A colleague once described group exercise as the “fast-food” option at the fitness center. Although that may sound offensive to some, the correlation between fast food and group exercise is that it is a self-serve option at most gyms and studios. Participants choose what their friends recommend, what they've heard about. Once they find a class they like, they're hooked! Although it's great to find a class you love, we often overindulge in one style of movement. How do you strike a good balance for mind, body, and lifestyle?
A well-balanced group exercise schedule will allow you to make a variety of choices that follow these ACSM guidelines for fitness:
Cardiorespiratory Exercise: Rhythmic and continuous movement that uses large muscle groups.
- How much do I need? Thirty to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days per week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise 3 days per week.
- Examples of classes include indoor/outdoor walking classes, water aerobics, indoor cycling, cardio dance, low-impact aerobics, high-impact aerobics, stepping, and rowing.
Resistance Exercise: Resistance exercise enhances muscular fitness with the use of weight training machines, body weight, hand weights, resistance bands, weighted balls, and an assortment of other small equipment. There are different types of resistance goals: strength, power, hypertrophy, and endurance. Fitness classes typically cater to muscular endurance, which works the muscle repeatedly using a submaximal load (2 to 4 sets, 10 to 25 reps). What's often missing is muscular strength, which is the ability to exert a maximal load (1 to 3 sets, 8 to 12 reps). If you are doing lots of muscular endurance and want to improve your strength, invest a little time on the gym floor after class and perform selected exercises for 1 to 3 sets, 8 to 12 reps to volitional fatigue.
- How much do I need? Each major muscle group 2 or 3 days per week.
- Examples of classes that emphasize muscular endurance include sculpting, toning, Pilates, and barre classes.
- Examples of classes that emphasize muscular strength include group weight training, circuit training, and suspension training (TRX®).
Flexibility Exercises: The ability to move a joint through its full range of motion. Static, dynamic, ballistic, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretches are all effective.
- How much do I need? Two or 3 days each week.
- Class examples include yoga, stretching, and foam rolling classes.
Functional Fitness Training: Functional fitness training involves motor skills (balance, agility, coordination, and gait) proprioceptive exercise training to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults.
- How much do I need? Two or 3 days per week.
- Examples of classes include yoga, tai chi, Qigong, and balance training.
How Does Your Personal Group Exercise Program Stack Up? Try this strategy. Write down all of the classes you participate in each week and classify them as cardio, resistance, flexibility, or functional fitness. For example, if you participate in two indoor cycling classes and two Zumba® classes per week, you have fulfilled your cardio-related recommendations but are lacking in other areas.
What about fusion classes? These classes team up two or more disciplines. Examples include cardio sculpt, boot camp, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), yogalates, and so on. They may satisfy two or more categories. Check with your instructor if you are not sure how to classify them.
Once you have your list of weekly activities, you will see readily where you need some attention.
Remember these simple guidelines:
- Avoid repetition of the same activity. You may reduce the potential for overuse disorders and injuries with a variety of exercise modalities.
- Allow your body adequate recovery time. Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions.
- Try something new. You might be pleasantly surprised.
- Seek guidance from fitness professionals for assistance in class selection.