Recently I was at the gym and I overhead a couple of other ladies talking elsewhere in the locker room.
One said “That was really tough today, she was trying to leave us paralyzed!” (said super enthusiastically)
And the other responded “Yeah that was a really great class!”
And while I’m not doubting that they just took a great class — I’m not slamming the class or the instructor here because I have no idea who the instructor was or what class they were taking. But it was a perfect moment to capture the #1 myth about group fitness classes:
If you’re not passed out in a puddle of your own sweat, or better yet curled up in the fetal position, unable to move, than it wasn’t a good class.
And this is the biggest problem for fitness instructors, if you ask me. Getting past that (incorrect) notion that you need to be absolutely spent in order to have had a great workout can be nearly impossible. If your clients are looking for this one thing, and one thing only, it can become difficult to gain their respect as an instructor, but also downright dangerous if your only goal is to meet this expectation.
A few times, I’ve had bootcamp ladies come to me a couple of days after a workout and tell me that they couldn’t walk after the last class, or something equally absurd, and they almost always say it with a glint of triumph in their eye. But the truth is, that is not my goal for bootcamp. Believe it or not, my goal for a workout is not simply to beat you into submission, and to leave you a sweating pile of goo on the floor.
Because quite honestly, anyone can do that. Anyone off the street can give you a workout that makes you exhausted and completely spent. That’s not impressive. What takes skill, knowledge, and experience is giving people quality and effective workouts that get results but still allow them to function like a normal human being in the rest of their life.
And the dangerous thing about this expectation is that so many trainers and group fitness instructors fall right into the trap. 100 burpees? GO! FASTER! HARDER! 100 Push Ups (when most of your clients can’t do a single strict push up with good form?) GO! FASTER! LOWER! This is a recipe for injury and disaster. It’s asking for muscle strains, for form breakdowns and poor movement patterns that can cause bigger injuries both right now and further on down the road.
With my bootcamp ladies, I’m a huge stickler for form and proper movement patterns. I’m much more likely to give someone a modification than to scream at them to work harder. I want to see them finish a workout, not collapse in a heap before we’re even done. But this doesn’t mean that I’m “soft” on them or that they’re not working hard enough. Just because I don’t want to leave them “paralyzed” at the end of class, does not mean that they are not getting an effective workout in.
Soreness and exhaustion are not, contrary to wildly popular belief, the benchmarks of a good workout.
So what is? Results. Real life results. The ability to carry your groceries up to your third floor walkup without huffing and puffing. The ability to run for the train you are late for and make it in time. The ability to swing your kids around without back pain, without being couch ridden with soreness the next day. The ability to play tag or hide and seek with your kids, or hike mountains with your partner or friends. The ability to walk up a flight of stairs or a hill without having to stop to catch your breath. These are the things I want my clients to be able to do with ease. I want them to leave a workout feeling proud, accomplished, and strong, not completely dead.
But the truth is that this is an expectation that many people have about group fitness, and that’s a huge problem. Yes, some workouts should leave you spent, and you will sometimes get really, stupidly sore from a workout. But that shouldn’t be every single workout, and it certainly shouldn’t be the expectation for every workout. So what should be the expectation? Good form, quality work, and finding the balance between “working hard” and “working TOO hard”.
Im also not saying that you shouldn’t be putting in effort to your workouts. But there’s a big difference between the effort it takes to get results and the body-destroying type of “effort” that many class takers are looking for. That over-done, body pulverizing type of class is good for injuries and burn out, not longevity and long term success. So if you are a group fitness enthusiast who is only looking to get destroyed, I’m telling you now that you’re going about it all wrong. Your body can only withstand so much when it comes to truly insane, soul crushing workouts.
And the most important thing? Listen to the types of cues your group fitness instructor gives you. If he or she has an all or nothing type of approach, you may want to find someone else. If he or she makes it a habit to encourage compromised form just to finish all of the reps, they don’t have your safety and real life results in mind.
Some of you may not agree with me on this, you may be the type of person who enjoys being screamed at or not being able to move after a workout. And that’s your prerogative. But I’d be willing to bet that you’d get the same results, if not even better, from a fitness instructor that encourages quality over quantity, and safety of movement over number of reps.
Readers: What do you look for in a group fitness class? Do you believe in the “extreme difficulty is always better” mindset?