So, is group exercise more effective than going to a gym, having a personal trainer or just doing it yourself? Well, the evidence out there suggests that it is for a number of reasons. Now I can already hear some of you saying “ but I like the gym and I like to go out for a walk or a run by myself” and that’s absolutely fine, I like doing that too. There are definitely some people who are quite able to go to the gym, get on a treadmill, sort out the weights and find it really easy to motivate themselves and set themselves goals each time they go. There are also people with specific training goals, or perhaps injuries who might want the specialist knowledge and one to one tuition that a class situation can’t give, but for the majority of us, exercising with other people keeps our motivation higher. I’ve been teaching group classes for nearly 12 years and I’ve had people coming regularly for the whole of that time – and I was talking to one lady recently who came along for 4 years before that with the previous instructor too!
There’s been quite a lot of study into whether group exercise or exercising alone is better, and on balance most of this comes down on the side of group exercise for most people. An article in The Globe & Mail a few years ago by Alex Hutchinson suggests that research has found that the “feel good factor” we get when we exercise, caused by the release of endorphins, can be much further enhanced by being in a group with other people doing the same workout. The shared sense of trying to achieve the same goal – getting fitter – also seems to play a key role in this too.
For some people, the thought of going to the gym can be scary especially if you’re new to fitness or getting back into it after time away for whatever reason. You’re scared you’ll be out of place maybe, or worried what other members may think. You’ve also got to be motivated to keep going along. It can be a lonely place and you’re often left to do your own thing after your initial induction. In an exercise group, everyone is there in the same boat and trying to reach the same goal. If you’re trying to get back into exercise after a break for whatever reason, it can really help to have a friend come along with you too. Think how this scenario plays out “I’ve had a hard day at work can I really be bothered going to the gym tonight? No, I’m going home to put my feet up, have a drink and veg out in front of the telly”. Now, how about “I’ve had a hard day at work, can I be bothered going to class? I’d rather go home but I promised my mate I’d go, and someone else was going to give me that exercise dvd …. right where did I put my trainers!” Even if you come along to a class alone, chances are you’ll meet someone you have something in common with – and then you have a new friend!
There’s more purpose to a structured class than exercising by yourself too, I think. I’ve recently done a talk with classes about how important stretching is, but it turns out that although some of them warm up and stretch before walking or doing other activities many of them don’t, and I suspect that’s probably true of people using the gym too – or it appears to be from what I’ve seen in my local gym. So you’re hopefully less likely to injure yourself in a group class. It’s also pretty good because it gives you an idea of what to do – again if you’re really motivated the gym can be great, but I wonder how many people actually structure themselves a programme at the gym to progress their fitness levels? It might be so at the beginning, but I’m sure there will be some who go along and just sort of potter around a bit, have a bit of a swim and then go in the Jacuzzi or sauna. Motivation is really important and if I don’t see someone for a couple of weeks I’ll give them a ring, text them or e-mail them, and quite probably someone from the class will contact them too so it keeps them in touch, even if they’re not actually there.
It’s very easy to switch on Utube these days and find loads of different workouts, but have you got someone at the front pushing you on to achieve more? Yes the instructor on the video will do that, but they can’t see what you’re doing and the instructor at the front of a class can – so they can push you a little harder. That relationship with the class is really important. Once an instructor gets to know members better, you know whether “Mary” can really work harder and needs a bit of extra help, or whether “Jean” is actually working as hard as she can. No dvd or video can do that for you – or not yet anyway!
The other big factor is the social side. Most people are fairly sociable and one of the biggest reasons people like coming to class is because it’s fun and they can catch up with their mates and have a laugh. Ok, so there’s a bit of hard work to do too, but there’s always the opportunity for a bit of a chat too. I know that many of my members get together outside class too, whether it’s for a coffee, a visit to the pub or a meal out or theatre visit.
Group exercise doesn’t have to be all about in a class in a hall or gym either! What about aqua classes and don’t forget that Nordic walking is becoming popular too – no gym needed there – and you get all the benefits of being outside in the fresh air too, although hopefully not the rain!
Basically, you need to find the right thing for you to do. If you can motivate yourself and get your own programme going that progresses your fitness then great, work at it and keep going, but if like me and many people I know, you start off with really good intentions for the first few weeks and then find excuses not to do it, look around for a good class which is fun and sociable, does exercise that you like, maybe take a friend with you and get going (or Glowing)!