The Many Problems with Your Group Exercise Classes

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The fitness world gets set ablaze every so often with the latest group class. Whatever your side interests are, there’s either a workout DVD or a studio somewhere that runs a class to meet you interests. These classes usually include the words incinerator, madness, lunacy, and even psychosis. Combine the name with your interests – such as working out with karate kicks, dancing, or training like a medieval knight – and you have a supposed recipe for success.

I encourage group exercises classes for two reasons: to burn off some steam and meet new people. If you want to have some fun, then by all means…throw on your leg warmers and start dancing around. The rubber meets the road when you want specific results. Want to lose body fat? Need to get stronger? Have some knee pain you need to get rid of? A group class might help you start moving, but your individual issues need precise attention.

If you’re a fan of group classes, I’m not exactly dumping on them. All I’m saying is that you need to rationalize things and decide you specifically want from your efforts. After all, it’s your own personal time and not much of it gets devoted to getting in shape, let alone the other things you want to do. Better make the most of it!

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Because it’s Fun, Fun, Fun

The marketing behind group classes is that they’re fun, and that’s pretty much it. So is going to the movies, riding a roller coaster, and dominating your little nephew in a game of air hockey (the last one is my personal favorite). That means when it comes time to have fun, what do you choose? Your group class might get bumped in order to go to your favorite restaurant. So who wins?

Training should be fun, and by fun we mean that you’re enhancing new movements, perfecting technique, and learning new things about yourself. The joy from training comes into play when you push yourself past what you thought you were capable of, not jumping around an aerobics room to a fun song. The first is priceless, the second is something you can do in your bedroom.

True story: I once saw a guy in an aerobics room use different Gatorade bottles on the studio lights to mimic the lights in a club. This is what he did during my entire workout (I was on the gym floor and the aerobics room was all glass). I’m sure he thought he was clever, and his real goal was to probably land a phone number from someone else in the class, but do you want to get in shape or do you want to be entertained?

It’s All in the Numbers

A major problem with group classes is the lack of individual attention. In a study done designing a circuit training regimen for group instructors, researchers commented that measurements and body fat were not measured because of the large group of individuals (1). Doesn’t sound like a big deal, and some health professionals may even cite the fact that if your clothes don’t fit the same anymore, you’re doing a good thing. Maybe so, but this is only the start of some of the problems.

Are the moves in the class safe for your current abilities? Are you doing the moves properly? I’ve seen a host of problems from people who have become a casualty of group classes. Even if the instructor means well, it’s hard to keep your eye on everyone with so many things going on.

Everyone has different needs from an exercise program. Some need more mobility while others need more strength in certain aspects of human movement. My job is to help people fix their weaknesses so they can get even better at their strengths. This is hard to do when 25 other people are competing for the instructor’s attention.

Lunacy, Crazy, and Psychotic

Tell a client to workout three days a week and they’ll try four. Tell someone to run 2 miles and they’ll run 3. More is always better, right? Not so, but this seems to be the issue with group classes. The bar constantly needs to be elevated and make the class more intense and just plain crazy. Classes now incorporate plyometrics (jumping and propelling the body to produce more power), strength training, sprinting, and other things that I can’t even describe.

The result is more aches, pains, and injuries to the point where people are rolled out of the class on a gurney. You get in shape by following a specific plan, not by running around as hard as you can to the point of injury.

Part Time Instructors

Everyone has the right to earn a living, but many instructors work on their classes part time. I’ve come across many group class teachers who had a regular full time job. Is this something that will stop the Earth from spinning on its axis? Probably not, but if I want to be trained safely and effectively, I don’t want a part time anything anywhere near me.

Would you want a part time surgeon to perform open heart surgery on you? What about going to a dentist needing a root canal? The fact is, you want to spend your hard earned money working with someone who has dedicated their life to developing their craft and treats their career as a profession. The last thing they want is to be your workout buddy.

There’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. In a research study performed years ago, researchers discovered that the average aerobic instructor had a body fat above 20%(1). That doesn’t sound too bad, but keep in mind that the average in-shape female client should have a body fat around 15% (which isn’t anywhere near what an elite level female athlete would be at). It’s hard to get in better shape than the person teaching you.

If you enjoy your group class, and you’re free of aches and pains, by all means, don’t quit. There are worse things in the world to do with your spare time than burning some extra calories and meeting people trying to live a healthy life. The issue comes in when you ask yourself what you want from your training. Remember, do you want to get in shape, or do you want to be entertained?


[toggle title=”References“]

1. Simonson, Shawn R. “Teaching the Resistance Training Class: A Circuit Training Course Designed for the Strength and Conditioning Coach/Personal Trainer.” (2010) Strength and Conditioning Journal 32;3, 90- 96

2. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego: Chek Institute Publishing. 2004, page 160-161 [/toggle]


Originally written: August 27, 2014


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