How to Take a Fitness Class

Orange Theory circuit style cardio 
Thinking about your New Year’s Resolution?  If you are like most, getting healthier is at the top of your list. Even the fittest among us use a New Year to motivate self-improvement or try something new.  If that something new is a fitness class, read this first..
Circuit classes like Orange Theory are ubiquitous in the fitness world. Yoga classes are also everywhere and range in intensity from teaching meditation and balance to intense aerobic power moves.  Functional fitness classes involve activities such as running, stairs, and climbing.  Cycling or spinning classes continue to evolve and are a great blast of aerobic or cardiac fitness activity.  Boxing, treadmill, and rowing classes are also popular.  

Unlike the first fitness dance aerobics classes such as Zumba and step classes, most modern-day circuit fitness classes change forms of weights with each exercise. These include stretch bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, bars and balls.  Mixing it up keeps you interested and challenged and is less likely to cause a repetitive use injury.  Still, whenever weights are added, risk of injury increases due to speed of motion, improper form and too much weight

Strength training classes and adding weights to aerobics class are both likely to continue to gain popularity.  To meet the updated exercise recommendations by the CDC to include 2 sessions of moderate to vigorous strength training sessions per week, strength training in classes may take the form of kettlebell swings, box jumps, and squatting, lunging, or walking with weights. Moving with weights and throwing medicine balls are also common exercise techniques.  Any of these exercises may increase risk of injury as balance is challenged by the weights, causing twisting moments and off-center joint imbalances of major joints such as the knees, hips, neck and lower back. 

Ideally, watch a class before you take it.  Ask members if they like the instructor and feel that she or he is someone who is paying attention to the class.  Both the music and instructor style should be upbeat and motivating but not so quick you can’t keep up.

As you enter a class for the first time, choose a position you are comfortable in. For a first class I prefer standing in the back so that when I modify the motions to prevent injury I don’t throw anyone else in the class off.  Others might prefer a position in the front, closer to the instructor who will hopefully demonstrate and watch for good form.  When you choose your equipment, find the lowest weights and resistance bands. This is not wimping out, it’s avoiding injury and overstressed muscles.  With repetitions, proper form, and light weights, you will get results! Most classes have much more repetition than you need; 30 is always plenty.  

sample of some classes offered at LA Fitness
Don’t necessarily do as the instructor does.  I have witnessed many demonstrate poor form.  Instructors are usually young and strong with much less risk of injury.  Remember you can always leave if you feel pain or are too frustrated trying to avoid pain.  Again, be very careful moving your body while holding weights.  This can throw out your back, your neck and your hips.  When weights go overhead, shoulder, neck and back are at risk of injury.  Keep the motions in front of you, never behind you where your shoulder stability will be compromised. 

Most importantly, listen to your body.  If it hurts, don’t continue.  If you are sore more than 2 days later, choose lighter weights next time.  And if you have sharp  pain that doesn’t resolve with ice or anti-inflammatories over a few days, see your doctor or a physical therapist.  Remember, there are so many ways to get fit;  a strength training class by 1 instructor can be very different from another’s.   Keep searching until you find what thrills you and does not hurt.  Happy New Year!


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