Group exercise promotes socialization, accountability, participation and motivation to achieve your fitness goals.
The Biggest Loser, NBC’s big reality TV show that has been a hit since its debut in 2004, presents a mixed message on weight loss and fitness. Fitness enthusiasts appreciate the fact that diet and exercise – not pills and surgery – are the paths to weight loss and better health. I share this sentiment.
(Facing down hair loss presents its own set of choices: to use topical treatments or pharmaceuticals to staunch the loss, to shave off what’s left – or to use a hair replacement system. Perhaps this, too, will make for a great reality show one day.)
But the all-or-nothing approach, with boot-camp-style trainers, mass public scrutiny and the occasional medical emergency, suggests something else. Is it necessary to quit one’s job and go away to a “fat camp” with the possibility of ending up in a hospital? Sensible weight management for anyone of any size should mean a loss of one or two pounds per week, but on this show ten pounds or more per week is celebrated.
True, this is television, where anything less would be as exciting as watching paint dry. If your own reality is to face down fitness without an audience, take heart. You can engage in group exercise according to personal preferences – there are many different types of classes from which to choose.
The benefits of group classes, aside from the instruction itself, are socialization with other class members, accountability to drive consistent participation and motivation to achieve your goals. That said, four classes outlined here offer different benefits and demand varying skills and effort on the part of participants. All have their merits.
The benefits of four group exercise classes
- Ride (sometimes referred to as “spin”) classes on stationary bicycles are widely available and draw very devoted participants. Your entry into the sport requires no particular skills, not even knowing how to ride a bike (on stands, the bikes will not topple). Some clubs follow a prescribed music program, but many instructors are identified by their individual music choice, which has a great effect on the mood and pace of the class. Participants rise up from their seats, peddle against a high level of resistance or pump their legs at a rapid pace in various combinations. Some people find the exercise is too taxing on bad knees; however, a moderate initial approach can strengthen those knees. A single 45-minute session could burn 700 or more calories; with a focus on intensity, that burn could last up to 36 hours after the class is finished.
- Yoga is mistakenly thought by many to involve relaxation; however, such an idea is dashed within the first 15 minutes. The business of stretching ultimately requires and builds strength; as you hold a position, it demands your body to find balance – muscles are engaged in ways that rarely occur in workday living. Calories burned per 45-minute class might be around 330, but most participants find the benefits of yoga to be flexibility, strength – and relaxation after the class is finished.
- Pilates is a cousin of yoga, although devotees of either may beg to differ. Pilates is largely done on a floor, its focuses being body awareness (everyday posture, with a strong core) and symmetry in motion. It claims many celebrities as adherents (Madonna, Sting and Cameron Diaz, among others). Pilates’ particular focus on the core – largely the lower back, oblique, abdominal and hip muscles – can be hugely beneficial to persons with lower back pain. Many physical therapists employ Pilates in their practice, but responsible professionals urge patients to get a full diagnosis of their back problems before adopting Pilates as the cure. A vigorous 45-minute class might induce a 325-calorie burn.
- Boot camp workouts can be many different things. Ideally, they are activities that force participants to move in a variety of planes of motion – in contrast, for example, to the limited moves one does on an exercise bicycle. If the class has 10 participants, it might also have 10 different exercises, switched every 20 or 30 seconds and conducted continuously for several minutes between breaks. The physiological advantage is that the workout offers a high metabolic burn: during class, since the heart rate is kept at a maximum, and after class because there is likely muscular development in every class (assuming good variety is offered across days and weeks of the program). But the militaristic nature of anything bearing the name “boot camp” doesn’t work for many people – a self-actualized adult who happens to not yet be in shape may not take well to being singled out for critical motivation. Caloric burns vary but expect something in the 500-700 range.
Group exercise classes vary by as much as the different fitness instructors who teach them. As a certified fitness trainer with some experience teaching ride classes and participating as a trainee in the other forms, my recommendation is to try them all and mix them up. Variety really does create the best balance – and without a TV audience, you aren’t limited to a broadcast season