by Michael O’Neill
Goals of this article
- Get a breadth of knowledge on the benefits and drawbacks of the most popular fitness classes.
- Find one that matches your goals, research classes near you, and just try one!
There are so many group exercises fitness classes out there. It can be quite difficult to choose one that will be most effective for you. There are classes for stretching, cycling, booty shaking, pole dancing, and many more. Each one has their own unique spin on fitness exercises and goals. The most basic way to find out which one you like the most is to simply try them! Some are limited in availability such as CrossFit or a new yoga inspired high intensity interval training workout, because they are specific to certain gyms.
As a personal trainer, I personally recommend classes as a way to get a variety of unique body movements and new training styles into your workout regimen. Not only are classes fun, but they foster a sense of camaraderie. At the same time, learning new movements can also highlight weaknesses in your body creating perfect opportunities for improvement. Try taking a yoga class to test your flexibility. Try taking a spin class to test your lung capacity and endurance. Take a barre class to test your legs and core. Each class is an opportunity to learn about yourself.
My best advice is to join a gym that contains as many group exercise classes as possible. Depending on if you live in L.A. where every class on the planet is offered, or a small town in Mississippi, the amount of classes available to you will vary. Here are seven of the most popular classes and their associated benefits and drawbacks.
- Bootcamp/Circuit Training: Probably the most basic of all group exercise fitness classes. Any bootcamp or circuit training class involves doing multiple workouts with limited to no rest time in between sets. Circuit training is by definition a series of exercises done one after the other, so there can be any number of combinations of exercises and workouts associated with bootcamp and circuit training classes. They can often be medium to high intensity, so remember to bring a water bottle and go at your own pace. If you cannot handle certain exercises during the circuit, ask the group exercise instructor who can give you a modified version.
- Yoga: A cornerstone of fitness, yoga is a meditative form of exercising that involves a series of weird named poses that are meant to alleviate thought and enhance flexibility. Yoga should be part of everyone’s exercise regimen no matter what level athlete (or non-athlete) you are. Flexibility is required to do exercises effectively, and if you do not have the flexibility to perform a deadlift or a squat, you underserve your muscles, and you won’t get the results you want as quickly or effectively. Yoga helps your range of motion in every aspect of exercise, and that range of motion ensures whatever exercise you do fully develops the entire muscle you are working on. Yoga can be quite uncomfortable in the beginning, but dedicate yourself to it for at least one month, and you will truly start to feel the benefits, both physically and mentally.
- Spin: Spin can be one of the most high-intensity group exercise classes—depending on the instructor. As with all classes, you can go at your pace, but if you really want to try to keep up with the instructor, you will be drenched in sweat by the end. I highly recommend spin class for anyone looking for a difficult workout, but especially for people who have issues with knees or leg pain. Spin is a low-impact workout meaning there isn’t a lot of force put onto your joints, so you are able to workout for extended periods of time without aggravating previous injuries.
- Pilates: Pilates is great for anyone trying to improve flexibility, core strength, body awareness, posture, and general movement (1). Incorporating movements on the ground, or using a machine that uses a system of pulleys and springs, pilates provides an effective means of physical therapy and pain relief. Not so much used for cardiovascular health or muscle gain, pilates is used more for toning and improving functionality of the body. No matter what level athlete you are, pilates will ensure you get the core strength to stabilize all of your body movements whether you are working out or not. Pilates can be found in a lot of gyms, but is mostly done in very small classes, or one on one. It can be a little pricier compared to other classes, but the money is definitely worth the benefits.
- Zumba: If you absolutely hate working out, but you’re social and like to have fun, Zumba may be a great fit for you. Incorporating dancing and booty shaking, Zumba provides a fun and energetic atmosphere where for an hour, you can dance and jiggle your worries (and calories) away. Of course, it’s not all easy. Zumba is a class where you are constantly moving, but instructors always do their best to make sure you are having a good time while providing benefits to your body. Zumba is a great class if you are looking to meet new people, learn some new moves, or simply get your groove on.
- Barre: Barre class is a form of ballet training that incorporates the wooden “barre” that is so commonly seen in dancing studios. Being a low impact form of training, barre is great for those with joint pain and those looking to strengthen their core, arms, abdominals, hips, and thighs (2). When looking into the window of a barre class, it may not seem like they aren’t doing much, but try one out for yourself. You will notice your legs burn after doing little leg lifts for two minutes straight. Barre is awesome for those with previous injuries that requires little to no impact on their joints.
- CrossFit: One of the fastest growing “classes” out there, CrossFit has been quickly gaining a huge following of those devoted to fitness. CrossFit incorporates olympic lifting, functional exercising, high intensity interval training, kettlebells, jumping rope, box jumps, sleds, elephants, you name it… CrossFit is done in smaller timed intervals (normally 30 minute workouts), but they are extremely high intensity, and I would recommend it for those athletes who want a challenge. CrossFit can accommodate those new to working out and can be a great learning tool for those wanting to learn olympic lifting. The community in the “boxes” tends to be fairly advanced and is always pushing one another to higher levels of fitness. CrossFit is among the most expensive of the classes. CrossFit “boxes” are normally their own entities, separate from big corporate gyms, each one individualized based on the owner. Monthly rates range anywhere from $100 to $300, depending on where you are working out. However, if you want that community and support behind you, the CrossFit community will welcome you with open arms and deep squats.
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