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Fitness classes? Are they really worth it?

As a fitness coach that studied both Masters level exercise and nutrition science and also completed a traditional personal training course I came to realise there were limitations to both pathways.

The traditional path of PT’s completing any of the multitude of courses out there leads many to a cookie cutter approach to fitness. The individual will usually be able to prepare a session plan, know their way around a gym and give reasonable guidance on technique but there will be glaring weaknesses. The university qualified individual will know most of the science behind what needs to be done but packaging it into session plans and delivering them successfully is highly challenging for these people

This has produced professionals with wide varying degrees of expertise but every one of them probably claiming to be very good at what they offer. And I am not saying they’re wrong in making such a claim – but we don’t know what we don’t know, right?

When it comes to session planning, whether it’s for a class, sports team or for an individual there needs to be several considerations and within these considerations even more thought and planning is then required – the starting points are what are the required outcomes for the session and what are the limitations governing the session? What are the time frames on the work you’re doing? How will you track data that could and usually should be accumulated?

Obviously if there’s a multi person session being planned consideration to a variety of fitness levels being general movement, strength/mobility and cardiovascular capabilities need to be considered plus there maybe people with pre-existing injuries that they know about and even those that don’t realise they’re carrying an injury (this being one of the single worst situations a trainer or coach can find themselves in). Then we need to know what are they training for, cardiovascular endurance, a sport or a skill or component of that sport, general strength or power, speed, agility.

It’s a massive undertaking if your intention and the requirement of the group or organisation is to prepare with any degree of proficiency.

Most of the last few paragraphs falls outside of the skill-sets of many fitness professionals. And it fell outside of mine until the point in time when my studies, real world experience and practice enabled me to say with certainty that I now can accomplish all of this.

So what about classes and how does any of this specifically apply to them?

Unfortunately the easy way out in creating session plans for groups is to tire people out, have them lying on their backs or worse, have them curled up in the fetal position, crying! People love this, they think this is making them better, that this is a good thing!

I am here to tell you it actually is not! There is a time and place for a “rinse” but not frequently and certainly not every class.

So recently I was in a meeting with an owner of a big box gym. He was lamenting the situation he found himself in with respect to his classes. They weren’t working. He was trying everything, Zumba, hip-hop fitness, HIIT, spin, yoga etc. But attendances were low and he was at the end of his rope in understanding why. Then he found a trainer that had recently been working for the largest group class franchise in the world and he knew he had his man to lead his gym to the next level in classes.

Except I had bad news for him. Most class instructors are simply cheerleaders, following a predetermined script that HQ has dictated will be taught on that particular day. There are exceptions, just like most CrossFit coaches do more damage than good, there are always good ones and the same with class instructors – but they’re in a small minority.

To get yourself fit and healthy you need to know your body, where you are at individually with your strengths and weaknesses and where you want to go. Putting yourself into a class that teaches random stuff dreamed up by a person sitting in an office halfway around the world or a trainer that just wants to exhaust you, tricking you into thinking that tiredness equals effectiveness, are recipes for not only ineffectiveness but also increasing your chances of injury.

So if you do want to do a group session, find a trainer that instills confidence in you – he/she achieves this in how they explain the class plan (if there’s no pre-session briefing, this alone is a red flag), are they interested in knowing if you have a pre-existing injury or condition, have you filled out a pre-exercise questionnaire, is there a good warm up process? A proper warm up underpins the session and which by the way isn’t doing 20 squats, push ups and crunches or running around the block 2 times. It is core and mobility drills and possibly some specific movement patterns based on what is happening in the class. If done correctly your heart rate will raise, you will feel energised and ready to tackle what is coming up rather than, “I am already tired and the class hasn’t started yet”, which again is not an uncommon experience.