Friday, October 4, 2013

The Experts Weigh In: 5 Ways to Get the Most out of your Group Fitness Class

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How many aerobics classes have you been to? Did you get a good workout? And more importantly, did you enjoy yourself?

Personally, I love group fitness classes.  Going to a group class usually means that I end up working harder than I would have if I had been working out alone. For beginners (or for people who are trying to build a fitness habit back into their life), group fitness is absolutely the way to go. Good instructors can make you work out for a full hour AND make the time pass quickly. But, the thing is, YOU are still in control of your workout and, ultimately, how much you get out of these workouts.

Here are 5 fitness tips to get the most out of your time in class:

Try different classes and different instructors.
There are instructors you'll click with and ones you just won't. Don't let that discourage you. Keep going until you find someone who is entertaining AND gives you a good workout. You'll be more likely to stick with it if you like the instructor. 

Also, your body adjusts to what it does all the time. If you want to keep seeing results, you have to keep doing different things. Change things up on a regular basis - that means different weights or different classes or different instructors... you get the idea.

Want to get results fast? Don't just do cardio - mix it up!
If you want to lose inches, embrace variety! Make sure to have at least 2 toning classes per week, in addition to a cardio session or two.

Use the mirrors - they're there for a reason.
If you're going to take the time to go to class, try to do the moves correctly. The easiest way to know whether or not you're doing it correctly is to look in the mirror. Having good alignment not only prevents injuries, but also makes you get the most out of the movements (and your time).

Mirror Checks for your Toning Class:
*Check the alignment of your knees. If the instructor tells you to keep your knees over your ankles, use the mirrors to check that you are actually following directions. They are there to keep you from injuring yourself.
*What about your back? Is it bent when it should be straight or vice versa?
*Shoulders? Are they leaning forward when they shouldn't be?
*Listen to your instructor. They'll be giving you hints and telling you what should be where so that you work out safely.

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Mirror Checks for your Cardio Class:
*Are you doing what you think you're doing? What you think you are doing is not always consistent with what your limbs are actually doing. Even as the instructor, during my Zumba Fitness classes, I see myself in the mirror and can tell that I'm really only giving it half my effort. My arms aren't going as high as they could, or I can tell my squats aren't very deep. Are you taking it easy or going all out? Scan your body and make adjustments. Don't waste your time by cheating yourself out of a great workout!
*Look for ways to target the muscle groups that you are focusing on. For example, could you engage your abs more when you are doing punches in a kickboxing class? Or if you are trying a salsa class, could you concentrate on your hips a bit more?

Go with friends or make friends in class. You'll be more likely to stick with the program.
Be social in class. Talk to the regulars. Learn their names. Making exercise a social activity will make it much more fun. Best of all, studies have shown that if you workout with friends, you are more likely to stick to your exercise routine and reach your goals.

Get the right equipment.
1) SHOES - Ask the instructor what kind of shoes are best for their class.
Classes requiring more hip movement like hip-hop, Zumba Fitness or Bowkwa will require your shoes to twist and turn in order to avoid knee pain. Your running shoes might cause you problems because they grip the floor too much. Get shoes that have a flat spot in the ball of the foot or buy a pair of Smooth Dancers to go over your shoes so that you have a pivot point. If you are on carpet, get Tiranté Sliders for Carpet so you can turn. If your hips are turning, your shoes need to turn too to avoid knee injuries. In other words, get a shoe that allows for twisting. If you are taking classes where you bounce a lot (like cardio kickboxing) you will require a shoe with lots of lateral stability and padding under the ball of the foot.

2) WEIGHTS - Expect higher numbers of reps with lighter weights.
To get the most out of your workout, push yourself to finish the sets with the instructor, even if it means grabbing lighter weights halfway through. If you are used to doing the short sets with heavy weights, those long sets will be surprisingly hard at first so have lighter weights on hand! (SIDE NOTE: Oftentimes, I see beginners grabbing the same weights as the instructor has, and then (surprise, surprise), they can't finish the set. Use the weight that the instructor has as an upper-limit guide. Just starting out? Get weights that are lighter than the instructor's and grab multiple sets of weights so that you have something to switch to if your first choice turns out to be too heavy.

All in all, classes at the gym are a great resource and you should use them! Quite frankly, if you belong to a gym that has free classes, you're paying for them with your gym membership already. If you're not seeing results with your current routine, it's time to mix things up!

Try a class or two and see where it takes you - Who knows? You might have a fabulous time and get a fabulous body as an extra bonus!

Do you have any other tips for how to get the most out of a fitness class? Please share them in the comments below!

Katie Hughes, PhD., realized in college that teaching aerobics classes part-time made her actually workout full-time! She has been teaching classes for 12 years and is AFAA Group Exercise certified, as well as licensed to teach Zumba®, Zumba Sentao®, Aqua Zumba®, Zumba Toning® and Zumba Kids® and Zumba Kids Jr. ®. Katie is also an entrepreneur whose company Slip-On Dancers manufactures patent-pending bands that she invented to reduce knee pain caused by improper footwear in dance fitness classes. She is also a co-author of the best-selling book Women Who Mean Business and serves on the board of the Queen City Forward, a hub for social entrepreneurs in Charlotte, North Carolina. Follow Katie on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

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