Trading places at the gym: Men and women could learn from each others' exercise routines

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Anything boys can do girls can do better -- well maybe just differently. When it comes to exercising, an invisible line is drawn in the gym between the men and women who work out there.

Aside from a few exceptions, the group exercise classes are full of ladies twisting, stretching and dancing to a beat and a row of women man the treadmills. Meanwhile, the men stick by the dozens of free weights and bench presses, ignoring the class schedule. But both genders could gain by taking a lesson from the other, area fitness staff say.

"They all come for the same reason -- to loose weight and tone up," said JoAnn Ford, a fitness specialist at HealthPoint.

The best way to burn calories is to raise your metabolism, which is accomplished the same way whether you're male or female: build muscle mass. In regard to the process, the genders differ.

Ford said men have an easier time building muscle on the upper body while women can build muscle better on the bottom, but as she talked no women wandered over to try the free weights around her. The women were also missing from the weight machine circuit on the other side of the gym.

"They come over to the strength side and they think, 'This is a guy thing,'" she said. "That's totally bogus."

Strength training for women not only builds muscles mass, it helps lower osteoporosis according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation.

"Women think that free weights are going to bulk you up," Jamie Crowell, a fitness specialist at Fitness Plus, said.

But it's actually extremely hard for most women to add bulk -- especially if they stick to low weights and more repetitions.

"They can lengthen and tighten and tone without bulking up," Dianne Lawrence, a physical trainer at Fitness Plus, said.

Crowell said a lot of women are probably timid about asking for help or instruction in the weight department. Weight machines have pictures and instructions for how to use them, which can ease a little of the shyness.

When it comes to classes that fold you up, stretch you out and make you dance around, men seem to have their own insecurities. The classes at most gyms are largely female with the exception of a few open-minded men.

Ford said men tell her they aren't coordinated enough for the classes and would be embarrassed. She said that when she does see men on cardio machines, they are the "harder" ones like the stair machine or the tread climber.

The man she was training Thursday morning said he just didn't have a "strong desire to try something new," but that no one should be embarrassed in classes or the weight room.

"Nobody's looking," he said.

HealthPoint fitness staff member Matt Johnston admitted he doesn't take the group classes either, but said guys should stretch more, even if it's not in a class. Simple hamstring stretches and sit-and-reach moves will help.

"It would be good for sports -- better body control," he said.

The classes also help with balance and coordination.

"Guys have absolutely no time for that. They don't see results," Lawrence said.

She added, though, that men need the flexibility that comes from a yoga or stretch class to ease stiff joints. As a person builds muscle, the muscles compact and wear on the joints.

"The stretching is more to loosen the joint," Lawrence said.

Simple hamstring, shoulder and back stretches are good to keep mobility. You can view examples in a video on

Both men and women can benefit from cardio, be it running, a new Zumba class or a training machine. Working out at your target heart rate for 30 to 45 minutes will burn calories for men and women. A weight workout circuit that involves legs, arms and core will help muscle mass, just be sure to include about 5 to 10 minutes of stretching afterward.

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