Jim Duffy: 24hr gyms are breaking down gender barriers

THE MODEL for the low-cost airline has been extended to the way we workout with some welcome results, says Jim Duffy

Training techniques have changed in the gym with resistance training  being the new in thing. Picture: Contributed
Training techniques have changed in the gym with resistance training  being the new in thing. Picture: Contributed
Training techniques have changed in the gym with resistance training being the new in thing. Picture: Contributed

When Texas-based SouthWest Airlines introduced its low cost, lean business model to the skies over the US, it disrupted the market big time – it became the blueprint for others to follow. It’s ‘ten-minute turn’, relating to rapid on the tarmac turnaround times for aircraft, is the global model for other airlines – such as easyJet and Ryanair. I do enjoy standing in the ‘Boarding now’ queue as the aircraft arrives and is basically re-fuelled and cleared to load up again. The commercial rationale behind this is to ‘sweat the asset’, in this case the airplane and its crew. If it’s on the ground, it ain’t making money.

Who would have thought today that this model would be adopted by so many other business sectors? How about the humble gymnasium? The rise and rise of the 24-hour ‘unmanned’ gym has surely arrived with the likes of PureGym and The Gym sprouting up in a city centre near you. And with companies like these growing at a rate of knots – so is the new gym culture…

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Gym members, or bunnies, get a monthly direct debit membership for about £12 and they can use the facilities seven days a week at any time of the day. They get state-of-the-art machines, a clean air conditioned environment with secure entry and fancy TVs with piped-in, high octane chart music. The gym staff, as I understand it, only get paid to man the place about 12 hours a week and in this time they can individually work with clients on a personal basis (where they can use the gym to train them and they pocket the cash on a self employed basis). How lean is that? Hence why these gyms are so cheap – small wage bills and tiny PAYE.

It’s a model that is working really well and almost every month I see new gyms opening in UK cities and towns.

With this though, there is something strange developing ... something I have never seen in the gym before. Usually, and historically, in any gym I have been a member of, females went to spin classes, ran on running machines and did aerobics, while blokes used the running machines before hitting the weights room. It was almost a clearly delineated typing of who did what in the gym. Men did weights – resistance training using free weights and machines, while women did group classes aptly named Bums and Tums and the like.

The lines have undoubtedly become blurred now within the new gym culture. More and more women are choosing weight training as a staple part of their fitness regime. The advent of the new, highly-informed gym instructor has resulted in the old ways of thinking being abandoned. It is becoming widely accepted that jogging for 30 minutes on a treadmill doesn’t really do much for your fitness. The new thinking is that a wee jog is a good warm up only. The in vogue gym thinking is resistance training – weights – as it burns calories, and not only whilst doing it but indeed afterwards when you’ve left the gym and your body expends calories re-building spent muscle fibres. So, now I see more and more women engage in resistance training to tone up, burn calories and develop anaerobic fitness.

But this has now moved on to a new more exciting level, a level that I can say I’m really glad exists. Woman are now deadlifting. Why does that make me happy? Well, the deadlift for me – as an ectomorph – has always been seen as the realm of the weightlifter, bodybuilder or powerlifter (I am told there is a distinction between all three). The deadlift, in essence, is the most basic exercise in the gym: two weights on either end of a long bar sitting on the ground and you bend down and lift it up - however, I am being slightly flippant here. There is real technique involved and if executed incorrectly it can result in serious damage to one’s back. In short, you pick a weight up, but you need to know a wee bit about the physiology of it all. Google ‘deadlift’.

I was always reticent about doing a deadlift in the gym. Firstly, I would have to put a small amount of weight on the bar. Right away, the big boys are judging you - and when you see them do it you can feel a little inadequate. But, recently I have plucked up the courage to set up the bar and start deadlifting. By the way, it’s one of the best all-over body workouts in the gym: from back to arms to legs, plus it hits the posterior chain. Apparently that’s all very good stuff. But, I just love seeing women now having the confidence to load up a bar and do deadlifts. It’s almost as if they have de-masculinated this area of the gym and planted a stick in that says: ‘Move over boys – I’m deadlifting’.

And that’s what I like about these new low cost gyms that are cropping up everywhere – the layouts and culture. Free weights sit with machines alongside treadmills and ellipticals. There is no forbidden male territory that says ‘Keep out – beefcakes training’. The spaces feel more open and the instructors train men and women all over the space, sending out a signal that there is no restricted territory and gender does not come into play.

Once a week, I stick 70KG on a bar and crack out five sets of 6-8 deadlifts. I’m no longer embarrassed at this weight, which actually seems to be a sweetspot weight for so many women I see deadlifting. All power to their elbow.

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Women can deadlift, and I, for one, feel so much better for it. Thank you!

• Jim Duffy is the Chief Executive Optimist of Entrepreneurial Spark