Are group fitness classes effective?

I taught two group fitness classes yesterday morning. Back to back. I do this most Saturdays. Out of curiosity, I wore my heart rate monitor this time. First, I wanted to see how high my heart rate got during some of the exercises I selected for the TABATA class. I did not intend for the heart rate to get too high, and it didn’t. Second, I was curious as to how many calories I would burn during two hours of teaching – two classes that I heavily participate in.

When I stopped my heart rate monitor at 2 hours and 2 minutes, I was disappointed: 890 calories. To give you some perspective, my average 45-60 minute workout burns 500-700 calories. Granted, this was not the same intensity, nor designed to be my workout, but it led me to think critically about whether my classes were adequate and appropriate – and about the overall effectiveness of group fitness.

Intended outcome?

Why do most individuals attend group fitness classes? Most have the goal to lose weight. Are group fitness classes targeting that goal? I believe that the answer to this question is complicated – it is both yes and no.

For example, depending on the exercise selection, TABATA can be a effective and efficient workout. I perform this form of high intensity interval training on a regular basis. I design my classes in an equally effective manner (with a lesser degree of intensity). BUT, if a member comes to my Saturday morning class and this is the 8th class she has been to this week, will it be effective? Will the intended outcome be reached? Probably not.

Desired results far too uncommon

I have been in and out of my fair share of gyms. When you are a group fitness instructor, by default you end up filling in at what seems to be every workout facility within a 30-mile radius. And unfortunately, I have seen very few members achieve their desired results. Weight loss. Improved fitness. Very few group fitness programs will get you this results. Even more disheartening, is that I would see the same faces over and over – watching some individuals attend 8-10 hours of classes a week – with no results. Sadly, most of these individuals are overtraining. Some are undernourished due to extending periods of dieting and/or yo-yo dieting. Most are frustrated and at a loss for what else to do.


It is pretty simple. While I am not a proponent of many group fitness classes, I will not suggest that you forgo the classes. I will recommend the following:

  1. Attend NO MORE than 4 group fitness classes a week. Most group fitness classes target the same muscles, energy systems, etc. and miss the same muscle groups, form, technique, and energy systems.
  2. Research your instructor – ONLY take classes led by degreed and certified professionals. This one may be tough. There are some good instructors out there who do not have degrees, they have been fanatics for years and they bring good energy and great intentions. But generally speaking, you want to work with someone who has been trained to manage situations as they arise – providing variety that is safe, efficient, and effective.
  3. Work with a qualified trainer first. While working with a qualified personal trainer long term is not always financially feasible, it is in your best interest to invest the time and money into a few (3-12) foundational sessions with a trainer. A qualified trainer will teach you form and technique that the group fitness instructor simply is unable to provide in the setting (some know your form is off but are not able to correct form on every person every hour). With this investment, you will gain valuable knowledge that you can bring with you and ensure that you get the most out of your workout.
  4. Wear a heart rate monitor. Sweat is not indicative of a good workout – however most group fitness class attendees use sweat as the measure of whether the workout was good. It is not the only indicator. Neither is soreness the only nor the best indicator of a good workout. What else can you measure? Your heart rate. Target heart rates are highly individual – for more specifics please contact me personally.
  5. Change? If you have been going to the same class for years – it is time for something new!
  6. Give it your all. Some times a group class can become social hour. While this is not all bad, remember why you are there and give it 100%!

The bottomline

Not all group fitness classes are bad. These classes can be a great way to build community support and accountability. But if you are a regular attendee, be honest as to whether you are getting the results for the time and energy you put into the work. If you go to classes every day, and are not getting the results you desire, you may be overtraining – or simply inefficiently training.

I love group fitness classes – that is how I got my start. (It is also the reason I suffered overuse injuries and eventually elected to have surgery.) Follow the 6 recommendations above and you can get the most out of those classes!

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Where do you go for fitness advice?

We are bombarded with health and fitness information. Infomercials, magazine ads, and the latest and greatest books and workout DVDs. On my way into the gym to teach a group class this morning, the TV caught my eye – Tony’s 10 minute workouts. Oh Tony! The 10-Minute Trainer series boasts the ‘breakthrough’ super-stacking technique and promises rapid results. I stopped to watch a bit (mostly waiting to see the name of the program to look it up later). Another marketing scam — ?!?!!!

Do you go to Tony Horton and Beachbody for advice?

Who do you trust?

This past weekend I was invited to participate in a group workout at the park. I provided some of my expertise, but I was truly there as a participant with a goal to meet other individuals interested in fitness. Towards the end of the afternoon – I sat back and watched and listened. A fitness enthusiast provided ‘training’ to inexperienced individuals.

(If you do not know much about fitness, an enthusiast who has been working out and is excited might seem to provide some good advice. Unfortunately, very few can offer sound advice. And remember, we are talking about YOUR BODY here. You only get one body in your lifetime. So I ask, who do you trust?)

It is not that he was giving bad advice or guidance. It was incomplete. Exercise form and technique were a disaster – I had to turn away and bite my tongue. I could not watch. While I do not want to see anyone get hurt, I was focused on placing myself in his shoes and I would not like it if someone stepped in to correct (whether the individual was right or not). And given the situation, I knew the risk of injury was low.

If you are a fitness professional – what would you do?

This situation has me thinking about who we trust for advice and how I can continue to educate and share – reaching one person at a time.

Who do you go to?

It is easy to trust friends and family when it comes to health and fitness advice. We trust them with many decisions in life – relationships, occupations, financial investments, etc. But do they have the answers?

Do you have a friend who has successfully lost weight and kept if off?

Do you have an uncle who coaches high school football and loves to workout?

Do you have a sister who has always been thin (but also never eats and possibly struggles with disordered eating)?

While any one of these individuals could have valid and helpful advice, I will strongly advise against allowing them to become your expert and your go-to for health and fitness advice. Health and fitness is a science – requiring education.

Qualified professionals

I have a post dedicated to qualified fitness professionals, please read it. Not all ‘professionals’ are created equal. Further, not all fitness facilities require trainers and staff to be educated and certified. While education and certification are not everything, they do provide validation that the individual has studied the science. (Note: not all certification are created equal, you can read about that in the above post as well.)

If/when you hire a trainer – ask about and verify his/her education and certification.

Food for thought

The Biggest Loser receives a lot of publicity. The trainers have been deemed experts – and they sell millions of books and DVDs, appear on numerous talk shows offering advice, etc. I personally would not trust any of the trainers with my life. These trainers qualify as fitness enthusiasts.

Jillian Michaels – no degree and no current certification (and not a respected certification)

Bob Harper – no degree, AFAA certified (has a degree but I have not been able to find what he studied)

Dolvett Quince – no degree and no certification

On the other hand, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition’s Chris Powell is a former athlete with  a degree in Exercise Science, with concentrations in biomechanics and physiology and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

You can read my reaction to the beginning of the most recent season of The Biggest Loser.

The bottomline

I feel like I am beating a dead horse at times. I will write about it and talk about it over and over. More than likely, your friends and family are not your best source of health and fitness advice – regardless of how much time they spend in the gym. It is important to trust your body – the only one you get – to a qualified professional.

Beware of fitness enthusiasts – many do not know the proper form and technique and regularly suffer personal injury.

Beware of celebrity experts – many are just that, celebrities.

You only get one body – it deserves the best.

Treat it kindly. Treat it wisely.

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How to push yourself in a workout

Working out is hard. In fact, I honestly cannot think of anything that is easy about it. If you think that it is easy for anyone – then the only one you are fooling is yourself. Personally, because I experience a varying degree of pain on any and all days, I need to talk myself into each and every workout. You think I am superhuman? Think again! What I have is mental toughness.

photo (11)

I miss having a trainer. I miss being told what to do. I miss the accountability and the need not to think. Even after becoming a trainer myself, I continued working with my trainer – and I believe that made me an even better trainer for my clients.

I miss having someone screaming at me not to quit. I am the kind of person who does not get much benefit of the supportive cheerleading, “you can do it” feedback. I need the, “get your ____ of the floor!” and “why are you stopping?” feedback. And we all require different feedback – in different tones, intensities, delivery methods, and frequencies – and believe me, I do not scream at my clients (I am NOT Jillian).

After my national travels, I have landed in a small town where I know no one. I workout alone. I observe, looking for equally driven individuals to workout by my side, but I am coming up empty. I watch the trainers – nah, I am not impressed (I know, it does take a lot. I have thus far only been markedly impressed with two trainers I have worked with – David Brown and Aaron Feldman). So, without a trainer and without a workout partner – I must push myself.

Is this so bad?

I am actually learning a lot about myself. I have increased my self-efficacy because I am learning that I do not need to be dependent on someone else. The best part is that I have been making significant progress towards my 2013 goals. The primary means by which I am improving my self-efficacy – setting, tracking, and achieving these goals.

Further, I am increasing my mind-body awareness. This is incredibly important for me, considering my physical limitations and increased risks for injury – I MUST be body smart (we all should!). Over the years, I have gotten good at thought control, ‘ignoring’ the pain and pushing through. And because adrenaline is a natural pain killer – any pain I may have felt often subsides. With that said, I can be known to push myself too far to compete with others around me. By working alone, I am more aware of my bodily cues and working within my safe zones. Working within MY zones and ranges is likely correlated with my significant progress towards my goals!

The downfall

There is a lot to be said about having a great trainer or workout partner. Healthy competition will push you to limits you never knew. The biggest thing that I miss is having a trustworthy spotter. I feel like I have lost some strength because I often lift alone and there is no one there to spot me up – I do not take as many risks. Accountability, reinforcement – the benefits of working out with others are endless and worthy of their own post.

How to push yourself

It is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of your workout. WHY are you here? That motivator is powerful. But there are many ways to push yourself if you find yourself working out alone.

  1. Focus on the now. Do not worry about anything else. Focus on the movements, feel your muscles, feel the ground, and bring your mind to the moment.
  2. Track your progress. Keep a notebook and track your workouts. If you are running or biking, track your distance, speed, duration, incline/resistance. With strength training, track your repetitions, sets, tempo, and weight. Use these numbers to challenge yourself to do just a little more the next time you perform the workout.
  3. Music. Select music that makes you want to move. There are times I use no music at all, but more often than not I find that beat and I get lost in it.
  4. Use progressions. Start with simple and familiar exercises. Setting yourself up for success up front builds confidence and will allow you to take more risks down the road.
  5. Plan your workouts. If you have your plan, you are more likely to work harder. You will spend less time roaming the weight room. Having confidence and knowing what you are doing make the world of a difference.
  6. Ask an expert. I know these are tips to help you push yourself, but I believe that everyone should have at least a few sessions with a qualified fitness professional. This will familiarize yourself with the equipment and exercises – leaving less room for hesitation and uncertainty! And you may have guessed it – this build confidence.
  7. Reward yourself. It is important to reward yourself for all work well done. Every step forward is progress towards your goal. I will work for coffee!

The bottomline

This list is endless and these are just a few tips to get you thinking. We are not always lucky enough to always have a workout partner accessible. Nor can we all afford personal trainers for all our lives! Life is such a personal matter – and working out is a part of this life! I can give you hundreds of ideas, but if they are not meaningful to you are they really going to help? Yes, it requires some thought and preparation, but are you not worth it?

How do YOU push yourself?


Martin Ginis, K. A., & Bray, S. R. (2010). Application of the limited strength model of self-regulation to understanding exercise effort, planning and adherence. Psychology & Health 25(10), 1147-1160.

White, S. M., Mailey, E. L., & McAuley, E. (2010) Leading a physically active lifestyle: Effective individual behavior change strategies. ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal, 14(1), 8-15.

Response: No Gymtimidation @ Planet Fitness

If you have not seen the Planet Fitness 2013 commercials, consider yourself lucky. While I understand the marketing ploy, it saddens me. The commercials give an ugly, and inaccurate, perception of gyms. I have spent a lot of time in gyms the last 10 years. 30+ hours a week for the last 7 years. Gyms in Wisconsin, New York, Texas, and Minnesota. Small clubs, franchises, and ‘big-box’ gyms. And you know what? I might have met ONE person who fits the stereotype portrayed in these commercials.

The intimidation factor

Do not get me wrong – every gym has its fear factor. Doing anything new can be scary! But these our own fears and preconceptions of what we will experience. Own these fears as your own and then face them! Such an exaggeration of intimidation in these commercials may have a negative influence on individuals who have never physically been to a gym – and if they do not live near a Planet Fitness – now they may never go!

Further, I believe that the word intimidation is being misused.

Intimidation: to make timid or fearful; to frighten; to compel or deter by or as if by threats.
intentional behavior that “would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities” fear of injury or harm

No one is outright threatening you. No one is intending to frighten you. This intimidation factor, is actually fear. And this fear is created in our own mind (sorry)! And the more we hear that something is scary, to be feared, or intimidating – the more we will believe it! Yes, mind games. Psychological manipulation. Own your fear and then conquer it!

Let us use my analogy, my gym is my church, for greater perspective. Churches are often described as intimidating. Are the members of the church threatening? Are they intending to instill fear in you? NO! They are loving. They are compassionate. Again, your own fear takes hold – leading to intense anxiety, uncertainty, hesitation – and we look for someone else to blame and point fingers at—

Excellent perks

Planet Fitness rewards and entices members with food. One of the first rules of adopting a healthy lifestyle is to avoid food rewards. As such, it is important to reduce the association and avoid eating in the same environment in which you exercise. Members are supplied pizza on the first Monday night of the month and bagels on the second Tuesday morning. Tootsie Rolls are handed out daily.

I will discuss the (research-based) issue of rewarding with food in a later post. But, do you like the idea of going to a gym to improve your health and fitness, just to have them tempt you with food items that you may be trying to avoid? Do you want to workout to the aroma of pizza or a fresh bakery? Do you like that they provide foods that will slow your metabolism and in effect undo what you are doing there in the first place? These perks – although included in a cheap rate – are setting you up for failure when you buy into them. Cheaper is not always better! In fact, in the words of a very wise man:

Only a rich man can afford cheap shoes.

NOT for bodybuilders nor powerlifters

I am not a bodybuilder. Nor am I a powerlifter. But neither am I welcome at Planet Fitness. Why? Because I grunt – and sometimes I sound like a walrus when I do it! The facilities also lack the heavy weights and much of the equipment I desire to work with, but I realize that not everyone needs these things. My point – the “Judgement Free Zone” judges me. They are judging most of my friends, too. In fact, I have friends who have been kicked out of Planet Fitness because of their workouts—

Customer service leaves much to be desired

I have talked to my fair share of Planet Fitness goers. I have many former clients who are members at Planet Fitness because of the low rates and no-contract policy. The member service representative gives you an orientation to the equipment. And if you are lucky, this individual has a no-name personal training certification. The chances are you are being taught how to use equipment by someone who has never used it and/or does not really know how to use it. If you are afraid of the gym because you are unfamiliar with the environment, the equipment, and the concept of exercise – do you have confidence that an unqualified front desk employee can put you at ease?

Please consider who you place your trust in. Very few Planet Fitness staff are truly qualified, because the job description does not require it and because the compensation does not suffice for the qualified fitness professional. Would you trust a medical receptionist to draw your blood? I did not think so!

The “Judgement Free Zone”

I have met and spoken with an endless number of individuals regarding health and fitness. I know  individuals who were afraid of photo (6)fitness classes and the idea of others watching them. Others planned to attend the gym during slow times – they feared judgement and what others thought. And you know what they eventually realized? When you are working, you are focused on yourself and no one else. And if you are focused on yourself, the chances are most of your fellow gym-goers are focused on themselves as well. If you can judge someone else at the gym, then YOU are NOT working hard enough. And if EVER someone is judging you and has the galls to say something, you tell them just that, “if you are able to judge me, then you clearly are not working hard enough.” You have my permission to do this.

The bottomline

Stop finger pointing. Intimidation is something that is done with intent. It is an intentional behavior by definition. More often than not, no one at the gym is intimidating you. The Planet Fitness commercials may be exacerbating your fear factor – a fear that is perfectly legitimate. But do not blame those of us who are already at the gym. We did not do anything – other than work hard. And very few behave like the actors in the commercial.

My grunting intimidates you? Well guess what, I have no idea that you are even there when I am working out -so how could I be intending to instill fear in you? I am focused on breathing and finishing my lifts safely. I am in my church!

With that said, am I intimidating you or are you afraid of me? 

You want to go to Planet Fitness? I am not discouraging that. I am, however, encouraging you to be smart. Avoid their perks. Seek assistance from a qualified fitness professional if you are unsure of what you are doing (meaning not the chick sitting behind the front desk). Lastly, do not let ridiculous commercials, gimmicks, ploys, or manipulative marketing strategies get between you and your goals. The journey is scary – gyms included – but your desire is stronger than fear itself.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. – 2 Timothy 1:7

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14

Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. – Matthew 10:26