By Jeremey DuVall
From barbell bootcamps to dance-based classes, group fitness is exploding in popularity as a way for gym-goers to get in a great workout alongside friends and motivators. And why not? The group atmosphere provides a unique environment that's hard to re-create in a solo lifting session with your headphones. But group fitness classes aren't for everyone. We've outlined their top pros and cons to help you decide if they deserve a spot in your weekly routine.
1. MORE MOTIVATION
The thought of pushing through a gut-wrenching workout on your own might not get you excited about hitting the weights—but killing it in an hour-long workout alongside 20–30 other people? That's a different story. Group fitness classes are known to be a great way to kick yourself into gear on those days when all you really want to do is plant yourself on the couch. Between vibrant instructors and motivational music, group classes help rev up lackluster energy levels, making them ideal for individuals who consistently find themselves skipping the gym for beers with coworkers.
2. ACCOUNTABILITY FACTOR
Skipping a solo workout has few consequences. Ditching your friends, however, could lead to some unwanted social shunning. Simply put, meeting workout buddies for a sweat session makes you much more likely to head to the gym. Now, multiply that effect by, say, 20 (the number of fitness buddies counting on you to show up), and you're that much less likely to slough off your workout.
3. VARIETY AND FUN
Doing the same old routine over and over can feel dull and mundane after a while. But group fitness classes tend to emphasize variety, providing an always-fresh level of fun while still getting you in shape. And, with the growing number of class types, there's bound to be one to fit whatever mood you happen to be in. Also, since instructors usually vary from session to session, even an "identical" class can seem unique depending on who's teaching.
1. LACK OF INDIVIDUAL PROGRAMMING
Whereas fun and variety may help ward off boredom, this same lack of consistency from class to class could actually keep you from seeing any results. Since a group workout is, by its very nature, written for everyone (read: not just you), it may fail to address individual differences or weaknesses. For example, someone with a previous shoulder injury performs the same workout as another participant with an ankle injury. Granted, good teachers are quick to provide progressions and regressions for individual cases, but it's often difficult to address each unique situation.
2. LACK OF ATTENTION TO FORM
The motivational benefit of having a crowd of other bodies sweating next to you also has some downsides. With larger class sizes, it becomes difficult for instructors to watch and critique individual performance. This means that, for example, if your form on new exercises is less than perfect, there's a good chance no one will be available to correct you. Although talented instructors give cues both orally and through demonstration, it can still be difficult for participants to nail down a technique—particularly when using new equipment.
3. OVERTRAINING POTENTIAL
Group fitness classes, including many bootcamps, often have a similar "work till you drop" mindset. While this may push you to do a great workout at the time, it's not a sustainable mantra in the long run. In fact, attending too many classes that push you to your limit and beyond may well set you up for a case of overtraining. Since most classes feature a different mix of attendees, it's impossible for instructors to plan for repeat visitors, leading them instead to push each class to go 110%. Eventually, participants may find themselves feeling listless and lacking motivation.
To prevent overtraining, avoid relying solely on group fitness classes as your only method of training. Instead, incorporate them into a well-rounded program that also includes days specifically designated for rest and recovery. You'll see better results and also feel better the next time you hit your favorite group workout.
IT'S YOUR CALL
Group fitness classes certainly offer abundant benefits. The camaraderie and group atmosphere make them far more enjoyable than solo adventures. Instructors also have a knack for pushing you harder than you'd normally push yourself. However, for every benefit, there are also some negatives to be aware of. The group atmosphere makes individual coaching hard to come by. The constant "go hard" mentality can also set a lifter back rather than helping him progress.
To get the best of both worlds, program group fitness classes into your schedule alongside a structured workout routine. That way, you'll reap the benefits of the group experience, while at the same time gaining the success brought by proper progression in your own training.