Fitness classes are all the rage, especially this time of year.
As soon as January 1st rolls around, thousands and thousands of people start signing up for Zumba, spinning, cardio kickboxing, yoga, bootcamps, or whatever other group fitness classes are offered in their areas. Hell, even Jazzercise is still around after all these years.
What is it about training in this kind of setting that’s appealing to so many people, and is this something you should pursue?
Of course, that depends on your goals and what you want from your training, but there are a lot of good reasons for training in a group class setting, and many of our trainers lead GMB classes around the world. It’s not the right approach for everyone, though.
In this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons of training in a group setting, so you can find the approach that works for you.
3 Reasons to Start Going to Group Fitness Classes
Let’s start with the pros of training in a class setting (good news if you just bought a full year’s worth of Zumba classes).
1. Great for Motivation and Staying Consistent
Training with a community can be powerfully motivating. Working out with peers of similar or higher fitness level tends to increase your intensity during workouts and provide accountability. There are also interesting mental health benefits to group training, particularly with reducing stress and improving general quality of life.
With that community accountability and magnetism, it becomes easier to tap into the mighty power of consistency in your training.
Having somewhere that you need to be at a certain time, on the regular, with real people expecting you–group classes can encourage you to find a really solid rhythm to your training. The act of getting ready and showing up becomes a ritual, which can further reinforce positive habit change.
2. Affordable Alternative to Personal Training
Price-wise, you’re also in luck, at least when compared to 1-on-1 training (many standalone fitness programs–including our own–are far cheaper than paying for classes each month).
If you’re going to classes with quality instruction, and the classes aren’t too crowded, you can get some of the benefits of supervised training without the massive price tag that comes along with personal training, and you’ll be able to do far more sessions for your money.
3. Gives You a Chance to Try Things Out
Group classes also give you the opportunity to try out something new without over committing.
Many small group training studios, dance studios, and martial arts schools offer time-limited class programs, or punch-passes. This allows you to make a small investment in experimenting with new things until something really catches your attention. Then you can dive in deeper.
3 Reasons to Avoid Group Fitness Classes
For some people, group classes are the best possible training option, and if that’s you, then by all means, keep doing them! (But be sure to read the next section on how to make sure you’re going to high quality classes).
They’re not for everyone, though, and it’s arguable that if you have serious training goals, you should probably skip them altogether.
Here are some of the cons of training in this setting.
1. Lack of Continuity
With the exception of some specific classes (such as a particular martial art, or yoga, or style of dance), most drop-in classes at your local gym or fitness studio won’t necessarily follow any sort of path toward an end-goal.
You might go to the same exact class on a Monday, a Thursday, and a Saturday of the same week. It’s just about showing up and doing something, rather than showing up and working toward something. And that’s okay, sometimes, but that lack of continuity makes it hard to stay motivated and on track.
And for those classes that do have a sequence or plan, if you miss a class or two or three, when you come back to class, it’s often hard to just pick up where you left off.
2. Poor Setting for Learning Skills
Related to the lack of continuity, this type of setting makes it much more difficult (if possible at all) to learn specific skills. Skills-training, by definition, requires continuity and logical progressions.
Another aspect that makes a class setting less-than-ideal for skills training is that it’s inflexible. The instructor is there to teach, demonstrate, and/or supervise a specific class structure, which means less opportunity to make adjustments to your skills training on a particular day. And when you’re working toward a skill, you need that flexibility, since every day is different.
3. No Individualized Instruction
This is, obviously, a big one, especially when compared to 1-on-1 training. But even if your options are either training in a class setting or training at home with a set program, the latter is often a better option even from this perspective.
I know what you may be thinking–you don’t get any individualized instruction with a set program at home either, right? But a quality training program will help you tailor it to your own needs, so that the program itself is individualized to your goals. And that’s something you likely won’t get from an overcrowded class with an instructor who has a particular lesson to go through.
If You’re Going to Attend Group Fitness Classes, Here’s What to Look for
Like most things in life, not all fitness classes are created equal. If the group setting is the right approach for you and your goals, then you should absolutely do that for your training. But there are some things you’ll want to look out for, to make sure you’re getting the most from the experience.
Smaller Group Size
Within group classes there is a wide spectrum of size and atmosphere.
Some spin classes are gigantic, loud, and fast, where you might train for months and the instructor will never even hear your name, much less learn it. But tucked away one room over might be a quieter, more consistent class of 5-10 people doing weird animal movements on the floor.
Whatever specific type of class you’re interested in, look for those with a smaller group of people, and you’ll get a more personalized experience.
Once you find the class that appeals to you, have a closer look at the instructor.
Look up their credentials. Have they studied and practiced the kinds of training in which you are interested? Or, on the other end of the spectrum, are they just collecting certifications? When you attend the class, pay close attention to the instruction. Is it focused on technique and quality of movement? Or is the instructor just yelling at you mindlessly?
It’s important to be mindful and pay attention to how you feel during and after class. Are you experiencing pain or discomfort? Do you feel consistently discouraged or pushed beyond your reasonable limits? While it’s good to challenge yourself, there’s a fine line between a healthy challenge, and pushing yourself to the point of injury or burnout.
Whatever you’re doing, make sure you’re training in a way that feels safe, and with people that encourage that. That’s why it’s worth shopping around for the style that fits you.
If you find an instructor with whom you connect, with a good class size, training in a modality you enjoy, and you feel safe in the environment, you’re off to a fantastic start. You stand to gain a lot just with those characteristics alone. But the next thing to really examine is continuity.
There is some benefit to variability and complexity in training, but it’s better if this is thoughtfully applied as opposed to truly random. (Or put more simply: thinking things through makes things better. Imagine that.) Increase challenge and variation as you improve in a movement. A class that takes this into account and is built around a central theme, goal, or plan will bring faster progress.
Many of our GMB trainers use such a planned structure, while still incorporating plenty of variability. What might seem random is actually quite intentional. Similar ideas also appear in some yoga studios or martial arts schools.
Find the Right Approach for You
As you can see, there are a lot of good reasons to train in a class setting, and they may be the right option for you. Just don’t let convenience be the only factor in your training choices. You want to make sure you’re putting your time, energy, and money into things that will help you toward your bigger picture goals.
Our free Bodyweight Training Circuit is a great place to start (and it makes a good supplement for other training you might be doing, including group classes). Give it a try and see how this style of training compares to the group fitness classes you’re used to.