Group Fitness Glory: Tips to Maximize Results and EnjoymentJul 31, 2023 08:30AM ● By Cristina Parker
People are by nature social creatures, and, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, human connection can lead to a longer life, better health and improved well-being. It should come as no surprise that for exercising, a group setting can also be a plus.
Led by a knowledgeable teacher and populated by like-minded participants, fitness classes offer a great way to jumpstart an exercise regimen and achieve fitness goals. Although some people may feel vulnerable when trying a new physical activity in front of strangers, there are ways to overcome the anxiety. Exercising together can transform a workout into a fun, motivating, socially fulfilling activity.
Find the Right Classes
In most cities, an array of group fitness classes is available at gyms, YMCAs, community centers, medical facilities and other public and private venues. The diverse choices include Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance; barre, which incorporates ballet movements; spin cycling, or high-intensity stationary biking; many forms of yoga; the mind-body practice known as Pilates; and boot camp, a military-inspired workout that incorporates strength building with strenuous aerobics. Free group activities are often available, too, such as walking, running, dancing or hiking meetups.
Classes may be posted online and onsite. Scheduling apps can assist the search for nearby options, including ClassPass (ClassPass.com) and MindBody (MindBodyOnline.com) for classes and OneRoof (OneRoofApp.com) and Nextdoor (Nextdoor.com) for neighborhood meetups.
“Fitness classes are not one-size-fits-all, and finding an environment and a movement style that matches you can help you be more successful in your fitness journey,” says Jillian Aeder, a Denver-based doctor of physical therapy at Hinge Health and a certified athletic trainer. She recommends trying different studios and types of classes when starting out.
Be Consistent and Accountable
“Group classes are usually conducted on a weekly basis at the same time to help people find consistency in their workouts,” says Britney Kimball, a professional dancer and certified Pilates instructor for BK Movement Health, in New York City. “Attending the same class every week not only helps you see the benefits of fitness faster, but also creates a comfortability with the instructor, the class and the people around you.”
Amber Grundy, a doctor of physical therapy and fitness instructor in Philadelphia, says, “Group fitness programs can be helpful in keeping you accountable for exercising on a regular basis. It makes you feel a part of a community, bringing together multiple fitness levels that can help challenge and motivate.”
Fitness classes offer the thrill of competition, Aeder says, noting, “I have seen firsthand how group settings help improve participation, performance and ultimately results.” Some classes encourage a healthy dose of competition by displaying scores, ranking attendees in speed or agility, or implementing tiers within an all-level class. In a 2011 study of older adults published in The International Journal of Sport and Society, researchers found that seniors like a challenge, enjoy “winning things” and are motivated to work harder when engaging in competition.
To alleviate anxiety about joining a new program, Kimball recommends that people show up to class early, introduce themselves and ask questions. “An instructor will love it when you’re involved, wanting to learn and openly communicating with them,” she explains.
Grundy suggests managing expectations. “Read the description of the class before attending to learn what to expect, and if you’re worried about past injuries or limitations, review that with the instructor. Often, group classes will offer options based on difficulty level. It’s OK for a beginner to take an expert class so long as they take breaks throughout the workout.”
Group classes have one very important advantage over individual training: cost. According to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, a one-on-one personal training session may begin at $80, whereas a group class with 10 students could be $20 each. Lower costs make sustained attendance more achievable.
Enjoy the Company
“The group setting is a nice way to both meet new people and spend extra time with friends or family,” says Grundy. “The camaraderie makes participants more accountable; many leave class saying, ‘See you next time!’ or asking, ‘Where have you been?’”
Reap the Results
Kimball has noticed her students walk out feeling better, looking more confident and going into the rest of their day in a better mood. She says, “Oftentimes we are our own biggest critic, but it is important to push past that to show up, move the body and have fun.”
Cristina Parker holds a doctorate in physical therapy. She is a researcher, health content writer, educator and clinician specializing in neurologic disorders, limb-loss rehabilitation and adaptive sports techniques.