Since October, my personal fitness practice has been focused on low impact, alignment-based work. After a decade of being a high impact, cardio junkie, I shelved high intensity exercise and I only recently introduced small doses of heavy lifting.
It was necessary. I was battling a lot of old injuries and high impact workouts would leave me in pain. However, with consistent self-care and stability-focused workouts (Pilates!) most of that has resolved. Intensity no longer leaves me hurting.
Yesterday, I participated in a BodyStep launch (think a big party instructors team teaching a step aerobics class) and I was reminded of the importance of finding the fun in fitness.
I had a chance to share the stage with 10 other instructors, many who are old friends. For an hour, we jumped, hollered and sweat glitter. It took me back to a time when my life revolved around group fitness and among the smiles, laughter and sweat; I realized how much I missed it.
Fitness programming, especially group fitness can be crazy, particularly with high intensity training being so in vogue. It can be fast and aggressive. It’s a difficult place to get individualized feedback or to build technique. It’s not necessarily the best place for those who are new to exercise or for someone coming back from an injury.
Criticisms aside, there are reasons why so many people (and heck I am one of them) fall in love with group fitness. It’s hard to explain, but something changes when you find yourself surrounded fellow fitness freaks, sweating bullets and making (vaguely) coordinated movements to some ear deafening top 40 remix that you’d never want to hear in your car, but whilst doing jumping jacks will become your new favorite song (and a dirty secret).
Take enough classes and the experience becomes about more than working out. The people in the room become your best friends. The workouts can be grueling, but in a group setting, they can feel more fun than labor intensive…even when they are really, really hard.
I’ve heard the heavy lifters, personal trainers and post rehab specialists question the validity of group exercise, but I think it has an important place in the fitness industry. When well executed, group ex creates an optimal space for community and fun. It gives adults a much-needed safe place to move and play and among a sea of bodies, it creates anonymity for those who are afraid of being watched in an individual setting.
Don’t get me wrong, the other stuff is important too. I think there is a huge value in individualized instruction – particularly if you have an injury or are brand new to exercise. I also think slow, heavy lifting is a great thing that would be difficult to do with a large group.
My point is that each of these things has something to offer. Not everyone will love a community-based approach, but you’re prone to spending a lot of time obsessing over the minutia of movement or if you need a place where exercise doesn’t feel like a reenactment of your negative grade-school gym class experience, taking a group fitness class might be one of the easiest ways to put some joy in your exercise experience.
And really, who doesn’t need a little more of that?