There are dozens of group fitness class offerings in each gym, studio, and wellness center. Although many of them are good, even great, there are way too many mediocre offerings. As a trainer, I am very picky about the ones I choose. I have limited time to spend on my own workouts, so they better be worth it. Generally speaking, I will not attend a class that puts music, choreography, or class synchronization over safety, form, or appropriate workload. If you aren't a certified trainer, how do you learn to discern those things? Here are three key questions to ask that will help you weed out the good from the bad in fitness classes.
Are the Instructors Coaches or Cheerleaders?
When it comes to trainers, there is a difference between someone who cheers and shakes pom-poms at you, and someone who motivates and educates you while working toward a fitness goal. Look for trainers who know more than just choreography. Do they know their humerus from their femur? Can they tell you why you are doing a particular exercise? Do they tell you where you should be feeling the move in your body? Can they give you a tangible guideline for how hard you should be working (e.g. "your glutes should be burning," or "you should be approaching failure here"). If all your instructor seems to be able to do is memorize a sequence and pair it with music, you are better off working out on your own or with a personal trainer.
Does the Class Content Change?
The enemy of progress is comfort. As a general rule, avoid classes that repeat the same sequence of exercises and/or repetitions each class. If you work the same muscles the same way, all the time, they are not being challenged and will not get stronger. Failing to add different exercises or change up workloads can contribute to repetitive-use injuries, which will seriously impact fitness gains. And if your intervals never change, you won't build endurance. If you find that you're going to a class and doing the same workout week in and week out, do yourself a favor and try something different. Look for classes that understand the concept of periodization, where the workload gets progressively harder over time.
How Has Your Body Changed?
The key question you should ask after participating in any fitness class is whether your body has changed as a result of your attendance. Have you gotten stronger? Are your jeans any looser? Can you do more push-ups/burpees/hill climbs than you used to? Can you recover faster after working hard? If you're not answering yes to any of these, you need to consider two things: first, are you working hard enough in these classes? Second, if you are working your hardest, what is missing? Usually it's something in the class itself. Don't be afraid to shop around for different teachers, different gyms, and different modalities. There is a magic combination of all three of those things that allows you to find your best fitness path.
Failing to consider whether the class is doing its job is like storing your money in a shoe box under your bed and wondering why you aren't earning any interest. Don't worry about hurting the instructor's feelings if you don't come back. They aren't there to be your buddy; they are there to get you in better shape. If they aren't accomplishing that, find someone that can. It's not personal, it's business — and your body is your business, so make sure it's working!