There’s a demographic divide when it comes to fitness. According to Sport England the amount of men who regularly exercise or play sport exceeds the amount of women by two million, and if the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign has taught businesses anything, it’s that a significant proportion of female consumers aren’t signing up for classes or memberships out of fear of being judged over their appearance or ability.
So, in an industry where overtly idealised and one-dimensional images of women are alienating prospective customers, marketing the ‘mud, sweat and tears’ connotations of the obstacle course towards a female market seems to have taken a back seat in the male dominated sport – up until now.
With obstacle courses now positioned as the fastest growing sport in U.S. history, and the industry worth in excess of one billion dollars, ignoring half the population’s potential spending power is no longer an option for brands looking for longevity – so women’s fitness is getting tough.
Mudderella, a women’s only obstacle race is one of a handful of recent courses that has been penetrating the sector and Communications Manager, Carol Gottshall explained why she thinks it has been connecting so well with consumers:
“Fitness is not one-size-fits-all, and what we heard when we were developing Mudderella is that many women wanted to take part in an assault course, but didn’t feel like the events in the marketplace at the time were meeting their real fitness needs. These women were looking to take on a challenge that empowered them to overcome obstacles and fears and work together while having a great time — but they didn’t want to have to spend every spare moment in the gym, and they didn’t want to give up on social time with their friends and family.
“We designed Mudderella specifically to meet these needs. Our obstacles test real-world, full-body fitness, focusing on balance, agility and core strength, and our obstacles are fun and engaging. It’s also a non-competitive team event, so women train and take part alongside their friends and family. Mudderella is about encouraging women to overcome fears and work together, which is a big driver for our participants.”
And the design strategy has paid off. Since Mudderella’s first event in 2013 over 100,000 people have participated globally and that number continues to grow.
“There’s a growing popularity for the event because many women are looking for a true athletic workout that empowers them to work together, be social and have a great time while taking on obstacles that genuinely challenge them,” Gottshall told Welltodo.
Aside from Mudderella, The Dirty Girl Mud Run, Pretty Muddy and Diva Dash have all emerged as front-runners amidst the explosion of women’s only races globally, but for some participants the feeling is that although it’s great that more women are being encouraged to try the sport, it’s more rewarding when both genders compete together.
Spartan World Champion and two time ‘World’s Toughest Mudder’ winner, Amelia Boone believes that courses shouldn’t “dumb down” obstacles or make them easier in order to attract more women.
“I think one of the greatest things is going toe to toe with men, and then completing/beating them on courses knowing that women and men are out there doing the same thing.”
But while multi-sex races have seen a rise in the number of female participants, these courses are still largely dominated by men. UK born, Tough Mudder, which is estimated to be worth upwards of £50 million, is one of the most successful courses to date, however its current participant ratio of 70% men compared to 30% women, shows there’s still a long way to go.
“Women are increasingly interested in taking part in Tough Mudder events,” Sarah Harvey, COO told Welltodo. And “since the series launched in the UK in 2012, female participation rates have increased from 18% (4k women) to over 30% in 2015 (30k women).”
Harvey, who predicts that numbers will continue to grow, believes that as more women have grown to understand the challenging, teamwork-based and non-race nature of the event, the more appealing it has become to them.
“The environment of teamwork and camaraderie makes it less intimidating than some other events – and the emphasis on teamwork (95% of Mudders take on the challenge with a team) lets women know they won’t be left alone to complete the obstacles. People from all walks of life take part in Tough Mudder for a variety of reasons, so you see women and men getting a helping hand from mates on the course.
“Certain obstacles evoke different fears for different people, so while some women may struggle with obstacles that require upper body strength, for example, others may be challenged by obstacles with height or confined spaces. For obstacles that require climbing up a wall (like Hero Walls) or pulling yourself over (like Everest 2.0), you really get to play off each other’s strengths and lean on your teammates to help you up and over,” Harvey explained.
Interestingly, Tough Mudder hasn’t overtly tried to target female consumers, instead positioning itself as a universally open event, so are they missing a trick?
In an era that according to Boone is witnessing a larger movement with regard to focusing on women as strong and capable, as well as judging them by their accomplishments and physical strength rather than appearance, for obstacle course brands the marketing opportunities are rife.
“These courses are definitely a part of this movement, and have opened up pathways for women to compete alongside men, to show that we are strong and resilient and determined,” says Boone. But as of yet the figures show that the industry’s full potential is yet to be unlocked.
Despite the market’s slow adoption rate when it comes to female consumers, Boone says she’s having a blast and will carry on competing. “The industry seems to continue to grow and I think we haven’t seen the height of its popularity yet. I always encourage anyone I know to go out there and give it a go – you’ll make it through. It may not be pretty, it may not be fast, but it’s fun!”