Take a close look at the world of men's fitness today. It is a great space to spy an inside look at what is happing in larger male issues of identity, self-confidence, gender roles and body image.
As the male black sheep of the yoga world, or should I say "disruptor" (as Yoga Magazine called me in an August 2016) I know first hand about the shifting world of men's fitness.
All month, Huffington Post is exploring the issues of "building modern men" while, since 2012, I have been physically working to do just that. It was then I founded Broga® fitness yoga in the UK and EU as a counterbalance to the heavily female dominated yoga offerings in the market.
I have been in sports competitively since I can remember (as a former California beach lifeguard and swimmer, US collegiate football player and NABBA Super Heavyweight bodybuilding competitor). In all that time, no coach, book or course ever taught me or espoused a balanced approach to any kind of extensive training I was doing. Only that if you were going to get to the top, don't expect a terribly long lifespan before you got injured and got shoved off the hill by someone younger and better.
Cut to today, where top athletes are now much more fully rounded machines who (unsurprisingly ) can keep playing as champions even into their 40s!
So what has shifted. How are we building this new modern man?
1. The importance of rest. Top athletes now get their cortisol or stress hormones monitored for overtraining and lack of rest . When levels are too high they are encouraged to reduce training, have active recovery days and increase sleep. And now, even the average joe fitness goer tracks and monitors his sleep on some kind of wearable tech. We have all discovered the power of rest as part of a balanced process of growth.
2. Mobility is a must. The fastest growing US sport both in participation and viewers in the last decade has definitely been CrossFit - where participants are asked to be adaptable and able at everything and anything. Interest in callisthenics and yoga for men are also both on a dramatic rise. A study by the Yoga Alliance shows that male participation in yoga classes is now at 28% from 14% six years earlier. Not being flexible and mobile is no longer cool.
3. The 6 pack diet. While women are posting sexy face selfies, their male counterparts are posting "check my abs" shots. Fitness minded men now have the diet and nutrition to match and are eating lean proteins, low gi carbs, limited sugars. Having 6 or better yet 8 pack abs are the new de rigeur benchmark of alpha male virility in the dating world. Old school Arnold bodybuilding is dead, and in its place has risen the physique model competitor. Even the stalwart Olympia contest (the Olympics of bodybuilding ) now host a men's model category. This is a much more achievable goal than the massive steroid pumped bodies of the past, and as a result everyone thinks they are, or can be, a sponsored athlete model. Especially since their 10k instagram followers are validating that notion.
4. If you got it flaunt it. Athleisurewear is not just for women any more. All these new male model bodies need to be appreciated and admired, and men are no longer afraid to show off their assets. Until now this was reserved exclusively for women. Supported by rising brands like Under Amour, men are much more likely to be sporting a coordinated superhero-esque outfit with matching trainers than a baggy cotton tee shirt and mismatched basketball shorts. In fact, proper training now means not just living and doing the part , but looking it as well.
5. Group classes are no longer for girls. With classes like Spin, Body Pump and Insanity taking hold in studios, men are stepping off the gym floor and discovering the studio environment for the first time. And while studio timetables used to be Zumba and Aerobics classes dominated by women, now a wide range for fitness classes are attracting men to group fitness. The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association reports that male group fitness participation is up to 38% from 20% in 2012. Turns out men are pack animals after all.
So based on these trends, what is in my crystal ball for the future?
Firstly, there will no longer gender lines in fitness. Expect men to have more fun and be more social with their fitness and take on activities previously designated ladies only: circus arts, yoga, dance. And second, don't be shocked by men in tights and shamelessly showing off EVERYTHING they've got and worked for- the same way ladies have been teasing forever the last 30 years of fitness!