Sweat It Out
Finding connection and being vulnerable isn’t common in male culture, but Jesse Malthouse is creating a space for men to share their struggles. Georgia Beard discovers how his fitness program, The Boys Social Collective, challenges what it means to be masculine.
Domineering, aggressive, unbreakable. These are the markers of masculinity as men know it – a standard set by generations of fathers and expected by generations of mates.
In Australia’s sporting fields and stadiums, men have never embodied it more. The sports culture demands unyielding strength and invulnerability, which lasts long after players have stepped off the grass.
Involved in AFL games and clubs for years, Jesse Malthouse is familiar with this culture. When he experienced his own emotional struggles, his mates didn’t appear to be going through anything similar. Struggling just wasn’t ‘normal’.
“I always thought it was my issue, like it was something wrong with me,” he said. “In these groups and footie clubs, there can be a heavy influence of drugs and alcohol. Fitness and mental health are not really talked about.”
Staying silent about emotional weakness has given rise to problems in men’s mental health. In 2015-16, Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health found 25% of Australian men experienced a diagnosed mental health disorder in their lifetime.
The study also revealed 4% of men had no close friends; they lacked social support – someone to rely on, confide in and seek advice from.
As a result, lonely men were twice as likely as non-lonely men to have thought about suicide or made a suicide plan in the past year of the study.
With social issues piling up in recent years, it’s not surprising to see these numbers jump. The Australian Bureau of Statistics noted 13% of adults experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress in 2017–18, a number which increased to 15% in 2020-21.
Jesse’s recognition of how social and emotional isolation could damage men’s mental health led to his desire to create a safe space where conscious men could delve deeper, seek answers and grow as human beings.
In November 2021, he launched The Boys Social Club, a place to sweat, grow and connect through physical exercise and breathwork. He saw the potential for sport and group environments to lift men out of their struggles rather than push them down.
“I find it easier to talk about things that are happening in my life after I’ve had that physical activity,” he said. “You’ve got the energy flowing, the blood pumping.
“For guys, it’s important to have that release for your health. It gets everything out and flowing so it’s not so stagnant. Then when you have those conversations, it just comes out. You don’t have to think about it.”
The Boys SC is built on three pillars – Growth, Movement and Connection.
During sessions, men challenge their physical capacity with movement and exercise and find mental clarity by connecting and supporting one another.
As the facilitator, Jesse leads the group through period of constant workout followed by breathwork and meditation. Afterwards, he creates a safe space for stillness and talk.
He said the fear of judgement holds men back from being vulnerable about their struggles. They wait for others to take the initiative, but often that never happens.
“We encourage them to speak,” he said. “If someone feels called to share, they just share.
“Things start to come up – maybe things that have happened in the distant past or things that have happened in the last week. A couple of tears will be shed, but it’s a judge-free zone.
“If they need some other tools, then we catch up with them afterwards and we work through it.”
When men visiting from interstate showed up to sessions, Jesse saw a national need for programs like The Boys SC.
“I’d love to set a group up in Melbourne, Sydney and Western Australia for lads to have somewhere to go, to talk, to work out, to do breathwork,” he said. “It’s so powerful, and with mental health problems in men rising, it’s a must.”
The Boys SC meets from 5.30am to 6.30am every first Saturday at the Alexandra Heads Surf Club for a beach work out and every second Saturday at the outdoor gym north of Mooloolaba Esplanade. Sessions are free.
“Either come by yourself or grab a mate and bring him along,” Jesse encourages. “Don’t do it because your other mates are doing it. Just do it for you. If you want some change and you want to be surrounded by good blokes – people who are wanting to level up in life – then come on down.”
For more information, visit www.theboyssc.com or call Jesse on 0431 761 644 to get involved.