I confess to be a group fitness junkie. Running is torture for me and gym workouts are uninspiring even with friends. However, I thrive in a group setting with a motivating teacher to guide me and a covey of other students to energize me. For those looking to get fit in the new year, group fitness is a great option that can help keep you accountable and provide you with the structure, motivation, and variety to help you reach your fitness goals.
I often get asked by patients, “What type of exercise class is right for me?” and “Is it safe for me to do this type of class?” My general answer is that any type of exercise is appropriate as long as you are working within the limits of your stability and strength. Below are some tips to help navigate group fitness for newbies and people returning from injury.
1. Talk to the instructor before class and ask for modifications. Instructors are trained to provide modifications for those with injuries or with difficulty assuming certain positions. Don’t be shy about approaching an instructor before class to explain your injury history and ask for some help and extra attention during class to make the experience as beneficial as possible and prevent injury. They will be thrilled to offer their expertise.
2. Get a sense for what muscles should be working. Often our compensation patterns lead us to recruit the wrong muscles due to weakness and/or inhibition. You may be using your low back when you should be using the glutes or your neck instead of your shoulder muscles. This can increase pain in an already cranky area. If you are unsure of the appropriate muscles to target or the correct form, ask the class instructor. Working with a trainer or physical therapist can also help you develop awareness of how to recruit the appropriate muscles for the job.
3. Work at your own pace. As I tell my patients, be weary of classes that ask you to keep time with fast-paced music. Trying to keep pace with music or the rest of the class can lead to loss of stability and predispose you to injury. It is preferable to be stable and use correct form even if it means you are behind the rest of the class or performing less repetitions than the instructor has asked for.
4. Less is more. It is more beneficial to do less reps or less weight in order to strengthen the appropriate muscles rather than reinforce compensatory patterns. Don’t be embarrassed about using lighter weights or resistance. Your body will thank you.
5. Pick the right class for you. If you are new to group exercise, a smaller class with more one-on-one attention may be appropriate. If you struggle with instability or back pain, a class focused on core stabilization such as Pilates or a gentle barre class may be appropriate. If you suffer from stiffness, a yoga class focused on mobility and breath may ease tension. If you suffer from chronic pain, check out a Feldenkreis class focused on small, gentle movements designed to repattern the way you move. If you want to improve stability and lower body strength try Tai Chi.
There is no shortage of variety of fitness classes in this town. Check out as many as you can before committing to a single studio.