Six Big Problems With Group Exercise
I know I may get some grief from colleagues on this one. But it's about time this was said.
Group exercise has its place and it does benefit some people some of the time.
But the vast majority of what happens at the group level is ineffective, often counter productive BS that is more designed to give people a good time than it is results of any kind. Often group ex' is delivered by poorly qualified, poorly committed trainers who have little respect for the complexity of their task and even less for the importance of results to their clients.
Now. Before all you bootcamp trainers get up in arms and start wielding comebacks my way. Please read the remainder of this article.
Not all group exercise is created equal. Not all trainers are equal in skill. There are some great group workout products out there that do help people to get in shape. The hurricanes, for example, ran by Toby at H3 performance are the best planned group training product I have seen. They are intense and follow structures that produce a significant energy systems training effect. Most group workouts however fall short of being worthwhile forms of training for the following reasons:
1. They are not Progressive
The whole point of training is to gradually get better, fitter, faster or stronger over time. Most people are trying to get leaner over time. In order to achieve any progress, training has to be progressive. You must raise the level at which you are challenging the systems over time. Group exercise is generally designed as a drop-in experience and thus will quickly reach a plateaux in the improvements it is capable of producing.
2. There is no specificity.
Group training, by it's very nature, can never be targeted to work on each person's weaknesses. As a result, it will always have a "glass ceiling" on the gains it can produce for any individual.
3. Poor planning, poor use of equipment.
Most classes either use no equipment, such as BMF classes outside, or very poor equipment, such as body pump bars. As a result, options for exercise selection and thus returns on time spent training are limited. Again, the hurricanes make use of all sorts of different gym equipment and our Modified Strongman Training sessions use prowlers, farmer walks and much more for variety.
4. Sessions are usually very poorly planned.
Most group exercise classes are designed to produce a fun experience of fitness, which is fine. But training, at some point, needs to be planned around you improving, and that requires effective loading parameters for sparking progress.
5. Injury risk.
Many overuse injuries are a result of "class abuse". That is, doing too many group exercise classes without ever addressing the structural balance and movement quality of the trainee. This leads to excessive repetition and poor loading of body structures and ultimately chronic injury. I don't hear much about acute injuries happening in classes, but I work with one of the best physiotherapists and one of the best chiropractors in the business and they both agree that they see a significant number of people with chronic injuries that are a result of crappy exercise classes in the absence of proper training.
6. Repetition without variety.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I see this the most with spin. OK, spin makes you feel like you killed yourself, I get it. But hammering spin six times per week is not a good idea. It tightens your hip flexors and lower back, impacting general movement in a negative way.
I am not saying that all group exercise is evil and everyone should stop right now. In fact, there are some pros to group exercise. It can be fun, the environment can make training social and engaging. If you are a rank beginner and it gets you into training then great! If you enjoy it, fantastic. But at some point you need to start training better if you want to make progress. So here are my recommendations for group exercise:
If you are a beginner and it gets you going then great, choose a good version, like the hurricanes at H3 and rock out! You will make progress just fine for the first 6-8 weeks. But try to incorporate some properly designed training FOR YOU as soon as progress stalls. You can still include group ex if you like, but do some progressive, professionally designed training as well!
If you have been hitting group exercise exclusively for a while, a change is in order. Cut the time wasting, book in with a knowledgeable coach for a full assessment. For example and assessment pack from EP involves a full structural balance test, a performance matrix (movement evaluation) Biosignature, dietary recall, fiber typing and, if you have the budget, a comprehensive blood chemistry. From that information you get a bespoke program, knowing exactly what you need to get done for optimal results, planned progressively for 12 weeks. A one time investment of £180 for taking all the guess work out of your programming!
(Price not including blood tests).
You may still do some group ex' if you like, but it can no longer be the ONLY form of training that you do. Not if you want real results.
If you are currently training at a commercial gym that uses BTS or similar, do yourself a favour and hire a good trainer to show you how to train properly. 3 months with a GOOD trainer will teach you training methods that will last you years, you will not regret the investment.
Professional Athletic Development.