”