SoulCycle, Barre, Zumba, BodyPump — it seems like there's a new group fitness class every month, and with it a cult-like following that swears by its effectiveness. But there's also a chance that your fitness class addiction might be masking a deeper issue.
Why Join A Fitness Class?
First off, if you're the type that dreads slogging it out on the elliptical for half an hour (and let's be honest, who isn't), classes can inject much-needed variety in your program. Whether it be BodyPump, kickboxing or something else, every class has its own unique flavour that can keep exercise fun enough to kick you off on a positive feedback loop.
The variety of movements also has the added benefit of helping you achieve a more well-rounded fitness profile. While grinding it it out on the treadmill may do the trick from a cardiovascular perspective, beyond that it's really only going to help you burn calories and maybe improve your quads. Group classes, on the other hand, work a range of skills: yoga trains flexibility, kickboxing improves agility, pilates works your core strength, and SoulCycle, well, does something, I'm sure.
Group exercises are also great if you're just starting out and aren't sure what to do. A group setting with a trained instructor is highly beneficial for those still finding their feet in the gym, and can give you much needed knowledge and confidence before you go do your own thing.
And Why Not?
There are a few surface-level reasons not to join a fitness class. With so many participants, it can be hard for an instructor to give everyone enough individual attention to ensure you're performing the exercises correctly. And without correct form, the exercises are far less effective, and can even cause injuries.
They're also a pretty inefficient way of getting reaching your goals. There are far higher ROI (return on investment) things you can do, like fixing your diet if your goal is weight loss or a program that incorporates progression like Couch to 5k to improve your cardiovascular ability. Classes are designed to bring the most benefit to the most people, but because that's based on the average needs of everyone pooled together, it allows little scope to push your boundaries beyond this.
But a deeper reason to reconsider your commitment is if you're motivating yourself through fear. I've encountered a lot of gym-goers who push themselves into intense group cardio classes for one main reason: they know they will be too embarrassed if they quit halfway. And sometimes it is just a case of toughing it out, but the threat of humiliation can't be the only thing pushing you forward — and this extends to other areas of fitness as well.
That's not to make a blanket statement saying all fear is purely bad. Nothing in fitness is black or white. If you were anything like me (that is, if you grew up fat with terrible self-esteem and had no memory of anything different), a sense of urgency — and that means some fear — might be the only thing that gets you started.
But fear can only push you so far. It turns exercise into something akin to punishment. This is the gateway thought pattern to exercising because you hate your body, instead of exercising because you love it and want to improve. The former is almost always a recipe for failure.
So if you find that you're joining classes because you know the group environment will shame you into pushing through, or you're only sticking to your diet because you're scared of what you'll look like otherwise, re-evaluate your thinking. You should shift your perspective so you're empowering yourself to make the right decisions because you want them for yourself, rather than being scared of what would happen if you don't. Ultimately, you should be choosing to improve — not punish — yourself, so you can build a healthier life.
Lifehacker's Vitals column offers health and fitness advice based on solid research and real-world experience.