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The Skinny on Group Fitness Classes

Zumba. Pilates. Barre. Spin. If you’ve ever considered taking a group fitness class, there’s no better time than now. With a variety of classes designed to build muscle, improve endurance, and focus on everything from your ass to your abs (which is an actual Crunch Fitness class, btw), group fitness classes can be a great way to shake up your workout routine and meet new people. But how do you choose a class that’s right for you? While nothing beats good, old-fashioned trial-and-error, there are a few things to consider:

1. Your fitness level.

Are you a beginner just starting her fitness journey? Maybe aim for something low-impact, such as yoga or Pilates, while you begin to build muscle and improve your endurance. Intermediate to advanced? Something that’s high-intensity, such as kickboxing or circuit training, may be more your speed. The bottom line is, you know your limits, and you know the difference between a healthy, challenging workout and one that is so far beyond your level you know you won’t be able to handle it. Pick a fitness class appropriately, and if you’re not sure – ask! That’s what the gym staff is there for! Ask about what the class involves, and what kind of a workout you can expect. That way, there are no surprises, and you can focus on having fun and getting fit.

2. The class instructor.

One of the keys to achieving a good workout during a fitness class is an instructor who is friendly, personable, engaging, and motivating. These traits will inspire you to challenge yourself and workout hard. While you can talk to other students, and even the instructors themselves, you typically won’t be able to find an instructor that you like without undergoing a little trial-and-error. Take a couple of different classes with a few different instructors, and figure out which person’s style you enjoy the most.

3. Your fitness goals.

Whether your goal is to increase your endurance, build lean muscle, or shave a few minutes off your running pace time, chances are there is a class that corresponds with your desired purpose. Yoga and barre classes are good for strength-training, as they focus on postures that bear weight, such as lunges and planks. Zumba, kickboxing, spinning, boot camp, and step aerobic workouts are good all-around, full body routines, as they incorporate both cardio and strength-training elements. Want to relax and de-stress? Try restorative yoga. If you’re looking to focus on a specific trouble area (think: butt, abs, arms), chances are there is a corresponding class for that, too. Remember that “Ass and Abs” routine from Crunch Fitness I mentioned at the beginning of this post? It’s just one of many specialized classes that gym offers. Others in the line-up are “Belly, Butt, and Thighs Bootcamp,” and “Ab Attack.” At your gym, try looking for classes with the body part in the class name. If that doesn’t work, read the class descriptions.

4. Amount of calories burned

Another key to getting a beneficial workout is burning calories – the more, the better. While the calorie burn for different fitness classes varies with each person, below is a handy guideline, courtesy of Reader’s Digest:

  • Circuit training: 570 calories per hour

  • Kickboxing: 500-800 calories per hour

  • Bikram Yoga (hot yoga): 1,000 calories per session

  • Zumba: 500 calories per session

  • Spinning: 700 calories per session

  • Pilates: 180 calories in a 30-minute intermediate-level class; an additional 90 calories are burned for each additional 15-minute block

Remember, the above is a guideline only. Actual calorie burn will vary from person to person. If you really want to know how many calories you’re burning, try a wearable such as a FitBit or a Garmin vivofit; apps, such as Map My Fitness, sync with some heart rate monitors to calculate calorie burn.

5. Have fun!

Remember: group fitness classes are supposed to be fun. They’re a chance to get out of a workout rut and move your body in ways it hasn’t moved before. They provide an opportunity to meet others in an atmosphere of encouragement and motivation. Challenging yourself and getting in a good calorie burn are important, but if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’ll eventually stop going. So try different classes, try out different instructors, and find the ones that will make you look forward to going to the gym. A miserable workout is a long workout.