By David Claps
“The best kind of workout is the one you will stick with.”
How many times have we read this phrase on blogs, or heard it uttered by trainers? How can we find this elusive workout we’ll actually stick with? Well, through a whole lot of experimentation.
We already have enough common excuses to avoid trying new workouts, like it looks too hard or I won’t know anyone in the class. But do we ever acknowledge how we associate gender with the type of workouts we’ll consider?
Health magazines often show rustic looking men flipping tires and slamming ropes, while women can be seen on yoga mats and leaning against the barre with girlfriends. The gender of models in a studio’s website imagery, the styling of instructor photos, even the color choices used in newsletters suggests whether they want to attract men or women to their workout.
When did this dichotomy arise, an unspoken suggestion of which workouts are normal for men and which for women? And what control do we, the fitness community, have in deciding the rules?
I’m a big believer of taking any idea of normal, whether that be in how you workout or any other area of life, and throwing it out the window. As a male who dabbles in all types of workouts but has a particular affinity for those pitched towards females, it can take a lot of mental effort to reject restrictive gender associations that dictate the fitness methods we can or cannot try.
For many years whenever I decided it was finally time to get in shape, my default cycle was to lift weights and run sporadically, as that’s what I saw other men do. Never finding the passion to stick with it, my routine would always fizzle out after a few weeks. Tired of failing in my pursuits and curious about all the hype surrounding my female friends’ workouts of choice – spin, yoga, Pilates, to name a few – I had to consciously subvert the concept of the male and female workout in order to will myself into trying fitness trends where I might find little to no male companionship.
Carrying an acceptance that I may sometimes feel awkward or out of place, I can often be found meandering into new studios and trying new methods regardless of who I think it is marketed to. Through trial and error, I’ve found a love for barre in particular. Yes, my first time walking into a barre studio felt jarring with its plush carpets and copies of Women’s Health in the lounge. But by the time class was over, I was so energized from the past hour I knew I had to come back. Nowadays, I pay no mind to the fact that I’m often the only male in class.
For me, barre is a tough workout (especially at Exhale Spa, their Core Fusion Barre always leaves me sore!), and I find it a shame it’s essentially advertised exclusively towards women; from an image standpoint, it almost seems men are not welcome. While I understand men and women often have different fitness goals, I can’t imagine it would preclude an entire gender from any particular workout.
While it can feel uncomfortable to step into a studio where you’re not sure if you’ll see people like yourself, don’t let it hold you back. If we really want to give ourselves the best chance of finding the workout we’ll actually stick with, nothing should be off the table.
My attitude of ignoring any perceived rules of normalcy extends even to my workout buddy. While many guys have other male go-to workout partners, my most consistent fitness companion is a 5’2” female co-worker of mine named Christina.
If you think I’ve chosen her as a frequent sweat buddy because she’ll indulge in my invitation to barre class, you’d be wrong; she scoffs at my numerous invites in favor of anything where she can throw around heavy weights. If I lean more feminine in my workout interests, Christina certainly leans more masculine, rebutting my requests for barre with different schemes to convince me to join her at Tone House. Together we make an unlikely pair.
Through a shared rejection of gender norms and a willingness to try out each other’s workout ideas, we’re always looking forward to something new and have kept boredom at bay. Christina’s unbridled fitness obsession and unparalleled talent in sniffing out the best instructors has kept me motivated. Had I let our gender, size, and different training styles hold us back from teaming up, I doubt either one of us would have reached as many of our goals.
Whether on any day I’m picking up a dumbbell or slipping on my sticky socks, whether I’m doing it with a male buddy of mine or Christina, I allow myself to participate in whatever workout I please. Fitness is for everyone and anyone, male or female, in whatever forms we wish to access it.
If you’re bored in your workout or feel like something is missing, think outside the box! Maybe that unorthodox choice is right for you. Truly, you will never know until you try. Ignore all the influences that may tell you that any one workout is not for you, whether it be because of your gender or any other defining factor. And finally, align yourself with peers of the same beliefs. You’ll keep each other on track, and along the way, hopefully find delight in your explorations of all the fitness world has to offer.
David Claps is an arts and business manager, currently on the production team for the internationally acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. A graduate of The Ailey School/Fordham University BFA in Dance program, David has enjoyed training, performing, and working as a dancer for much of his life in schools and theaters across the United States and Latin America. Injuries and other pursuits led David to discontinue his professional dancing career and ignited his interest in fitness. He serves on the board of JUNTOS Collective, an international cultural exchange program for collegiate conservatory students and occasionally can be found blogging on The Huffington Post among other sites.