Exercise classes split opinion almost as much as politics. Some people will refuse point blank to ever do an exercise class, while others will never use a gym and instead do 14 Body Pump classes per week.
People who are gym only will call classes ‘lame’ and the class robots will call the gym ‘boring’. So, who is right? Are classes pointless and is the gym the only way to get real, long lasting results? Or is the gym just a vanity cave devoid of fun and purpose, while classes and their team vibe and motivational atmospheres are the only way to make exercise not a chore?
Having taught more than my fair share of classes, my take on them is as follows: Classes have the potential to be a very effective ally to fitness goals, but sadly, most people who do exercise classes waste their time and are getting short changed.
In most large scale gyms that run classes all week, you will find it quite entertaining to sit and watch many of the classic staples in action.
You’ll see the women at the back talking all the time and being oblivious to what’s going on around them. You’ll see the guys lifting far too heavy and running out of steam after the first track. You’ll see the old man who thinks he’s so fit because he does ‘4 classes per day’, but if he were to summon a full effort for one of those 4 classes and use proper form, he’d only do ‘1 class per day’.
You’ll see the women who ALWAYS look casual; the instructor may scream out “oh wow, we’re really feeling it, aren’t we?!” And they’ll be met with a deadpan nod that looks just the same as when the cashier at a supermarket asks them if that’s their shopping next in line. I’m sorry but it’s true.
Some Rules That Will Help You Not Be ‘That Person’
1) Realise that classes are intended to be your sole and main workout for the day.
Whether it’s a spin class, kettle bells, body pump, circuits or any other intense class, these are intended to kick your butt in their own individual style. The only exceptions I’d give to this is maybe following ONE of the above with something softer; something more rebuilding like yoga or any stretch based class.
2) Learn CORRECT technique and be aware of when your technique starts to degrade.
Let’s make this a campaign to stop classes being a half rep only zone;
No arched back, half rep push ups.
No half squats.
No top quarter pulse lunges.
It’s simple: If you can’t do full push ups, do them on your knees. Make things easier if you need. I will reiterate what any good exercise instructor should tell you: You’ll get more out of a full range knee push up than you would from a micro pulse ‘push up’ on your toes.
Do a little research. YouTube is wonderful for learning correct exercise form. Maybe have a personal training session to learn basic moves. Or better yet, make the superstar instructor teach you a thing or 2 instead of sticking religiously to their choreography and just shouting “come on”.
3) Be cognizant of how long you’ve been at your current level for.
It’s great to be the guy who’s been coming to his class for 20 years and has seen it all but hasn’t increased his weights since his second week, nor looks at all different. One of my biggest mantras as a personal trainer and fitness coach is letting performance change your appearance. No wonder the old guy with 20 years under his belt looks no different……..he hasn’t improved his performance 20 damn years!
Once you’ve established ideal technique (see above), you can start to tune into when it’s time to increase your weights a little. Classes aren’t designed for rapid weight increases anyway, so this may happen with 2kg rises every so many months, that’s ok. Just make sure it’s happening. I’d say 6 months is an absolute maximum; if you haven’t seen any progress by that point, you’ve definitely been ignoring the rules I’ve already outlaid.
4) Ask the instructor questions – the more the better.
Become a student of what you do. Ask what you can do to improve each time. Even though instructors have lots to keep an eye on, a good instructor should be able to spot individual weaknesses; someone might be a weak squatter or have issues pressing overhead……it can be anything. As I’ve written before, a trained eye watching you is invaluable. Pick their brains.
The truth is there are good and bad group exercise instructors. Some are good at motivational speaking but hopeless with technique and coaching. Others are great with anatomy and technique but are as much use as Captain Hook at a gynaecologists convention, when it comes to engaging and motivating people.
The best instructors however, are those who can both engage and motivate, as well as explain the whys of what you’re doing.
Stick to these laws and you’ll be fine with any class. If you know anyone knew to exercise that wants to start off with classes, show them this post. In fact, these rules apply to pretty much all of exercise – regardless of the modality.
As always, comments, questions and anything else welcome in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.
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