Group exercise classes: the good and the bad
Group exercise classes have been quite popular for some time. There are definitely some great things about group exercise classes, some bad things, and some downright horrible things about group classes. I’m going to steer clear of bashing the horrible things about group exercise, as they are quite obvious.
What might not be so apparent are the good and bad things about such classes you should consider. I won’t give you my thoughts based on just the physiological principles, but also the perspectives that hundreds of non-fitness folks share with me every day. Another often overlooked point is how you can determine determine if you are a good fit for group exercise classes. That’s what I’ll discuss today.
The good things about Group Fitness Classes
1. You feel less like an ass: Some people don’t like being the focus of attention; singled out to have their weaknesses exposed. They prefer to blend into the background, more passively acclimate to the situation until they reach a certain comfort level. Also, when you are trying something new, it might feel good to look around and see others are in the same situation you are, equally clueless but eager to learn. Dance lessons, ski lessons, and cooking classes are other common examples of this.
2. It costs less: This is a no-brainer. Many people look at the price tag of one-to-one services and group services and clearly they see group training as much less expensive.
3. There’s not so much of a commitment: Similar to #1, group classes let you lurk in the shadows. If you don’t show up, you don’t need to cancel, pay a fee, or feel bad for standing someone up.
4. You don’t have to think much: Sometimes it’s nice to simply do what someone says and follow their lead. No planning or brain effort needed – just follow along. This is was pointed out to me by one of my clients years back – sometimes it’s good to shut the brain down and just go.
5. Social support: Having a group of peers around you pushing, sweating, and giving signs of encouragement is huge. This is especially true for athletes, as the team culture pushes them to higher levels. This is also a proven benefit of support groups as well.
The bad things about Group Fitness Classes
1. Difficult environment to learn: People have different learning styles and learn at different paces. Some like things explained to them first: “This is what we are doing, this is why. Here’s the right way and the wrong way”. This is often followed by demonstration, then a chance to do it yourself, followed by feedback and tweaking. I am a classic example of someone who needs this learning style. I use this method often when teaching others, which I call the “tell, show, do, review” strategy.
The other issue is that the goal of most classes is to push the pace and challenge the most fit in the room. This often leaves the less fit or more timid in the dust.
Finally, there is usually a lot of noise and distractions (the smelly dude next to you, why is that lady still wearing rainbow leg warmers, etc) which can make learning how to do a program properly next to impossible.
2. Hard to individualize your plan: Many of us have unique needs. If you are very strong and fit, you often need specialized techniques to push you. Conversely, if you are very de-conditioned, you need extensive modifications of your plan to make it suitable for your needs. Others have injuries which keep rearing their ugly heads with little understanding as why, and still others need extensive monitoring due to certain conditions. Finally, some need planning that extends beyond sets and reps, but more about strategy and scheduling. For example, and executive with 3 kids and frequently travels may need more help with planning a training routine that fits their crazy schedule than anything else.
3. Bias towards aerobics:
For some reason, group classes have been heavily resembled aerobic dance competitions or solid gold performances. There is nothing wrong with that, unless you need to preserve muscle mass to increase metabolism or simply are not a good dancer. Yes, I know that there are these muscle pump classes and power yoga classes (which is like jumbo shrimp or gentle football) but they are still mostly aerobic classes. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you are also doing real resistance training in addition.
4. There’s not so much of a commitment: Yes, this was also cited as a good thing, but you can see how it would be a bad thing as well. Let’s face it, we all have some issues with commitment (if not big fitness gyms would all go under – you don’t really think big gyms do well if all their members show up, do you?). But when we have to commit, we tend to see good things happen. And the reality is that long term health results require commitment.
5. Individual accountability: Social accountability is great, but we must also cultivate individual accountability. This means 2 things: 1. Being accountable to only your unique goals and 2. Cultivating the sense of being accountable to yourself, not to some group.
Can you get all the good and none of the bad?
This is a question I’ve pondered for quite some time. At Spectrum, we are known most for our core 1 to 1 services, but we do have small group and workshop based training as well. Our goal is to always innovate so we can provide the best services for various needs. That has forced me to consider whether we can provide all the good aspects of group training while avoiding the bad aspects.
Is group exercise right for you?
There are a few things you need to ask yourself to determine if group training is right for you:
- Do you strongly prefer one-to-one instruction and have failed at group approaches?
- Are you incredibly shy and don’t like to ask questions in a group?
- Do you have very unique needs? (i.e. want to compete in a unique sport event, have an injury that has not been properly assessed and managed, have a cardiac condition that requires constant monitoring, are very distracted in group settings?)
If you said yes to the above issues, than group fitness classes might not be for you. Otherwise, a proper group exercise program may be exactly what you need.
Not sure if they are right for you? You can always request a consultation with us, and we can help you determine if group classes are a good option or not.
Here’s to more of the good and less of the bad in group fitness classes!