Feature Article - February 2018
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All Together Now

Harness the Latest Trends in Group Fitness

By Deborah L. Vence

Group fitness can be a fun way to get in shape, with a wide range of classes designed to help motivate and encourage people to reach their goals and feel a sense of accomplishment.

"Group training or group fitness encompasses a wide variety of styles and disciplines, including indoor cycling, boot camp, Pilates, yoga and body sculpting, to name a few," said Grace DeSimone, editor of American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor and IDEA Health and Fitness Association's 2016 Program Director of the Year.

In fact, group training grabbed the number two spot in fitness trends for 2018, behind high-intensity interval training (HIIT), according to ACSM's Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends. It was only in 2017 that group exercise training made the top 20 in fitness trends, appearing at number six.

Even more importantly, researchers have found that group exercise improves quality of life and reduces stress far more than individual exercise. A study published in November in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association indicated that group exercise participants experienced a 26 percent reduction in stress and improved mental, physical and emotional quality of life. And, while those who work out individually put in more effort, they did not experience significant changes in their stress level and they saw limited improvement to quality of life.

Why Is It Popular?

As research shows the health benefits of group exercise, there are many reasons as to why group fitness programming has grown in popularity, including the fact that, "There is more energy when you're working out with a group," said Geralyn Coopersmith, chief content officer, Flywheel Sports, New York.

Group training grabbed the number two spot in fitness trends for 2018.

"There is more accountability when you're working out with a group," she said. "Exercise is less boring when you're in a high-energy environment with great music. The communities that form around fitness become very meaningful in a person's life."

Suzanne Gray, owner, Right Fit Sport Fitness Wellness, Willowbrook, Ill., noted five principle reasons driving the recent trends in group fitness. "The first," she said, "is economics. The growing trend in group fitness is coming from the economic advantages for clients, but also the economic benefits it offers clubs and gyms."

"Clients get nearly the same personalized instruction and attention in smaller (four to six) group classes as they do in private sessions for only 15 to 20 percent of the cost," she said. "Privates can run $75 to $100 per hour vs. $15 to $20 per hour for group classes. Clubs and gyms see the economic benefits, too. Instead of earning $75 to $100 per hour from a single client, they can earn $120 or more per hour from group classes."

The second reason is the social appeal of doing things together, working out with other people and socializing. Third, is the accountability to be disciplined and stay committed to fitness goals.

"Fourth is to ensure higher levels of motivation and output efforts," she said. "Fifth is the enjoyment to share success and results within a caring community of like-minded people.

"What makes it appealing? People enjoy not being just a number in a large group class. People enjoy more personalized attention and instruction. People benefit from more tailored instruction to their needs and abilities," Gray added. "Many that never had a team experience enjoy the first-time camaraderie of achieving goals together."

To boot, fitness enthusiasts are selecting their favorite group activities from a variety of settings, including boutique specialty studios (yoga, Pilates, cycling, boot camp) and combining those with favorites at their local fitness center or community center, DeSimone said.

"The boutique offerings have caused a rise in interest in group training. These small studios create a vibe that starts as soon as you walk through the door," she said. "Some look like garage spaces, others are upscale and sleek. Participants can shop for the vibe, workout and community that best suits them. Imagine surrounding yourself with a group of people who love the same music, workout and environment. Sounds like a party to me and, in many cases, that is what it feels like to the consumer."

Other reasons for the increased popularity include "First, when some individuals are starting a physical activity program, there may be confusion as to what to do, what equipment to use, how often to exercise, etc.," said Beth Taylor Mack, Ph.D., director, health behavior and wellness, membership and programs, YMCA of the USA. "By participating in group fitness, the responsibility is on the instructor who has the expertise to construct and periodize the activity such that it's pre-programmed for the participant," she said.

"Therefore, it takes the guesswork out of the workout. Second, classes are usually offered at various times throughout the day, thus designed to easily fit into one's schedule and, therefore, lead to the creation of a routine," she said.

"And finally," Mack added, "there is a natural social connection that occurs when people exercise together that leads to relationship building and accountability that perhaps is not found when performing a monotonous exercise like those on traditional cardio-based equipment (e.g., treadmill)."