When I was in Grade 10, my school decided to put us in gender-segregated fitness classes.
Twice a week, we took a school bus to the local gym “Fitness Avenue” and spent our time in the “Women’s Only” room.
Disengaged girls with nobody to flirt with stood around looking bored, applying lip gloss between sets of whatever lame movements we were doing that day.
The girls who had been scared of PE class their whole lives, intimidated by the competitive boys, were more comfortable here. They felt less judged and less insecure.
But these feelings of comfort came with a cost:
None of these still self-conscious girls in that class were pushed to grow emotionally stronger. Fears weren’t conquered. Comfort zones remained unchallenged. And, nobody actually got fit.
I’ve never understood the concept of “Women’s Only” gyms or classes. Never understood how it benefits women. While I’m sympathetic that some women might be intimidated and scared of aggressive men dominating the squat rack, I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that shying away from it is somehow a solution.
Time and time again, I’ve worked with female CrossFit clients—women who spent their lives avoiding the gym and sports in general—who after three months, six months, one year, express to me how CrossFit helped them get over their fear and intimidation, their self-consciousness when it comes to working out, even in front of men.
And as a CrossFit coach for six years, I can say with certainty that I believe offering women's only classes is a dumb business decision. They’re counterproductive for the women who attend them, confusing to the community at large, and bad for the business.
3 Reasons Why
3. Limits Growth
To a large degree, CrossFit is about conquering fears—be it a fear of running like my last blog detailed, a fear of pull-ups, or a fear of sweating in front of men. It’s about stepping outside your comfort zone, about emotional growth, about pushing yourself to do things you didn’t think you could do until one day, that thing you were scared of is suddenly fun and easy.
To me, keeping women in a class on their own in the other room just shelters them from their fears and prevents them from getting over their quirky apprehension they’ve lived with since elementary school.
It essentially just prevents them solving their problems by sweeping them under the rug. I would wager to guess they probably do the same thing in their regular life.
2. Give them what they need, not what they want
Again, in a previous blog I went into the topic of how giving clients what they need is often better than giving them what they want. Giving clients what they want might mean 30 minutes AMRAPs six days a week for some, and bench press five days a week for others.
CrossFit owners who run women’s only classes have explained to me that they do it because women like cardio, cardio, cardio. Their women’s only classes tend to stray from weightlifting in favour of burpees and running a la bootcamp-style.
In my opinion, these cardio junkies will get more from breaking free from the cardio, cardio, cardio mentality and adding some strength, skill and accessory work into their routine, than they will from hitting up a women’s only bootcamp all the time.
1. Differ by Degree, Not by Kind
I’ve written about the potential shortcomings I believe a competitor’s classes can bring to a community if it's not administered properly; however, I understand and support competitor’s classes for this reason: There is a practical and logistical rationale behind separating the competitors, such as their desire to do more volume than most, and their need to train for more than just an hour a day to get through this volume.
Such is not the case for women. One of the founding beliefs of CrossFit is that we differ by degree, not by kind. (Unless you’re hosting something like a prenatal or postnatal class. In that case, there very well could be practical reasons, including safety, for keeping pregnant women away from some of the movements in the regular group classes).
One more Reason, just for good measure for the politically correct out there
Women’s Only classes are just plain old sexist!
Try running a “Men’s Only” class at your gym. Watch what would happen.