This scene may sound all too familiar: You want to try a group fitness class because you’ve heard they’re fun, motivating and challenging, but you can’t get yourself to walk through the class doors. You may have even been staking out the exercise classroom for weeks just to get a glimpse and prepare! After all, you don’t want to set up next to the gal who looks like she practices the routines at home!
If this is you, here’s a little sneak peek at a few of the group fitness staples in clubs across the country. Stop wondering what these classes are all about, and gather all the information about what these types actually are, what to expect in class, and their benefits!
Believe it or not, it’s true that you might still find this on the schedule at health clubs. It’s the gold standard and began back over two decades ago. Step can come in many forms: choreography that reminds you of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders’ reality show or athletic drills. Either way, it involves a step that has adjustable risers to increase intensity.
What to Expect: If you’re heading into a choreographed class, it’s a great idea to get to class early and let the instructor know you’re new and see if he/she can either preview some moves for you or help you after. The club may even have an introductory class you could attend to get the basics down.
Definitely set your step up in the middle of the room, not the back. Choreography turns in all directions so being in the middle will ensure you always have someone to watch!
Benefits: All step classes are great cardiovascular workouts that tend to keep your mind engaged, which allows time to fly by! Give yourself permission to get it wrong at first, and just keep moving.
Strength training comes in all shapes and sizes; you may find sculpting, toning, zoned workouts or trademarked classes such as BODYPUMP™. Whatever the format, these classes involve lifting some type of resistance to build muscles.
What to Expect: Review the description or ask your instructor for more information about what type of equipment you will use (handweights, barbells, tubing) and what to expect. It’s always good to know what muscle groups you’ll be working and how many repetitions you’ll be doing. Form is important, so position yourself where you can see the mirror and the instructor. Slow and controlled movements always produce better results than faster movements that allow you to use momentum. Don’t be afraid to ask for help after to see if you’re performing the moves correctly.
Benefits: Don’t let the lifting scare you! Muscles are good for you and help increase your metabolism even when you’re NOT exercising. It’s definitely a class to add to your list two to three times a week.
I don’t know of a group fitness schedule that doesn’t have core classes that are short, sweet and to the point, conveniently positioned before or after other cardio or strength classes.
What to Expect: Usually between 15-30 minutes in length, core classes may involve unstable surfaces (i.e. BOSU Balance Trainers or stability balls) to help you target all of the muscles in your midsection. Don’t be alarmed! These products are safe and super effective. Many core classes spend a lot of time on the floor, but progressive classes have you in variety of positions to target the core more effectively. As with strength training, form is essential. And, because many of the exercises are performed lying down, you may need to sit up, take a look at the instructor and lie back down to complete. A general rule of thumb, if something hurts, don’t do it! Ease into core exercises, shorten your levers (bend arms or legs) for a quick regression, and move slowly and with control for the best results.
Benefits: Short classes are a great way to tread lightly in the group fitness world! And of course, they will help you sculpt a sexier midsection!
Cycling, or Spinning™, as most folks call it, may look like the most intimidating group workout, but in actuality it’s one of the best places to get started! Of course, there are a few things that will enhance your experience, so see my tips below.
What to Expect: Wear stiff-soled shoes. There’s no need to invest in cycling shoes until you fall in love with the class, but a stiff-soled shoe will give you the best traction during your ride and help your feet stay comfortable. Wear tights on the bottom and moisture wicking fabric on the top. Again, no need to go over the top and get bike shorts and a jersey — just something that is tight fitting so nothing’s rubbing in the wrong place, and a shirt that will keep sweat off of you. Bring a towel, a water bottle and arrive a few minutes early to ask for help getting adjusted on your bike. Bike adjustment makes all the difference in the world; it won’t lead to comfort straight away but will keep you pain free and powerful. Don’t falsely assume you have to pedal FAST for a great workout or that pedaling slow will make it a ton easier on your first ride. A leg speed around 80 RPMs (revolutions per minute) is perfect. You control the intensity with the resistance knob (usually the red knob in front of you) and that’s what it’s all about!
Benefits: Cycling is easy on the joints yet serves as an amazing cardio workout.
Yoga just makes you think relaxation where everyone is welcome and everyone is successful! Get in on the action, for sure.
What to Expect: Check out whether or not your facility offers mats or if you need to bring your own (I’d suggest you get your own anyway; smelly feet and sweaty bodies ...enough said). You can pick up an inexpensive starter mat at nearly any store these days (or online here!). Arrive at least five minutes early and be sure you let your instructor know you’re new and alert her to any issues you may have with shoulders, knees, backs and such. Take it easy and listen carefully for any modifications that the instructor offers. Start with a shorter class first and progress to the longer ones.
Benefits: Yoga will help you relax, but, simultaneously, increase your flexibility, balance and strength.
Dance is hot and there are so many formats to try. Jump into a Zumba® class, a Funk class, a Glee-inspired routine or a Hip Hop Hustle™ class.
What to Expect: Be prepared to let loose and have a blast. The only thing that will hold you back is self-judgment. My biggest advice in dance classes is to just let it go. Remember, everyone around you is feeling the same way and they are way more concerned with what they look like than what YOU look like.
Benefits: It will help you raise your heart rate, improve muscle strength, coordination and balance — all while having fun!
Honestly, to make group fitness work for you, that’s what it’s all about. Find a great instructor and just get in there and do it! You will love the energy, the enthusiasm, the motivation, and the accountability. It may take a while to learn the moves, the new language or the rules of engagement, but just remember, we all put our spandex on one leg at a time! Enjoy!
Shannon Fable, 2013 IDEA and 2006 ACE Instructor of the Year, is the founder of SFR, a consulting firm for aspiring fitness educators, manufacturers and managers, as well as the owner of Balletone® and GroupEx Pro®. Shannon is a 15 year fitness veteran, freelance writer, as well as an international presenter for Schwinn®, BOSU and ACE. She is a member of the ACE Board of Directors, has helped author portions of the ACE and ACSM Group Fitness manuals, and has starred in over 25 fitness videos. Shannon is a certified Book Yourself Solid® Business Coach interested in helping fitness professionals navigate the fitness industry and find their place. She's busy improving the self-esteem of the world as the the Director of Exercise Programming for the Anytime Fitness Franchise.