What Women Want in an Exercise Routine

Here’s what women (and men, too!) are looking for when it comes to fitness.

By Kellee Katagi

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It’s an age-old mystery: What do women want? Many a man has gone to the grave still pondering that question. But, with a little help from our friends at IHRSA (the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), we can finally put it to rest—at least as it relates to fitness.

But first, let’s be honest: What most women—and men, for that matter—really want in terms of fitness is to magically get in shape while reclining on the sofa with a pint of Häagen Dazs. Now, I’m sure there are researchers somewhere trying to assess if there’s a way to make this a reality, but I can tell you—drawing on millennia of anecdotal evidence—that it just ain’t gonna happen!

So, given that to be in shape we have to actually move our bodies, what are men’s and women’s preferred ways of doing so? And what can we learn about ourselves from the answer?

IHRSA polled 24,134 American adults to discover (among other fitness-related queries) what health-club features appeal to them most. The answers were quite different for men and women.

And the winners are…

Women’s number-one health-club attraction is—drumroll, please—aquatics. This answer surprised me, perhaps because I’m a woman and I do not like aquatic exercise. Dance-inspired exercise (also not my favorite) is popular as well, with barre classes coming in second and dance and choreographed exercise landing at number five. Boot camp classes and the rather-ambiguous cross-training-style workouts respectively occupy the third and fourth slots.

See also The World’s Best Exercise. 

Rounding out women’s top ten are three more group-exercise activities—cardio kickboxing at number seven, Pilates at number eight and yoga at number ten—and two (probably) solo workouts: elliptical machines and stretching.
What can we conclude from this? Perhaps that women tend to be more social at the gym. Or maybe that they more often prefer having someone guide them through exercises versus generating their own workouts.

What about the guys?

So, how do women’s preferences differ from men’s? In nearly every way. The IHRSA study found that men and women have exactly zero of the same top ten favorite health-club offerings. Men’s number-one choice is also a class—group stationary cycling—but beyond that, men tend to opt for solo workouts, especially those that involve cardio and weight machines or free weights.

Which tells us what? Some stereotypes find basis in reality—women really are more likely to be social, while men usually like to go it alone, preferably with gear and machines involved.

That said, it’s good to remember that stereotypes are just that. If you fit them, great. If not, that’s fine, too. At least I hope—because you won’t find me doing water aerobics any time soon.

Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).

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