The American College of Sports Medicine has named Group Exercise one of the most important trends in fitness in 2009. Group exercise usually takes place at a gym or health club, and takes the form of a class led by an instructor. The variety of group exercise classes these days is impressive: aerobics and step classes, yoga, tai chi, spinning, boxing, body pump, dance classes, and more. There are also options outside the gym, however, such as running and biking clubs, volleyball groups, soccer clubs and other forms of group exercise that practice in the outdoors or in community centres.
Most group exercise helps create a commitment among participants by scheduling regular sessions, and the provision of an instructor or supervisor helps novices and everyone involved exercise safely. Some additional benefits of group exercise include:
Social benefits: it’s easy to make friends when you see the same people over and over again, and when you all struggle together to learn a new routine or tackle a new challenge.
Safety benefits: with a good instructor (see below), all participants can participate appropriately according to their fitness level (for example, low impact moves vs. high impact) and have the support of the instructor and other participants to get the most out of the class or event.
Accountability: there is an element of commitment to a group class. Research has shown that having an appointment to exercise makes it more likely to happen, and there is some social pressure from the other participants, particularly if someone has a specific role to play in the group or on the team.
In fact, in 2005 the Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants published recommendations that people exercise in a group or with a workout buddy, because they are more likely to stick with the program. Group exercise encourages the involvement of family, friends, and even pets!
Another advantage of group exercise is the motivation to push a little harder or go a little further than before. When exercising alone, many people do the same routine day in and day out. With a class, a good instructor will take you forward to reach new goals. The group camaraderie can help you find the motivation to hang in there for five more minutes or find the strength to do 5 more pushups. You’ll see both fitness results and get a sense of achievement from pushing yourself a little farther each time.
Don’t forget about the fun element too. Group exercise can be more like play than working out alone. Dancing, learning new moves, singing along with the music, or feeling the satisfaction of a match well played are all important components of a good group exercise program.
So what’s the downside to group exercise? Are there any? In fact, there can be, particularly if the instructor isn’t well qualified. It’s very important to seek out a trained, experienced professional to lead your class. Not only that, but also he or she should make you feel good and valued as a participant in the program. If you feel lost as to what to do, or ignored by the instructor, you’re at greater risk for injury. You also won’t enjoy the class as much. It’s important to play your part in this process, by introducing yourself to instructors and letting them know that you are new. This lets them show you both how the class works and their teaching style, so you can decide if you want to commit to this particular group or not. Feel free to shop around, and don’t give up if the first class or two is not to your liking. Once you find a good fit, you’ll be hooked.